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Mandates don’t work

It’s time to end the mandates, restrictions and lockdowns.

The evidence shows these top-down actions by government have no measurable impact.

No matter how often authorities point to cherry-picked studies suggesting otherwise, such reports do not hold up to unbiased scrutiny.

This conclusion is universal, but let’s take a look at our local example.

Shelby County

In December, the Director of the Shelby County Health Department had this to say prior to releasing a new set of restrictive orders:

In this brief quote, Director Haushalter made the following points:

  • Shelby County’s numbers were among the best in the state
  • Tennessee was “on fire” and new policies were needed
  • Without new restrictions, there would be a very difficult January
  • Local actions can substitute for broader actions

I agree with the last point.

All American citizens, especially those who are concerned about state governments removing or refusing to impose restrictions, can continue to do as we’ve always done: follow the best guidance available and take precautionary measures to protect ourselves and others. This does not require mandates.

The other three points are suspect.

Shelby County among the best?

Shelby County’s numbers have not been drastically different than any of the largest counties across the state.

The chart above shows cases per 100,000 in the state of Tennessee’s ten most populous counties.

As you can see, these counties almost uniformly rise and fall together.

Cases rose through the beginning of August, then slumped through September, rose for a month and dipped, rose for another month and dipped, once again rose for a month and dipped, and have fallen since around the first of the year.

If policies had any measurable impact, we wouldn’t see this same pattern repeated across the state, as these local governments were not uniform in their response to the pandemic.

We can also compare Shelby County to its surrounding communities.

Above is a map of cases per 100,000 in Shelby County and the surrounding counties of Tipton, Fayette, Crittenden, DeSoto and Marshall.

Here also, cases rose through August, fell through September, mainly rose through the end of the year, and have fallen sharply since early January.

These communities had different policies, implemented at different times, but ended up with the same pattern.

Tennessee on fire?

It’s true the state had the highest ratio of new cases in the nation for a spell in December. Tennessee’s moment as the top state for cases was brief, and there’s nothing to indicate that fact had anything to do with state policy.

Above is a chart of cases per 100,000 in the southern states of Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Louisiana, Florida and Tennessee.

Once again, you can see the numbers in the entire region largely rose and fell together. Each of these states mounted a hill in July, traversed a valley for a few months, climbed a mountain at the end of the year, and then slid sharply in 2021.

Governor Bill Lee was under intense pressure in December to institute statewide restrictions. He declined to do that, and… cases fell.

The experts predicted the opposite.

A very difficult January?

With numbers increasing at the end of the year and with holidays and new variants on the horizon, health officials were convinced that the state’s failure to implement new restrictions would result in an explosion of new cases.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, Tennessee cases fell and locked-down California took a turn leading the nation in new cases. Though cases were falling nationwide, some of the states with the most severe restrictions joined the leaderboard, including New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island.

No better off

Shelby County’s numbers paralleled the larger state trend despite conflicting policy choices.

Shelby County did a little worse at first, then a little better, and now we’re about even with the state.

There’s no evidence that local mandates, 25% capacity restrictions and early curfews had any impact outside of economic fallout.

But the county focused on these measures at the expense of giving more time and attention to the vaccine distribution, which is the one thing the health department could have done to make a real impact on case rates.

It would have been harder for the state to justify a limited government approach if other interventions had shown real promise. Unfortunately for those who have been hardest hit, that has simply not been the case.

It’s time to end the mandates, restrictions and lockdowns.

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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.