Metro Public Health Dept.

A new analysis by Vanderbilt University’s Department of Health Policy finds a link between lower hospitalizations and mask mandates in Tennessee.

Nearly every part of the state has seen hospitalizations grow this month, but the most dramatic growth is in hospitals that pull at least three-quarters of their patients from places without mask requirements. They have nearly four times the patients as in early July.

For hospitals where most patients live under a mask mandate, Vanderbilt’s analysis finds the number of patients with COVID is basically the same as in early July.


Hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients show no sign of slowing down in Tennessee, with a new high almost every day. But so far, the surge has not triggered the state’s plan to launch expanded sites for their care.

The alternative care sites in Nashville and Memphis have gone through “functional exercises” within the last few months to make sure they can launch quickly if needed, according to a Tennessee Department of Health spokesperson. But so far, they have not been ordered to activate.

Nashville’s overflow site was originally the city’s convention center, early in the pandemic when the state thought Middle Tennessee might need an extra thousand beds. The Music City Center was planning to hold 1,600 beds in total. Instead, the Army Corps of Engineers built out 67 beds to handle non-critical COVID patients in an unused floor of Nashville General Hospital.

Creative Commons

The head of Tennessee’s prison system says the number of unfilled correctional officer positions has reached an “all-time high.”

Many facilities were already severely understaffed. Now, officials say the pandemic has made recruitment even harder.

The Department of Correction says it’s short more than 700 prison guards. That’s nearly 30% of all the correctional officer jobs statewide.

Commissioner Tony Parker says “not everyone’s cut out to work in corrections.”

Blake Farmer | WPLN

When a vaccine for COVID-19 is approved for use, it will be the state government who determines who gets it first. All states were required to submit their draft plans to federal authorities by this week. Tennessee will distribute its allotment based mostly on population, not severity of recent outbreaks.

At first, the priority will be inoculating health care workers and first responders, then the elderly and those who live in congregant settings — including prisons. Whether someone has had COVID won’t matter, according to the planners, since so little is known about the duration of immunity.

Tennessee does expect to hold on to roughly 10% of its vaccine supply in order to respond to hotspots or communities that may run out prematurely.


Hospitalizations for COVID-19 have shot up 30% in Tennessee since the start of October. And the number of patients in intensive care units is near an all-time high — approaching 1,200 — with health officials saying they are older and sicker than earlier in the pandemic.

The average age of COVID patients hospitalized in Tennessee is 70, with more of them hailing from the rural areas that are reeling from the virus. And they’re staying an average of nine days.

“These are pretty extensive stays,” says Dr. Lisa Piercey, Tennessee’s health commissioner. “They require quite a bit of medication and treatment and recovery. Remember, even when you get out of the hospital, you are almost certainly not well. You still have a long recovery ahead of you.”


Williamson County Schools via Facebook

There will be no negative consequences for schools and teachers related to standardized testing this school year, so long as the Tennessee General Assembly agrees. Gov. Bill Lee and Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn are calling for the tests to be administered as usual but that the results not be used to judge the education system.

“We can’t fill in the gaps with reading or math or learning loss without understanding where they are,” Lee says. But he adds testing “will have to look different this year.”

Until now, Lee and Schwinn have resisted requests from local districts, including Williamson County Schools, asking for leniency on testing accountability or instructional requirements.

Sergio Martinez-Beltran | WPLN

These days, the beautiful grounds of Belmont University are noisy and busy.

Jackson Bowling, a music business freshman, noted that for the last few weeks the university’s lawns have been closed down and that tents are being set up.

“I guess it is interesting to have a different perspective on how the debates go, because usually you only see the debate actually happening and not all of the behind-the-scenes work that actually has to go in.”


Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology Murfreesboro / Facebook

Tennessee’s colleges of applied technology are getting some outside help to address education inequity. That’s thanks in part to the Tennessee Board of Regents expanding an existing community college partnership with national nonprofit Achieving the Dream.

“During such a challenging time, it’s more important than ever to meet uncertainty with resilience, innovation, and a deepened commitment to student success and equity,” says Karen A. Stout, president and CEO of Achieving the Dream.


Chas Sisk | WPLN

As people start requesting absentee ballots, some Tennessee voters have noticed something unusual: The bottom part of the form published by the Secretary of State has a notice saying voters could receive a reward if they report a case of voter fraud.

The notice is highlighted in yellow. It says, “You may be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000 if you make a report of voter fraud that leads to a conviction.” It also gives the number of the state’s voter fraud hotline.

Frosty Horton, a 69-year-old musician from Nashville, noticed it.

“It’s threatening,” Horton said. “And I don’t mean to sound paranoid about it. I just — my trust level is at a fairly low place.”

Tennessee Dept. of Correction

A new national report on racial disparities in the death penalty explores two high-profile cases that are winding their way through the courts here in Tennessee. The analysis, published Tuesday by the Death Penalty Information Center, highlights the ways Black people are more likely to be discriminated against at every step — from arrest to jury selection to execution.

The report says Shelby County prosecutors used racial tropes to paint Pervis Payne as a drug user “looking for sex.” And in Nashville, the district attorney struck Black people from the jury in Abu-Ali Abdur’Rahman’s case.

Researcher Ngozi Ndulue says these cases show how systemic racism stacks the odds against Black people who have been accused of capital crimes.

Sumner County Schools via Facebook

Sumner County students return to classrooms in person Tuesday as the district discards its hybrid schedule.

For the first two weeks, most students had been in classrooms just two days per week.

The district says it’s following its re-entry plan, which sought a return to in-person instruction as soon as possible. But the announcement still triggered nearly 700 comments on the district Facebook page, ranging from celebratory to distraught.

Sumner County reported 268 actively contagious cases coming out of the holiday weekend. The county has reported 87 deaths during the pandemic, the third-most in the state.

Chas Sisk | WPLN

Tennessee’s election officials have yet to properly inform voters that people in high-risk groups for COVID-19 and their caretakers can request an absentee mail-in ballot this year.

That’s the finding in a new court order Tuesday.

Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle has given the state a deadline — noon on Monday — to revise the form that voters use to ask for a mail-in ballot.

The state must mention COVID-19 by name, and make clear that anyone with an underlying health condition that makes them more susceptible to contracting the virus, including caretakers of such people, have a reason to vote absentee. The state also must tell county-level election officials to do the same.

Maskupmemphis.org via Twitter

The House Minority Leader in the Tennessee General Assembly was feeling ill at the start of last week’s special session. Rep. Karen Camper, D-Memphis, attended a few socially-distanced meetings and was on the floor of the state House Monday night, according to a spokesperson.

That night, she got tested for COVID-19 and headed home to Memphis where she isolated as a precaution. The test was negative, but she did not return.

“It was subsequently determined that she had contracted the virus,” Democratic spokesperson Ken Jobe says.

The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified 100 years ago this week, and it comprises just 39 words:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Sergio Martinez-Beltran | WPLN

A measure backed by Gov. Bill Lee that sets new sentences for protesting — including making it a felony to stay overnight on state property — has passed the Tennessee General Assembly.

It’s now headed to Lee’s desk after being approved Wednesday night by the Republican-led legislature.

The bill comes in response to ongoing overnight protests against a bust of Confederate General and early Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest. State troopers have repeatedly arrested the few dozen demonstrators gathered outside the Tennessee State Capitol but have not succeeded in getting the protesters to disperse.