Tennessee

TN Courts/YouTube

Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Cornelia Clark has died. Clark, 71, passed away after brief cancer illness, according to a statement issued Friday by the court.

Clark had the longest tenure of any justice currently on the high court, and heard 1,100 cases in her time. Her law career launched in 1979 and she was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2005, where she served as chief justice from 2010 to 2012.

Gov. Bill Lee has ordered flags to fly at half-staff across the state.

“Justice Clark was a fierce advocate for justice and a trailblazer for women in the legal profession,” Lee said. “She also made a profound impact on our state as an active member of her church and the Franklin community.”

Blake Farmer | WPLN

It’s a struggle for Joe Gammon to talk right now.

Lying in his ICU bed at Ascension Saint Thomas West, he uses a suction tube to clear his own throat. Even dislodging some phlegm has become a struggle.

“If I would have known six months ago that this could be possible, this would have been a no-brainer,” the 45-year-old father of six says after weeks in critical condition. “But I honestly didn’t think I was at any risk. That is the naive portion on my end.”

Gammon is a truck driver from Lascassas who says he listens to a lot of conservative talk radio. And the daily diatribes downplaying the pandemic and promoting personal freedom were enough dissuade him from vaccination.


Blake Farmer | WPLN

The pandemic has never been so hard on Tennessee children as it has been the last few weeks. Cases surpassed the previous high set in the winter surge, and hospitals are feeling the pinch.

The 7-day average for school-age is now close to 1,400 new cases a day, with nearly 16,000 new infections statewide in 5-18 year-olds over the last two weeks, according to state data.

At this point, nearly a third of all new cases are among Tennessee kids 18 and younger — also a record for the pandemic.

Pediatric hospitalizations still represent a tiny fraction of the overall totals, which are climbing every day. But already children’s hospitals, which have less flexibility than adult hospitals, are having to make space for COVID patients.

Paige Pfleger/ WPLN News

The bust of confederate general and KKK grand wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest has been removed from the Tennessee State Capitol. Advocates cleared the final hurdle Thursday, after decades of protesting and months of jumping through legislative hoops.

Gov. Bill Lee voted along with the majority of the state building commission to move the bust to the Tennessee State Museum.

But the vote was not unanimous: the speakers of the Tennessee House and Senate voted against relocation.

Several different state commissions have voted on the fate of the bust in the last few months, but Sen. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, hoped this was the last.

Pixabay

A total of 18 Tennessee school districts have joined litigation against the largest vaping company in the country. They’re expecting settlement money from JUUL Labs to fund anti-vaping programs as they confront clandestine use on a daily basis.

The latest district to join the Tennessee suit is also the largest  — Knox County Schools. In Middle Tennessee, Putnam and Warren counties have also signed on.

“We really look at this as school systems having a lot of — the non-legal term I would use is — a lot to gripe about,” says Chris McCarty of the Lewis Thomason law firm, which is leading the Tennessee case.

Rachel Iacovone | WPLN News

New information from the FBI finds that the man who blew himself up in Nashville on Christmas morning struggled with paranoia and believed in conspiracy theories. But the FBI says he was not motivated by social or political ideology and that he tried to minimize harm when taking his own life.

The FBI provided its report on the bombing Monday, marking the close of “a significant portion” of its investigation.

The agency says 63-year-old Anthony Quinn Warner, of Antioch, chose the location and timing of the blast to minimize injuries and that he acted alone. His actions were determined to “not be related to terrorism,” the FBI wrote.

Ballad Health

Tennessee hospitals are largely suspending their efforts to vaccinate patients in their systems against COVID-19. But they say it’s not because of a new state rule that they have to offer doses to the wider community.

Instead, they’re citing a new policy from the state that they say makes it impossible to keep vaccination clinics open. Regardless, the decision represents a dramatic shift in how Tennesseans will be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

First, the Tennessee Department of Health told hospitals in a letter dated Jan. 4 to get the vaccine out to their existing patients 75 and over. But then last week, the state changed course and said they have to offer the vaccine to the wider public, not just those that they have a previous relationship with.

 


Blake Farmer | WPLN

Tennessee lawmakers rarely debate consequential legislation in the first few days of a session. But the General Assembly is forgoing precedent to alter how the state’s Medicaid program receives federal funding, and in the process will be altering roughly a third of the state budget before the Biden administration takes over.

Passage is a given. The same Republican majority told TennCare to seek this so-called “block grant” for Medicaid, which has been a dream of conservatives. Now that dream is nearly reality.

But in less than a week, the country will have a Democrat in the White House, leading a party that has opposed block grants for Medicaid and argued that they only lead to cutting benefits and beneficiaries from programs.

Sergio Martinez-Beltran | WPLN

FBI agents searched the legislative offices or homes of four Republican lawmakers, including former House Speaker Glen Casada, as well as three aides Friday morning.

Officials will not say what prompted the search, but the House’s current speaker, Cameron Sexton, says the aides have been placed on paid administrative leave.

The search shook the Capitol, just days before the General Assembly was set to begin its two-year session. Visibly shaken, Sexton said that these are friends and colleagues and that Friday’s events do not necessarily mean they are guilty. He said he has spoken to the governor, the lieutenant governor and the leaders of both parties about the situation.

Blake Farmer | WPLN

Some COVID-19 vaccines are already in use, but the clinical trials roll on. In fact, they’re still recruiting participants, and they’re particularly focused on signing up people of color.

At first, speed was the top priority. Now diversity is, says Dr. Stephan Sharp, who leads a vaccine trial site at Clinical Research Associates in Nashville. He recently held a Facebook event with Kurdish young professionals.

“We want folks from all different ethnic backgrounds. because it’s possible that the vaccine works better in one group or lesser in another group, and the only way to find out is to test it,” he said.

Master Sgt. Jeremy Cornlius/via DVIDS

Tennessee will offer adults self-testing kits at its COVID-19 testing sites starting Dec. 21.

In a press release, the state health department says this will allow more staff members to start vaccinating frontline health care providers and first responders.

“State-run health departments currently collect an average of only 16% of all COVID-19 tests statewide, and our change will not affect the wide availability of testing through private providers in Tennessee,” Tennessee health commissioner Lisa Piercey says.

“While the arrival of vaccines is welcome, it is imperative that we not let up on basic best practices and continue to protect each other by wearing masks, practicing social distancing and staying home when sick.”

Vanderbilt LifeFlight

Hospital capacity has become so tight in Tennessee that patients who would normally be airlifted to Vanderbilt University Medical Center are often being diverted away from Nashville altogether.

Over the weekend, COVID-19 hospitalizations reached nearly 2,700 statewide, setting a new record for the pandemic. Some rural hospitals don’t have intensive care units or the ability to manage patients on ventilators.

“Nashville has reached maximum capacity for their bed space, so now we’re having to utilize some of our larger rural hospitals to transfer from some of our smaller rural hospitals,” says flight nurse Mark Tankersley, who is stationed in Murfreesboro at one of Vanderbilt LifeFlight’s bases.

Sgt. Timothy Cordeiro | TN Guard

Tennessee hospitals are calling off elective procedures again, doubling up hospital rooms and converting recovery rooms into intensive care units, according to the Tennessee Hospital Association. These changes come as hospitals are seeing twice as many patients with COVID-19 as they were in early October, surpassing 1,800 current hospitalizations on Monday.

Rooms and beds haven’t been the problem in Tennessee. It’s the nurses and doctors to staff them.

“I anticipate in the coming week(s) authorizing a complete cessation of ALL non-emergent surgeries and procedures in our hospitals so we can redeploy staff to care for an expected increase in cases,” Ballad Health CEO Alan Levine wrote on Facebook over the weekend.

Maury Co. Schools/via Facebook

After weeks of pushback from parents, Tennessee will now make some data on school outbreaks public.

The Tennessee Department of Education says it will soon launch a new dashboard with district-submitted data.

The website is expected to go live on Tuesday, and it will have a map and search function of school districts and specific schools. The Education Department says it will be updated every Tuesday.

Gov. Bill Lee told reporters he recognizes there is a desire by parents to know more about what’s happening in their schools.

TN Dept. of Corrections

Another round of mass testing has uncovered nearly 1,000 cases of the coronavirus at a Tennessee prison, with more results coming.

CoreCivic, which manages the facility, says nearly all are asymptomatic. But prisoners’ loved ones say they’re hearing a different story.

Jeannie Alexander gets lots of worried phone calls from people inside the South Central Correctional Facility. Even when a deadly virus isn’t spreading inside the walls, the former prison chaplain regularly hears from dozens of men and their loved ones.

In August, Alexander says, the callers started to sound even more anxious than normal.

 


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