The mayor of Nashville and his health department have been accused of withholding data about the low number of COVID-19 cases linked to bars and restaurants in the city — all while placing strict restrictions on the venues.
Internal emails published by FOX-affiliate WZTV purportedly show top officials in the Tennessee city discussing the low figure and whether certain data should be made public.
In a June 29 email correspondence, Benjamin Eagles, the senior advisor to Nashville Mayor John Cooper asks Metro Nashville Health Department epidemiologist Leslie Waller for countywide contact tracing data over the last 14 days.
“Looking to see what sort of activity has been most related to new cases,” Eagles wrote, according to the email.
Waller, in response, asked for time to pull the data together before writing, “This isn’t going to be publicly released, right? Just info for Mayor’s Office?”
“Correct, not for public consumption,” Eagles replied, according to the report.
A month later, a local reporter asked the health department about a claim that there are only 80 coronavirus cases traced to 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 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?” Tennessee Lookout reporter Nate Rau asked, according to WZTV.
Health department official Brian Todd then asked five health department officials, “Please advise how you recommend I respond,” according to the news outlet.
One of the officials whose name was cut off replied, “My two cents. We have certainly refused to give counts per bar because those numbers are low per site,” the report said.
The response continued, “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.”
After the pandemic hit in March, the city’s restaurants and bars were restricted to take-out orders only and had their capacities limited.
They were permitted to reopen with a max of 25 patrons in late August, and eateries in the city are now allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity.
More than two dozen venues have closed amid the crisis, according to Eater.
Nashville Metro Council Member Steve Glover accused the Cooper administration of staging a cover-up.
“They are fabricating information,” Glover told WZTV. “They’ve blown their entire credibility … It’s gone. I don’t trust a thing they say going forward.”
Cooper’s spokesman Chris Song responded to the cover-up allegations in a statement Thursday, and said that the news report was “published with limited information and without context,” according to ABC-affiliate WKRN.
Song, according to WKRN, said that emails from the same thread that emphasized the need to publicly release as much COVID-19 data as possible were left out of the WZTV report.
“The Mayor’s office and the Metro Public Health Department remain committed as always to providing timely and transparent information that helps inform our local media and all Nashvillians in the fight against COVID-19,” the statement said. “And we’re grateful to all the residents and businesses owners in Davidson County for their hard work and dedication to our ongoing COVID-19 response.”