Emails between Nashville mayor's office, health department indicate coverup of low COVID-19 numbers linked to city bars, restaurants

by Laura Mize · Sep 17th, 2020 1:00 pm

Last Updated Sep 18th, 2020 at 5:09 pm

A series of emails sent between the Nashville mayor's office and the local health department point to a coverup of the fact that recorded cases of coronavirus linked to the city's bars and restaurants was unexpectedly low.

Local news outlet Fox 17 reported on the emails.

On June 30, the health department's tally of COVID-19 cases stemming from local bars and restaurants was 22. Email correspondence between Leslie Waller, an employee of the Metro Health Department, and Benjamin Eagles, senior adviser to Mayor John Cooper, included this exchange regarding the number of cases:

"This isn't going to be publicly released, right? Just info for Mayor's Office?" Waller wrote.

"Correct, not for public consumption," Eagles responded.

On July 2, all bars in the county were ordered to close for two weeks, and officials tightened restrictions on restaurants as the city scaled back efforts to reopen.

In a Tennessean article published the same day, Cooper is quoted as saying bars were responsible for a "record number of clusters" of coronavirus cases that week.

In late July, a reporter asked the health department about a report that only about 80 cases had been linked to local eateries and bars. In total, the county reportedly had 20,000 cases.

" ... doesn't that mean restaurants and bars aren't a very big problem?" Nate Rau asked the department via email, after citing the number of cases.

A chain of internal emails were sent about how to respond to Rau's question. One, which has the sender's name removed from the copy of the email Fox 17 acquired, reads, in part:

"We have certainly refused to give counts per bar because those numbers are low per site. We could still release the total though, and then a response to the over 80 could be because that number is increasing all the time and we don't want to say a specific number."

A local government attorney has confirmed the emails originated from the mayor's office and the health department.

Metropolitan Council member Steve Glover commented on the matter.

"They are fabricating information," he said. "They've blown there [sic] entire credibility Dennis. Its gone, I don't trust a thing they say going forward ...nothing. ...We raised taxes 34% and put hundreds literally thousands of people out of work that are now worried about losing their homes, their apartments...and we did it on bogus data. That should be illegal."

The mayor's office has denied the claims.


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