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Reported By Erin Erhardt | Published September 17, 2020 at 1:36pm

That’s what appears to have happened in Nashville, where local leaders apparently hid low coronavirus numbers related to bars and restaurants in order to support continued lockdowns.

According to WZTV, contact tracing commissioned earlier this year revealed that nursing homes and construction sites were much more responsible for the coronavirus’ spread than bars and restaurants. In fact, the number of coronavirus cases traced back to bars and restaurants in Nashville was so low — just 22 cases as of June 30 — that the office of Democratic Mayor John Cooper and the Metro Health Department allegedly decided not to release the numbers to the public.

Now, however, emails have emerged between the mayor’s office and the health department in which officials appear to allude to hiding the numbers from the public.

“This isn’t going to be publicly released, right? Just info for Mayor’s Office?” Leslie Waller of the health department asked in one email, according to WZTV.

“Correct, not for public consumption,” responded one of the mayor’s senior advisers, Benjamin Eagles.

The exchange certainly suggests that officials didn’t want the public to know just how few coronavirus cases could be traced back to bars and restaurants. Presumably, this is because such officials wanted to keep the city locked down instead of allowing those businesses to reopen. (Bars and restaurants in the city, it’s worth noting, were not allowed to reopen until the middle of last month, WTVF reported.) That’s unnerving and duplicitous.

First, Americans should be trusted to make their own assessment of their coronavirus risk level based on actual data. Government officials shouldn’t hide that data for political purposes.

Second, for months now, the American public has been forced to make sacrifices in the name of slowing the spread and keeping coronavirus cases at a manageable level. Many people — including bar owners and restaurateurs — have lost their entire livelihoods due to the continued shutdowns. These people deserve to know the facts surrounding their sacrifices. It’s one thing to keep bars and restaurants closed. It’s another thing to do so despite knowing that very few coronavirus cases stem from such places.

About a month later, a reporter for the Tennessee Lookout asked the health department about a rumor that only about 80 cases could be traced back to the state capital’s restaurants and bars.

“The figure you gave of ‘more than 80’ does lead to a natural question: If there have been over 20,000 positive cases of COVID-19 in Davidson and only 80 or so are traced to restaurants and bars, doesn’t that mean restaurants and bars aren’t a very big problem?” Tennessee Lookout reporter Nate Rau asked.

In an internal email, according to WZTV, Brian Todd of the health department then asked five fellow health department officials: “Please advise how you recommend I respond.”

One official reportedly replied: “My two cents. We have certainly refused to give counts per bar because those numbers are low per site. We could still release the total though, and then a response to the over 80 could be because that number is increasing all the time and we don’t want to say a specific number.”

The health department and the mayor’s office refused to confirm to WZTV that the emails were real. But a Metro staff attorney has confirmed that they are, according to Nashville Metro Council Member Steve Glover.

“I was able to get verification from the Mayor’s Office and the Department of Health that these emails are real,” the attorney reportedly told Glover.

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