NASHVILLE, Tenn. (NewsNation Now) — Nashville Mayor John Cooper announced Thursday that he’ll be easing restrictions on bars throughout the city but a lawsuit claiming Cooper exaggerated COVID-19 numbers to shut down bars continues to cause controversy.
Two bars on the popular Broadway strip in Nashville filed a lawsuit in June seeking compensation for the lost revenue during the local and state-mandated stay at home orders. The lawsuit alleges that the businesses have been specifically targeted by Nashville’s public health chief Dr. Michael Caldwell and the mayor and received unfair treatment in comparison to protestors during recent demonstrations.
“The hurt to these families, the revenue lost, to the city, the revenue lost to these business owners who have been struggling since March, it’s just absolutely criminal,” said Attorney Bryan Lewis, representing bar owner Steve Smith and several bars on Broadway in the lawsuit.
Lewis said the city’s legal department released 500 pages of emails from the Metro Nashville Mayor’s office and the health department. Lewis claims the emails show the offices were trying to cover up coronavirus case numbers.
“We are using these emails right now in attempt to try to get federal court to allow us to oppose Mayor Cooper, Dr. Caldwell, and the officials in the health department about these emails,” said Lewis. “Why you would shut down this industry based on such a low number of cases to put thousands of people out of work?”
Some of the emails show the mayor’s senior advisor, Ben Eagles, asking the health department for statistics that would show where isolated COVID-19 outbreaks are occurring in social places, including events and bars.
“Right here, right when these emails were happening, the weekend prior, when public health told Dr. Alex [Jahangir] that they’d identified cases coming from bars, we see a spike and that’s six clusters at that time, July 1st, identified from bars, it’s the highest date to that point, and that was during the biggest spike of cases,” Eagles explained.
That Friday, July 3, the mayor’s office rolled back to a modified phase two, keeping bars entirely closed, the mayor said after finding a few dozen COVID-19 cases linked to ten different bars.
Cooper was asked at his COVID-19 press conference Thursday if stats were ever misleading.
“Of course there’s no effort to withhold information, we’ll do all we can to open up all information,” Cooper said, going on to explain how a White House official had traveled from state to state to inform cities of ‘super-spreader’ activities and the importance of keeping bars closed.
At the beginning of July, the city saw its highest COVID-19 positive rate of about 17%. It is now about 5%
Cooper said bars in Nashville and Davidson County can operate at 50% capacity beginning Friday. Establishments will only be allowed to have a maximum of 50 patrons per floor and 50 at an outside dining area. Bars will also be allowed to remain open until 11 p.m. nightly.
NewsNation affiliate WKRN contributed to this report.