Metro Nashville Coronavirus Task Force Chair’s Misleading COVID-19 Claim: Failed to Note ‘Surrounding Counties With More Cases Than Davidson County’ Included More Than 1,000 Asymptomatic Trousdale County Prisoners

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On Friday a Metro Nashville Davidson County Coronavirus Task Force official said that surrounding counties had a higher number of COVID-19 cases than Davidson County itself had — but it appears that claim is highly misleading.

“We now have 2,832 confirmed cases. That’s an increase of 163 cases in the last 24 hours. There are an additional 3,227 cases in the surrounding counties. That’s an increase of 955 in one day. Now, for the first time, the surrounding counties have more cases than Davidson County, ” Metro Coronavirus Task Force Chair Alex Jahangir said at Friday’s press conference with Mayor John Cooper.

The clear implication from that claim was that Davidson County’s continuation of Mayor Cooper’s executive order that residents should remain safer at home and “non-essential” businesses must remain closed was responsible for a lower increase in than coronavirus cases than counties “surrounding” Davidson County, were Gov. Lee has relaxed his executive order to allow many “non-essential” businesses to open up.

On Sunday, a spokesperson for the Metro Nashville Health Department admitted to The Tennessee Star that Jahangir’s claim Friday that there have been 3,227 cases in “surrounding counties,” includes cases in Trousdale County, which does not border Davidson County, and whose 1,344 reported cases of coronavirus reported at the Tennessee Department of Health website as of late Sunday includes more than 1,300 cases of inmates and staff in Trousdale Turner Correctional Facility – almost all of whom are asymptomatic, as The Star reported Sunday.

Jahangir’s inclusion of Trousdale County as a “surrounding county” is misleading for two reasons. First, Trousdale does not border Davidson County. Second, and most importantly, the inclusion of more than 1,300 asymptomatic prisoners from Trousdale County gives the very false impression that the general population in the counties that border Davidson County are seeing a huge increase in coronavirus cases.

As of Sunday, the total number of coronavirus cases reported at The Tennessee Department of Health in the six counties that border Davidson County was 2,090, (Williamson-419, Rutherford-547, Wilson-268, Sumner-640, Robertson-168, Cheatham-48) significantly less than than 2,832 reported in Davidson County by the Metro Nashville Department of Health on Friday. (Note: Due to time lags in reporting between the Metro Nashville Department of Health and the Tennessee Department of Health, the state’s Sunday statistics for Davidson County are slightly lower than Metro Nashville’s Friday statistics for Davidson County.)

On Sunday The Tennessee Star asked Nashville officials to clarify which counties specifically Jahangir referred to during a press conference Friday. Chris Song, spokesman for Nashville Mayor John Cooper, referred all questions to Brian Todd at the Metro Health Department.

In an email Sunday, The Star asked Todd to cite which counties Jahangir referred to specifically — a county-by-county breakdown. And does that include Trousdale County, where more than 1,000 inmates at the private prison there tested positive for COVID-19?

We also asked Todd how he and other Health Department officials arrived at the 3,227 number.

Todd’s emailed the following response, which did not include a direct answer:

“Dr. Jahangir was referring to the Tennessee Department of Health’s Mid-Cumberland region’s numbers on Friday. This includes the counties that surround Davidson. I know Trousdale County is part of the Mid-Cumberland region but unfortunately I don’t know all the counties,” Todd said.

Todd went on to say that, yes, Jahangir did include the cases at the CoreCivic facility in Trousdale County.

According to the Tennessee Department of Health’s website, the Mid-Cumberland Region lists seven counties that have dental clinics. That list does not include Trousdale County. Six other counties in the Mid-Cumberland Region have have dental clinics Dickson, Montgomery, Robertson, Rutherford, Stewart, Williamson, and Wilson counties. Five counties in the region do not have dental clinics:  Cheatham, Trousdale, Humphries, Houston, and Sumner. (See UPDATE and Editor’s Note below.)

Here’s the April 29 coronavirus count, by county, according to the Tennessee Department of Health:

Note that Trousdale county as of April 29 only had 50 cases of Coronavirus.

The following day, April 30, one day before Friday’s press conference, The Tennessee Department of Health reported the following numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases for the seven counties in the Mid-Cumberland Region:

Dickson County: 74 confirmed cases

Montgomery County: 146 cases

Robertson County: 157 cases

Rutherford County: 502

Stewart County: 7 cases

Williamson County: 416 cases

Wilson County: 259

Combined, these seven counties in the Mid-Cumberland Region had 1,561 cases as of April 30. Trousdale County reported 1,020 cases as of April 30. Sumner County, one of two counties that borders Davidson County but is not included in the Mid-Cumberland Region, reported 608 cases. Cheatham County, the second county that borders Davidson County but is not included in the Mid-Cumberland region, reported 42 cases.

The total number of coronavirus cases reported in the seven Mid-Cumberland Region counties, Trousdale County, Sumner County, and Cheatham County as of April 30 was 3,231, a number remarkably close to the 3,227 cases Metro Nashville Coronavirus Task Force Chair.

Three days after Metro Nashville Davidson Coronavirus Task Force Chair  Alex Jahangir incorrectly claimed that “Now, for the first time, the surrounding counties have more cases than Davidson County,” no one in either Mayor Cooper’s office or the Metro Nashville Health Department can identify the counties Jahangir was referring to as “surrounding counties,” nor can they explain why Jahangir misleading included more than 1,300 inmates from Trousdale County in his tally of “surrounding county” coronavirus cases.

Metro Nashville Health Department spokesperson Todd could only offer the following excuse for Jahangir’s incorrect statements of actual coronavirus data.

“Dr. Jahagir was pointing out that a significant number of cases across Tennessee are in the middle of the state. Dr. Jahangir has covered in several daily press briefings that the task force will take several factors into consideration when deciding to move to phase 1,” Todd said.

“Nashville/Davidson County’s trend line of cases is only one of those factors. I have not heard him say that the cases in Mid-Cumberland is one of the factors.”

UPDATE and Editor’s Note:

The original version of this story incorrectly stated that the Mid-Cumberland Region consisted of seven counties: Dickson County, Montgomery County, Robertson County, Rutherford County,  Stewart County, Williamson County, and Wilson County. In fact, the Mid-Cumberland Region consists of five additional counties, for a total of 12 counties: Cheatham, Trousdale, Humphries, Houston, and Sumner.

The current version of the story contains this correction.

We became aware of this error late Monday, when Chris Song, Press Secretary for Mayor John Cooper, provided this comment to The Tennessee Star:

Anything more than a cursory examination of the Tennessee Department of Health website would have shown you that the Mid-Cumberland region contains 12 counties, not seven, as you’ve erroneously informed your readers: https://www.tn.gov/health/health-program-areas/localdepartments.html

The statement made by Dr. Jahangir on Friday is accurate and is based on data received by the Metro Public Health Department directly from the Tennessee Department of Health.

Though Mr. Song did not identify the 12 counties in the Mid-Cumberland region, The Tennessee Star has subsequently confirmed that the Mid-Cumberland Region does include 12 counties, 7 of which contain dental clinics. Those seven counties including dental clinics are listed in the link identified in our story above: Dickson County, Montgomery County, Robertson County, Rutherford County,  Stewart County, Williamson County, and Wilson County. Five additional counties, which do not have dental clinics and are not identified in this link at the Tennessee Department of Health, are however, in the Mid-Cumberland Region: Cheatham, Trousdale, Humphries, Houston, and Sumner.

 

 

 

 

 

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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to [email protected]

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Thoughts to “Metro Nashville Coronavirus Task Force Chair’s Misleading COVID-19 Claim: Failed to Note ‘Surrounding Counties With More Cases Than Davidson County’ Included More Than 1,000 Asymptomatic Trousdale County Prisoners”

  1. rick

    If Cooper listens to over educated nuts like this we will never open for business. I have lived here all my life and I am ready to get out . Cooper is turning this into. a real. _ _it city.

  2. lb

    He is DESPERATELY trying to justify leading weak MiniCooper off a cliff because MC believed every little piece of unconfirmed “metrics” AKA GUESSES this guy spouted because of his Title at Vandy Med.
    Janghair hasnt been right YET so now he is flailing around trying to make things up in order to “prove” he’s been right so MC will keep Nashville closed!

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