Axios Nashville

Picture of the Nashville skyline.
October 20, 2021

It's Wednesday and we made it halfway through the workweek. Let's keep going!

  • Today's weather: Sunny and clear. The high is about 78, and there is a chance of late-night showers.

Situational awareness: The Metro Council last night gave final approval to sweeping regulations about party buses. Additional legislation on the topic is expected before the end of the year.

Today's newsletter is 876 words — a 3.3-minute read.

1 big thing: Local breakthrough cases

Illustration of a hand holding a candle with the candle glow shaped as a covid cell. 
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Unvaccinated people continue to account for the vast majority of COVID-19 deaths in Nashville, according to new data shared by the chair of the city's pandemic response task force.

  • There have been 27 breakthrough deaths out of a total of 1,109, task force chair Dr. Alex Jahangir tells Axios. Those numbers go back to the start of the pandemic, including well before the vaccines were widely available early this year.
  • The breakthrough mortality rate in Davidson County is 0.3% (27 out of 7,652 known cases), compared to 0.8% for unvaccinated deaths (1,082 out of 131,447 known cases).

Why it matters: Jahangir said the local data matches national numbers showing that a fully vaccinated person is significantly less likely to die compared to an unvaccinated person.

  • Jahangir acknowledged the high-profile death of fully vaccinated retired Gen. Colin Powell, which stirred up criticism about the efficacy of the vaccines.
  • "The data gives me comfort, and should give us all comfort, about why it is important to get vaccinated," Jahangir says.

Between the lines: Jahangir pointed out that Powell, who died Monday, had been battling multiple myeloma and was immunocompromised, factors that put him at additional risk.

  • "I review the death reports, and of the (breakthrough deaths) I'm aware of, all of them were people who were older and/or immunocompromised," Jahangir tells Axios.

By the numbers: Data from the Tennessee Department of Health indicates that in August, fully vaccinated people accounted for 17% of all COVID deaths in the state.

  • Between May and the end of August, when the most recent statewide data is available, fully vaccinated people made up 12% of deaths.

What they're saying: David Aronoff, director of the infectious diseases division at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told Axios that real-time analysis of COVID-19 data is clear. Vaccines offer powerful protection against infection, hospitalization and death.

  • Aronoff said Powell's death illustrates the risks for a specific population of older, immunocompromised people.
  • Vaccines "do not create a 100% forcefield," Aronoff said. "But they are highly, highly protective. We need to remember that vaccines are playing a role like helmets do on motorcycle drivers or seatbelts do on people in cars."

2. Ethics complaint filed against Planning commissioner

Davidson County City Hall and Court House with a fountain in front.
Nashville City Hall and Courthouse. Photo: John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Metro Board of Ethical Conduct next week will consider an ethics complaint filed against Planning Commission member Pearl Sims over whether she was impartial when considering a recent zoning proposal.

Why it matters: Ethics complaints against city officials are rare and there is a high threshold for the board to find wrongdoing.

Driving the news: The complaint contends Sims, who lives in the Edgehill neighborhood, was biased against a zoning proposal called North Edgehill Commons.

  • The ethics rules say a commissioner can be disqualified from voting on a proposal for bias if their impartiality can be questioned, including "bias stemming from the pre-judgment of disputed fact issues that will prevent the board member from fairly and impartially weighing the evidence."
  • The Oct. 6 complaint cited as proof of her bias comments by Sims at a commission meeting in September as well as social media posts in which she seemed to reference the project.
  • Sims had been advised in the past by planning staff to be careful about the appearance of conflicts when voting on pending zoning proposals.
  • Sims told Axios on Tuesday she had no comment.

Context: The project in question was a proposed mixed-use development that sought to bring housing, a grocery store and open space to the intersection of 12th Ave. South and Hawkins St.

Go Deeper: This isn't the first time Sims' impartiality has been questioned.

3. The Setlist

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

🛩 The Nashville International Airport next spring is adding two nonstop routes to destinations in Canada, care of Flair Airlines. (WSMV)

🎒 The University of Tennessee system hit record enrollment after absorbing a new location in Pulaski. (Knoxville News Sentinel)

🦠 Tennessee lawmakers pushed back on federal COVID-19 safety rules. (WPLN)

🚘 The authority designated to oversee the Ford megasite in West Tennessee could hide public records from view, according to an expert. (The Tennessean)

The General Assembly will be back in session next week to consider legislation related to COVID-19 regulations. (Tennessee Journal)

4. Garth at The Ryman

Garth brooks on stage holding a guitar with a microphone strapped around his face.
Photo: Kevin Mazur/BBMA2020/Getty Images for dcp

After years of touring stadiums and arenas, Garth Brooks announced two intimate shows at the Mother Church of Country Music.

  • Brooks will play at The Ryman Auditorium Nov. 19 and 20.

Why it matters: Brooks is widely recognized as one of the best entertainers in the genre, with a reputation for drawing record crowds to the nation's biggest venues. Stripped-down performances at The Ryman will showcase a different side of the Country Music Hall of Famer.

The details: Tickets go on sale Friday at 10am. They won't last long.

  • Proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test will be required for entry.

5. 1 🌲 to go

Photo courtesy of Austin Peay State University

Clarksville is home to a surprising new tourist attraction: the largest Douglas fir tree in the state.

  • The tree on the Austin Peay State University campus won the distinction last month after a review from the University of Tennessee Department of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries and the Tennessee Division of Forestry.

By the numbers: The Douglas fir, located near Austin Peay's Pace Alumni Center, is 73 feet tall with a circumference of about 113 inches, according to a news release.

Top trees: UT catalogues "champion trees" across the state. You can take a look at them online.

Our picks:

🎞 Nate is having a ball. Scrapping and yelling and mixing it up. Loving every minute with this damn crew.

🎼 Adam is trying to decide which Dolly Parton song he'll add next to the Axios Nashville playlist.