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Dec 2, 2021

Axios Nashville

Happy Thursday! Thank you for joining us as we shuffle ever closer to the weekend.

☀️ Today's weather: Sunny with a balmy high of 71.

Today's newsletter is 926 words, a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: Reviewing Nashville's COVID response

COVID-19 testing outside Nissan Stadium in 2020. Photo: Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Tornadoes, floods and other disasters uniquely prepared Nashville for the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new report analyzing the city's virus response.

  • "It set Nashville apart, this concept of Nashville Strong," Kristi Mitchell, a health care consultant who worked on the report, said during a Wednesday panel. "It's as if you had all the trappings ... all the pieces ready to pull the trigger to execute a plan."

Yes, but: The report also found Nashville's marginalized communities — including people of color, immigrants and homeless residents — were hit hardest by the pandemic, both physically and financially.

  • The authors called on city leaders to invest more in serving those communities.

Why it matters: A number of city officials agreed the real-time analysis of successes and failures could improve Nashville's ongoing COVID response.

  • "We're going to be dealing with it for a while, so let's get some best practices and learn from some of the mistakes that we've made and do better," Meharry Medical College president James Hildreth said in a podcast discussing the findings.

Between the lines: The report, produced through a partnership among several local organizations including former Sen. Bill Frist's group NashvilleHealth, listed a series of recommendations for improving the city's response to public health emergencies, including:

  • Develop plans for emergency testing sites that can open if the virus spikes again. Some elected officials criticized the city for being slow to expand testing after the Delta variant emerged.
  • Use socioeconomic data to map out neighborhoods where communities are likely to suffer the most during public health emergencies. The report notes early mass-testing sites "lagged in Nashville's diverse neighborhoods."
  • Look for ways to harness the new COVID infrastructure to tackle other health challenges, particularly among marginalized communities.

What they're saying: Alex Jahangir, chair of the Nashville Coronavirus Task Force, said during the panel discussion that the report was a valuable gut check moving into 2022.

  • "Let's use the lessons that we're learning to continue to improve how we're moving forward," Jahangir said. "I'm grateful that we have one potential roadmap for that."
2. Sara Beth Myers running for DA

Photo courtesy of the Sara Beth Myers campaign

Sara Beth Myers, a former federal prosecutor, plans to challenge District Attorney Glenn Funk in the Democratic primary next year.

Why it matters: Myers is the second known primary opponent for Funk, currently completing his first term.

Context: In addition to her time in the U.S. Attorney's office, Myers also worked as an assistant state attorney general and a local prosecutor.

  • In a press release, Myers touted her experience at the federal, state and local level as well as her community ties.
  • Myers, 40, is a board member for the nonprofit Thistle Farms, which helps women who are victims of human trafficking. She also founded the advocacy group AWAKE, which runs statewide campaigns against child abuse and works to pass laws focused on women's and children's safety.

What she's saying: "It is a critical time for Nashville in terms of criminal justice," Myers said in the press release. "The current approach is clearly not working.

  • "Systemic reform requires an unprecedented amount of community cooperation to both prevent crime and tailor our response when it does happen."
3. First look: Tennessee's court debt crisis

Image courtesy of Think Tennessee

Tennessee has fallen short on addressing court fines and fees that can hobble poor, minority and rural residents, according to a new report by the nonprofit think tank Think Tennessee.

Why it matters: Court debt deepens economic disparities and creates an endless cycle of financial struggle for many. Failure to pay can cost a person their driver's license, destroy their credit, and tether them to a maze of bureaucratic red tape.

  • The General Assembly passed a law in 2019 that waived court fees for indigent people and allowed others to use payment plans for their debt.

Yes, but: The Think Tennessee study — which included a phone survey of county clerks — found the payment plans have been implemented inconsistently across the state, with rules varying from county to county.

The bottom line: Think Tennessee proposed several policy changes to address the problem, including increasing access to payment plans, adding more avenues for waiving fines and fees, and eliminating punishments such as revoking driver's licenses.

  • "The county I live in could determine my access to the payment plan," Think Tennessee president Shanna Singh Hughey tells Axios. "And that access could determine whether I lose my license or not.
  • "It's a hodge-podge of policies from county to county."
4. The Setlist

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

💉 Dozens of companies in Tennessee won't be able to require employees to get vaccines after a federal court ruling. (WPLN)

🥇 A Lipscomb student won gold at the world Jiu Jitsu championship in Abu Dhabi last month. (Lipscomb University)

🏗 The city released some possible concepts for development of the east bank of the Cumberland River. (The Tennessean)

5. Stapleton's still in demand

Chris Stapleton and Jennifer Hudson at the CMA Awards. Photo: Mark Humphrey/AP

Six years after Chris Stapleton vaulted to national fame with a little help from Justin Timberlake, he remains one of the music industry's most coveted duet partners.

Why it matters: Stapleton has become a global ambassador for country music. His unmistakable voice is a unifying force in a genre entrenched in an identity crisis.

The latest: Adele and Swift sent their Stapleton collaborations to country radio last month.

  • Stapleton's harmony rips through a duet version of "Easy on Me" like a chainsaw. Listen all the way to the end.
  • He gets the party started on "I Bet You Think About Me," Swift's rollicking return to her Nashville roots.

Nate is eating chicken from Waldo's and watching the fantastic Beatles documentary "The Beatles: Get Back."

Adam is devouring this deep dive on Lorne Michaels and "Saturday Night Live."