We’re Number One! 

When the national COVID Tracking Project released its Monday data, there was a bit of shocking news: The "highest place in the world for new cases per population" is — wait for it — the state of Tennessee. The Volunteer State is one of two places in the world with more than 1,000 cases per million residents a day. Ohio is the other.

So, we're number one, baby! Suck it, Buckeyes!

We've known that COVID is absolutely ravaging many of Tennessee's rural counties, most of which don't even have a hospital. But it's gotten much worse. Lake County and Trousdale County, for example, have nearly double the state's world-topping infection rate. Wayne, Obion, and Haywood Counties are also well over the state's horrific average.

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The good news? Here in Shelby County, we consistently have the lowest or one of the lowest rates of infection in Tennessee. So, congratulations to our health department and local leadership for their part in that. They're doing it (relatively speaking) right.

In contrast to local efforts, Governor Bill Lee's handling of the pandemic has been abysmal — squishy, mealy-mouthed, and inconsistent. Unsurprisingly, his behavior has echoed that of his hero, President Trump, every step of the way through this pandemic. Masks and restrictions are an "individual decision." The governor wears masks at some events, not at others. State testing is uneven. Even this week, as Tennessee got its first 1,000 doses of the COVID vaccine, they were withheld from use and designated as "backup supply." Really? Backup for what? We have the worst rate of COVID infection on the planet and we're holding back vaccines?

Additionally, the state announced Monday that it would be cutting back on COVID testing. What on Earth? Is that being done on the theory that the reason our COVID rate is so high is because we test too much? Wonder where he got that idea. Maybe the governor thinks we'll fall out of first/worst place if we just cut back on that darn testing.

It's puzzling. But maybe not so much when you realize just how much of an acolyte Governor Lee is of President Trump. As I write this, on Tuesday, Lee has still refused to acknowledge the election of Joe Biden, saying that he wants to "see where we are in the process." Sigh.

Here's where we are in the process, Bill: President Trump lost the popular vote by more than 7 million; he lost the Electoral College vote 306 to 232. The president has filed 55 lawsuits alleging voter fraud in six different states and all but one (a procedural technicality) were summarily thrown out of court, many by Republican judges, even some he appointed. His own (recently departed) attorney general, Bill Barr, has said there was no election fraud that would have impacted the national election results.

Also very Trumpian was the devastating story released by Nashville's NewsChannel 5 this week about Lee's administration awarding a $26 million no-bid contract for COVID testing to a politically connected Utah company with no testing experience, after a GOP political consultant pitched the contract. State employees warned Lee that the contract was a disaster waiting to happen, and they were right. The state paid $6 million to get out of the contract and no tests were performed. The Donald would be proud.

History is full of leaders who rose to high office and weren't up to handling a major challenge once they got there. The president is one of those. He ignored the pandemic at first, then mostly left it up to the states and individual Americans to figure out how to fight it. Lee is much like him, leaving Tennessee's counties and individuals to figure out the best response, using state money to reward his friends and political allies. (Remember the "sock masks"?)

So, kudos to all of you Shelby Countians who are wearing a mask and distancing, trying to flatten the curve as we head into what promises to be a very bleak January. We're just now feeling the post-Thanksgiving surge, having hit almost 1,000 new cases in the county on Monday. If past is prologue, thousands of Tennesseans will gather for Christmas with their extended families. If you plan on doing that, please keep the gathering as small as possible and get everyone tested in advance. Consider gathering outside, maybe around a firepit or a patio heater.

The vaccine is here; a coordinated national response is coming; the worst of this will be over soon, but the pandemic is nearing its peak. Be smart. Be kind. Be safe.

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