Nashville mayor’s office is in the middle of a scandal after emails were leaked that seem to show how local officials misrepresented the number of the CCP Virus (COVID-19) infections in an apparent attempt to blame bars and restaurants and force a lockdown of city.
The emails, released by local news channel Fox 17, show email exchanges involving officials from the Metro Nashville Health Department (MNHD) and advisers to Democratic Mayor John Cooper.
In the emails, they discuss keeping the actual numbers of CCP Virus cases hidden from the public and how much information they should withhold while pressing the city’s shutdown order on residents.
On occasion, officials discussed whether they should make public the surprisingly low number of cases involving bars and restaurants on lower Broadway—the heart of the city’s nightlife.
On at least two occasions, in June and July, officials chose not to release specific figures showing that relatively few cases were related to bars and restaurants. Meanwhile, these establishments throughout Davidson County, which includes Nashville, were struggling to stay afloat after being forced to close for two months, from March to May.
‘It is not for public consumption’
The first email thread, which corresponds to the month of June, showed Mayor Cooper’s senior adviser, Benjamin Eagles, and MNHD epidemiologist, Leslie Waller, discussing a small study of coronavirus infection-tracking segmented by groups.
The report showed that construction and nursing homes reported more than 1,000 cases per category, while bars and restaurants had only 22 cases.
Faced with this data, Waller asked Eagles, “This isn’t going to be publicly released, right? Just info for Mayor’s Office?” Eagles responded, “Correct, not for public consumption.”
About a month after that conversation, Nate Rau, a Tennessean reporter, asked the MNHD about the information the agency released that it had recorded “80 or so” cases in bars and restaurants.
“The figure you gave of ‘more than 80’ does lead to a natural question: If there have been over 20,000 positive cases of COVID-19 [CCP Virus] in Davidson and only 80 or so are traced to restaurants and bars, doesn’t that mean restaurants and bars aren’t a very big problem?” Rau asked in an email.
MNHD Communications Director Brian Todd forwarded the journalist’s email to five other officials and asked for help in seeing what they could respond to.
One of the officials responded to Todd by recommending that he give a vague response.
“My two cents. We have certainly refused to give counts per bar because those numbers are low per site,” the official responded.
“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,” he added.
“They are fabricating information”
After the emails were released, Councilman Steve Glover asked an MNHD staff attorney to investigate the veracity of the emails.
The attorney responded, “I was able to obtain verification from the Mayor’s Office and the Department of Health that these emails are real.”
After the news was confirmed, Glover said that city officials “are fabricating information.”
“They’ve blown their entire credibility,” he told FOX 17. I don’t trust a thing they say going forward … nothing,” he said.
“We raised taxes 34 percent 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,” Glover said.
An updated list from Eater Nashville indicates that at least 24 restaurants and bars in the city have been forced to close their doors due to the pandemic.