Email shows health department was ready to clear Titans for fans at start of August

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The director of Nashville's health department drafted an approval letter to give the Titans and Nissan Stadium on Aug. 1 for a plan to have fans at the venue at the start of the season and was ready to greenlight it.

But Mayor John Cooper’s office squashed it, public records obtained by Nashville for a Rational COVID Policy and shared with PaulKuharsky.com show.Nissan Stadium Panorama

Michael Caldwell, the director of the health department, wrote this email on July 30 to Bill Phillips, the mayor’s chief of staff, and Dr. Alex Jahangir, the Metro coronavirus task force chair:

Email Screenshot - Mayor Jim Cooper's Office

The response from Phillips came the following afternoon:

Second Email Screenshot, Nashville Mayor's Office

Caldwell then suggested revisiting the situation in a week with amendments. While there may have been face-to-face or phone conversation from there, no email record of any such follow-up exists.

Titans officials declined to comment and Caldwell or his spokesman could not be reached in short order.

Before Caldwell's prepared the above message, he got an email from Jahangir, who said he had spoken to Titans president Burke Nihill. 

Jahangir forwarded an email from Titans general counsel Dan Werly detailing the status of other NFL teams’ attendance plans. Jahangir wrote Caldwell and Phillips, saying atop Werly’s email, “As you can see, the proposal that we discussed is consistent, if not more restrictive, than most other venues."

But that did not mean he was on board in late July with the idea of fans at Nissan Stadium on Sept. 20, though he loved the Titans' plan.

"I did and still do think numbers were too high in July to make the recommendation for the end of September," Jahangir said. "I think that the Titans plan is a good one and wished then for, and am glad now, that the community spread is much less so that they can implement the plan."

Chris Song is the mayor's press secretary. He responded to an email requesting comment.

"Dr. Caldwell sent a draft proposal for consideration by the Mayor’s office and the Metro Coronavirus Task Force, including Dr. Jahangir," he wrote. "There were several issues with the proposal as presented at the time. Nashville’s COVID-19 progress was very different on July 31st than it is today.

"Our positivity rate was 12.6%. It is 4.2% today. We reported a 7-day moving average of 31.7 new daily cases per 100k residents. Today, that number is 14.5. The Mayor’s office and the COVID-19 Task Force concluded that these metrics were prohibitive of any large gathering at the time – a conclusion reached by half the teams in the NFL by the start of the regular season."

It's notable that Song pointed to the mayor's office and the task force, but not the health department.

Caldwell had the authority to approve any Titans' plan in conjunction with Cooper.

Nashville Mayor Jim Cooper

Song said the city did not want to make any sort of special exemption for professional football at the start.

"...When professional sporting events were to allow in-person attendance, we had a responsibility to all Nashvillians to chart a clear path forward for large events throughout Davidson County," Song said.

"As much as we all root for our home teams, a 'carve-out' in our public health ordinances made exclusively for the Titans would not be justifiable if our COVID-19 numbers did not permit them for all Nashville residents and small business owners. This is what we announced at last week’s press conference with the Titans, and we’ll have more details to share at (Thursday's) Metro COVID-19 press briefing.

The Titans' original request was for 25 percent of Nissan Stadium's capacity of 69,143. It is unknown if Caldwell's approval draft picked up on that number or reduced it.

Jahangir told Phillips of the mayor’s office that Caldwell of the health department would put his plan on paper for review and asked if further information was needed for the mayor as the Titans needed an answer soon to begin planning.

But Phillip's reply when Caldwell presented a draft seemingly ended email conversation about the potential for fans at the Titans' Sept. 20 home opener against Jacksonville, which was ultimately played in an empty Nissan Stadium.

There were no emailed updates on the numbers he said he wanted to see before committing to scenarios.

In fact, the next emails from or to Cooper, Phillips, or the mayor's senior advisor Ben Eagles including "Titans" or "Nissan Stadium" pertained to the Aug. 18 press conference at which the city announced no fans would be present for that game.

The Titans later proposed a steady ramp-up plan to the mayor and the team and city announced on Sept. 17 that a small number of fans would be allowed starting with the second home game.apple icon 144x144 precomposed

Nissan Stadium will utilize a pod system starting Oct. 4 when the Titans host the Steelers at around 10 percent of capacity, growing to about 12.5 percent for Oct. 11 against the Buffalo Bills and approximately 15 percent for Oct. 18 versus Houston.

The Steelers game is sold out.

The plan is to hold at that 15 percent number for the remaining four home games though it could grow depending on the circumstances.

Ticket sales for season-ticket members started Tuesday, but a glitch-filled day for Ticketmaster prompted the team to reschedule online windows Wednesday for fans to select seats, slowing down the flow so the ticket sales giant could better handle the job.

Sales will now run through Friday.

You are not authorised to post comments.

Comments powered by CComment