Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:
Cookeville Herald-Citizen on marking Easter one year into the pandemic:
To say we’ve been through a lot this past year may be the biggest understatement ever, but there (was) much to be grateful for as we (celebrated) the holiday most representative of rebirth, Easter.
A year ago, we were all reeling from a tornado that claimed 19 members of our community, destroyed homes and businesses while entering a pandemic that has already killed 173 people (check this) in Putnam County.
But hope continues to emerge.
Nearly 36,000 vaccine doses have been given in Putnam County, and cases of COVID-19 have dropped to lower levels not seen since last summer; 10,684 of the 11,001 Putnam residents who contracted COVID-19 have recovered.
Recovery rates have also improved at Cookeville Regional Medical Center, where the hospital reported a COVID-19 recovery rate of 87 percent in February. Last week, that number was up to 89 percent.
At this time last year, many of our community leaders were concerned — and rightly so — that the pandemic and the tornado would have a severe impact on the tax dollars that fund our budgets and help pay for vital services.
As it turns out, while some sectors of our economy were hit pretty hard (and, in some cases, continue to be), several months of record growth in sales tax collections gives us hope that the economic downturn in our area will not be as bad as it could have been.
It certainly didn’t hurt that the federal government approved three relief packages that resulted in the infusion of millions of dollars into our economy, whether that be through PPP loans, stimulus payments, or “COVID relief” grants to the schools.
We are not completely out of the woods yet and must be cautious about letting our guard down in ways that might encourage another spike in COVID cases.
But as we (gathered) this year for Easter, either in our homes or our places of worship, many of us (were able) to do so in person — something that was not possible as the pandemic spread last year.
So if COVID caused the metaphorical death of our plans for 2020, Easter 2021 may signify their resurrection.
The Crossville Chronicle on expanding voter registration access in Tennessee:
The November 2020 election saw a record number of people vote in Tennessee. More than 3 million people voted in the state, a turnout of 68.6% of registered voters.
Many of those voters took advantage of the state’s early voting period or absentee voting. The state allowed individuals at risk of complications from COVID-19 to apply for an absentee ballot for the November election. And, special voting sites were set up for individuals who had COVID-19 on election day and had not voted early or absentee.
But other states still saw more participation in this latest round of our democratic republic. More than 75% of voters in Minnesota took to the polls, followed by Maine, New Hampshire, Colorado and Wisconsin, where turnout ranged from 72-74%.
Those numbers only consider the number of registered voters. When you look at the voting-eligible population, Tennessee only had 59.8% of eligible voters participate. Hawaii, Arkansas and Oklahoma were the only states with lower participation when you look at the voting-eligible population.
The Cost of Voting Index, originally published in 2018 and updated in 2020, ranked the state 46th out of 50 in ease of voting. The only states faring worse were Mississippi, Missouri, Georgia and Texas.
However, voters tend to turn out in higher numbers during a national election than for local or state elections, despite how important those races are to our government.
Why should we care?
A foundation of our nation is that the people make decisions through their elected representatives. If people do not participate in choosing those representatives, their voice may not be heard in the halls of government.
Lawmakers filed more than 60 bills related to voting in Tennessee in this session of the Tennessee General Assembly. One, filed by Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, would have eliminated the popular early voting period and outlawed voting machines, among other things. The bill was withdrawn, but many other proposals are remaining.
Some would expand the use of convenience voting centers instead of requiring voters to go to their assigned precinct. Another would streamline the process for individuals with a felony conviction to have their voting rights restored.
Other bills would seek to increase the number of registered voters, with proposals ranging from requiring voter registration at high schools each fall and spring to automatic voter registration or same-day registration.
Another bill would require reaching out to voters who may be purged to inform them of how to update their information.
Secretary of State Tre Hargett said in a recent interview with the Tennessean that the record turnout the state saw was not enough.
“I want more and more people to be able to participate in elections … If we could hit record turnouts during this year, we ought to be able to try and hit record turnouts every time and convince people why it’s important to vote,” Hargett said.
Tennessee has done a lot to make it easier to register to vote, including online voter registration. But we’re still missing a lot of potential voters. Efforts to expand registration access throughout our state should be considered by the General Assembly.
The region took a major leap forward in the fight against COVID-19 this week.
Answering a call for action from President Joe Biden to open vaccine eligibility to all Americans by May 1, Gov. Bill Lee in late March said people 16 and older would be able to receive the vaccine by April 5, earlier in some places.
All adults in Northeast Tennessee could get the vaccine, as the Northeast Regional Health Office and the Sullivan County Health Department opened eligibility.
It seems the federal and state government solved the supply issues that plagued them early in the vaccine rollout, as thousands of newly eligible residents scheduled and received their first doses.
It’s been a long year living under the novel coronavirus, and we encourage everyone who is able to get one of the available vaccines when they can.
According to data from the Tennessee Department of Health, people in our region are receiving one of the vaccines at a higher rate than the rest of the state, which is something we can be proud of.
Sullivan, Washington and Unicoi counties are among the top in the state for the percentage of their populations that has received at least one dose of the vaccine. Still, there’s more work to be done.
Washington County’s region-high 29.5% who have received their first doses is short of the 60% to 70% who epidemiologists say need immunity through either vaccination or exposure to the virus to reach herd immunity.
We’re on the right track, though, and the expanded eligibility should help us make progress.
In the meantime, don’t let down your guard. Keep wearing masks, keep washing your hands and keep staying away from large crowds.