The 901: Shelby officials sound alarm on state anti-masking bills; Wiseman case back in spotlight

Mark Russell
Memphis Commercial Appeal
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Good Wednesday morning, Memphis, where we're bundling up to get through some chilly, wet weather until warmer fall days return this weekend and the Grizzlies face the Denver Nuggets tonight in a rare second game in three days  against same team at FedExForum.

But, first, Shelby County officials say state-sanctioned COVID-19 laws are harmful to county residents still reeling from the pandemic.

Shelby County Health Department Director Dr. Michelle Taylor speaks to the press during a press conference dealing with pediatric cases of COVID-19 at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital on Friday, Aug 13, 2021.

The county health director sounded the alarm on the slate of measures passed early Saturday morning by Tennessee lawmakers, saying the measures weren’t based on science and would curtail Shelby County’s ability to combat the spread of COVID-19, our Katherine Burgess reports.

"The decision that was made in Nashville last week is extremely harmful to public health, not only here in Shelby County but across the state," said Dr. Michelle Taylor, director of the Shelby County Health Department. "I tell you that if the governor signs this law, every decision we make in a pandemic will have to go through Nashville. We will have to run all decisions based upon local lives, life and death situations, through Nashville. If we have another impending collapse of our health system, we will have to call Nashville first."

The sweeping bill bars government entities and public schools from requiring masks unless COVID-19 cases skyrocket (at least 1,000 cases for every 100,000 residents in the past 14 days). It also prohibits those entities, as well as many private businesses, from mandating COVID-19 vaccines or proof of vaccination.

Tonyaa Weathersbee

Tonyaa Weathersbee's take on the state's COVID-19 legislation

The anti-mask bill is about death, not liberty,  Tonyaa Weathersbee writes in this column for subscribers.

An excerpt from her column: So, here’s part of the twisted and lethal logic that made its way into a bill from Tennessee lawmakers’ special session on COVID-19 last week.

In the bill that passed the Republican-dominated legislature, public schools can require children to wear masks to protect themselves from COVID-19, but only after the virus has sickened or killed enough people to prompt Gov. Bill Lee to declare a COVID-specific state of emergency.

On top of that, a county must also have a rolling infection rate of 1,000 per every 100,000 people over 14 days – something which no Tennessee county has ever had - and only if individual school principals request masking.

That’s backward. And bizarre.

Then again, so is the fact that lawmakers saw fit to call an entire session based on anti-vax lies and hysteria over freedoms being taken away when, in reality, fewer people will be alive to enjoy said freedoms, or too sick to enjoy them, if a deadly pathogen is allowed to spread.

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Memphis hospitals take action on unvaccinated employees

Memphis-area hospitals have fired or put on unpaid leave hundreds of employees who have not complied with COVID-19 vaccine mandates, our Corinne S. Kennedy reports.

While the exact number of employees who have been terminated or placed on leave was not provided, hospital system representatives said there was not 100% compliance with the mandates. While compliance rates are high, local healthcare systems employ tens of thousands, so even a small percentage of employees being fired or put on leave translates to hundreds of people, Corinne reports.

Based on the number of employees in each system and the compliance rates provided by the systems, Memphis hospital systems have lost more than 650 employees who refused COVID-19 vaccines. The figure also includes employees who work at Baptist and Methodist hospitals in Mississippi and Arkansas. 

Students return to the University of Memphis campus on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020.

The U of M names its third presidential finalist; final decision to come soon

The University of Memphis has named its third finalist for the next president. 

Teik C. Lim is the interim president at The University of Texas at Arlington. He was named interim in spring 2020 and also serves as a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. 

Lim joins two other finalists in Bill Hardgrave at Auburn University and Cammy Abernathy of the University of Florida, who began sessions with campus on Tuesday. 

Lim's campus meetings are on Thursday.

The open session for the campus and community is from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. with U of M Board of Trustees in the University Center's Senate Chambers room 261. 

Former Memphis stars Precious Achiuwa, left, and James Wiseman were both taken in the first round of the 2020 NBA Draft. Tigers coach Penny Hardaway, right, was the No. 3 pick in the 1993 NBA Draft.

Wiseman case spurs federal legislation

James Wiseman case inspires federal legislation that would change NCAA's infractions process, our Mark Giannotto reports in this commentary.

An excerpt from Mark's column: Almost two years ago, when the fallout over James Wiseman’s eligibility consumed the entire Memphis basketball fan base and the national college basketball conversation, U.S. Rep. David Kustoff (R-Shelby County) promised an investigation into the NCAA practices that led to such a controversy.

It initially appeared to be political grandstanding to score points with his constituency over an issue involving Kustoff’s alma mater (University of Memphis), the Memphis area’s most historic sports passion (Tigers basketball), one of its greatest athletic products (Penny Hardaway), and the No. 1 recruit in the country at the time (Wiseman). 

Now, though, Wiseman’s situation could be the impetus for a new federal law.

Braves players celebrate with the World Series trophy after the Game 6 win.

All hail the World Champion Braves

If you see a few Braves jerseys around Memphis today, it's understandable.

The Atlanta Braves, partly powered by two former Vanderbilt players, beat the Houston Astros 7-0 in game six of the World Series Tuesday night, reports Aria Gerson of our sister newsroom, The Tennessean.  It is the team's first championship since 1995, and its four overall World Series flag.

Have a great day.

Mark Russell is executive editor of The Commercial Appeal. He can be reached at [email protected] or 901/288-4509. You can also follow him on Twitter: @MarkRussell44

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