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COVID-19 update

Vaccines. The COVID-19 vaccination process continues and the county will be moving into Phase 1b, including teachers and residents 65 and older. Information about eligibility categories and scheduling is available at the Tennessee Department of Health and the Shelby County Health Department.

In Shelby County, more than 100,000 doses have been administered. While a variety of process problems continue, the Health Department has made a few changes since our last update.

First, it launched the VaxQueue waitlist to allow citizens to register in advance and receive alerts when appointments are available.

Second, it is turning over management of the Pipkin building site to the City of Memphis, which has maintained a more efficient experience at the Appling location by requiring proof of an appointment and limiting how early people can arrive. As recently as last week, seniors arriving for appointments at the Pipkin site were waiting five hours or more and still being turned away.

A number of other frustrations also remain, including the absence of a unified scheduling system, too few second dose appointments available, and an unreliable supply of vaccine that cannot meet demand.

In addition, a severe winter storm may have contributed to the waste of 1,300 doses.

Commissioners will vote Monday on a resolution asking the state to intervene and call in the National Guard, as other states have done.

Variants. Health officials have identified a presumptive local case of the Brazilian variant, against which existing vaccines are less effective.

Back to business. Restaurants welcomed the Health Department’s latest directive, number 18, which relaxes restrictions and goes into effect at midnight. They did not as much appreciate the Health Department’s orders on Friday, initially closing all restaurants under the water boil order in Memphis, before being reversed later in the day.

Below we check in on the numbers. All local data used comes from the Shelby County Health Department.

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The path to majority

The November 2020 general election was not a great one for the Republican party in Shelby County. It’s going to take a vast amount of work for the party to reclaim a majority.

The party’s candidates for U.S. President and Vice President were selected by 34% of Shelby County voters.

The party’s candidate for U.S. Senate did slightly better, picking up an additional 5,228 votes. And the Democratic Senate candidate fared worse than the top of their ticket, pulling in 17,825 fewer votes. Taken together, that helped Senator Hagerty capture an additional 2 percent of the vote.

If we combine the totals the Shelby County electorate gave to both of the Republican candidates for U.S. House (in Districts 8 and 9), there were an additional 174 votes for the GOP.

The party’s Presidential ticket won the second-fewest votes since 1976, beating only its worst showing in that period – 2016.

Comparing 2020 to 1976, the Republicans picked up 1,169 votes and the Democrats gained 98,212 – nearly 84 times as many voters.

In that span, Republicans only carried a majority twice: 1984 and 1988.

Total votes were up 37%, from 279 thousand in 1976 to 383 thousand in 2020. It was the second highest year for turnout after 2008.

Both of those years, the Democratic ticket included an historic first, and Shelby County voters responded.

Reaching majority

For the Republican ticket to reclaim the majority won by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush in the 1980s, it will need to reverse the downward trend, consolidate its base, and win over independents and Democrats.

In 2020, the party would have needed 187,961 votes to win a majority of our county’s electorate. Here’s a look at the party’s performance since 1976 in comparison to that total.

That’s a difference of 58,146 votes, equivalent to the total population of the City of Bartlett. The party’s total will need to increase by 45 percent.

How do we get there?

Here’s what Republicans will need to do, in order of difficulty:

  1. Keep the 129,815 voters who supported the 2020 Republican ticket.
  2. Consolidate Republican support, adding the 5,402 votes that other Republican candidates collected down ballot.
  3. Claim a sizeable number of independent voters, who have multiplied in recent years, for an additional 5,124 votes.
  4. Return to the average total that Republicans have enjoyed over the past 20 years, for 2,389 extra votes.
  5. Win over hearts and minds like President Reagan did in the four years between 1980 and 1984, giving Republicans a 29,560 vote boost.
  6. Convince at least 15,671 additional Democratic voters.

That’s our path to 187,961.

What do you think it will take for us to get there?

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Issues

COVID-19 update

Vaccines. The COVID vaccination process has begun. Information about eligibility categories and scheduling is available at the Tennessee Department of Health and the Shelby County Health Department.

In Shelby County, 24,000 people have been vaccinated, but few are very happy about the pace so far. All appointments for January have been filled and some await second doses. Older constituents and their family members are frustrated that no waitlist has been prepared, and it has been difficult to follow the process.

Variants. Multiple COVID-19 variants are circulating around the globe and are said to be more contagious. Officials worry the UK variant could fuel case spikes.

New strains originating in the U.S. were discovered by researchers a week after White House officials warned of them and such warnings were dismissed by the CDC and the New York Times as “false reports.”

Strategy. An international study of lockdown measures and business closures reveals no clear benefit over other voluntary measures. But where lockdowns and mask mandates have failed, rapid at-home testing could make a difference.

Below we check in on the local numbers, state rankings, and take a final look at U.S. fatalities in 2020. All local data used comes from the Shelby County Health Department.

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COVID-19 update

A COVID-19 vaccine is on the way.

The FDA gave emergency use authorization to a vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.

FedEx has started the delivery process, thanks to Operation Warp Speed.

Healthcare professionals will be the first in line for the vaccine, which is great considering they are some of the most vulnerable workers.

This news comes the same day new cases hit a record 930 in Shelby County.

Below we check in on the local numbers. All data used comes from the Shelby County Health Department.

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Freezing out taxpayers

Our friends at The Beacon Center are out with their latest research on government waste: 2020 Pork Report.

Item number six on their list is the hiring freeze in Shelby County government. I appreciate the attention to our budget predicament, but some additional context is warranted.

Below is the section dealing with the Shelby County hiring freeze.

I believe this is a reference to the hiring freeze put in place during the first meeting of this current fiscal year. That measure was introduced on July 13 by then-Chairman Mark Billingsley and received unanimous support.

Here’s that resolution:

As you’ll notice in the highlighted portion of the resolution, there was a provision allowing for “necessary exceptions.”

Those exceptions began to be brought forward immediately, some of them occurring in the very same meeting. Additional exceptions were considered by the commission in the next several meetings.

Some members of the board considered these exceptions to be out of line with the “freeze” policy, and eventually the vast majority of commissioners lost their patience with the process and were ready to lift it.

In the September 28 meeting, there were two dueling resolutions on the agenda. One resolution lifted the freeze altogether. Because I worked to put together a compromise, that resolution was withdrawn.

The other resolution, which I introduced and sponsored with two other commissioners, merely changed the composition of the hiring freeze committee.

Instead of coming before the commission, exceptions would be approved by executives in the mayor’s administration and other elected offices.

This resolution passed, 11-1, and remains in effect to this day.

Furthermore, for additional context, there was already a hiring freeze in place earlier in the calendar year.

I introduced that resolution and sponsored it along with Commissioner Morrison. It was approved on April 20 by a vote of 7-4.

All that said, I agree with the Beacon Center that local government needs to be responsible with your tax dollars and curb the growth of spending.

We will need to remain especially vigilant in the year ahead.