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AP file photo / A nurse collects a specimen from a patient during a Georgia drive-thru COVID-19 testing site in November 2020.

No wonder many Republicans, and especially Tennessee and Georgia Republicans, are trying to talk about anything other than coronavirus and particularly its emerging variants. They are so opposed to talking about it — other than to advocate against practical preventions for it — that they've also pretty much stopped regularly reporting the ever-mounting cases.

Consider: On Sunday, Jan. 2, the Chattanooga Times Free Press "Tri-State Coronavirus Cases" chart published daily showed that Hamilton County Health Department reported 56,859 confirmed cases and 901 deaths. That same day, the chart showed 1,096,252 Tennessee confirmed cases and 20,851 deaths.

In the next 11 days, the chart showed:

— Hamilton County numbers updated three times, adding 1,855 new cases and three new deaths.

— Tennessee data was updated three times, adding 40,147 new cases and 101 additional deaths. (And, no, that increase was not due to Tennessee's year-end audit adjusting our numbers up due to missed cases; the adjustment was made before Christmas.)

— Georgia numbers were updated four times, with 122,865 new cases and 164 new deaths.

— Alabama updated its number seven times (daily excepting the New Year's holiday weekend), showing 96,319 new cases and 169 additional deaths.

Normal thinking people would assume that politics should have nothing or not much to do with state health policy. But not in Tennessee and Georgia, where you may recall both governors politicizing and fighting mask mandates, vaccines and even COVID-19 relief aid. And we're sure you recall the Tennessee General Assembly's move to mandate against mandates, their threat to defund the state health department over posters advocating the vaccination of school teens, and their legal requirement for the state to fund unemployment benefits for those who lost or left a job rather than be vaccinated. Never mind that Tennessee withdrew early from rescue aid that boosted unemployment benefits for those laid off during COVID shut-down times.

So it should come as no surprise that Tennessee and Georgia officials believe leaning on the health departments to end the reporting of COVID data five or six days a week will stop residents from thinking about the virus and its repercussions on our lives.

We think they are wrong, as COVID is now is affecting more people every day — whether the data gets updated daily or weekly — or even monthly. Ask the families of Hamilton County's 1,855 new cases. Ask the doctors and nurses here where hospitalizations have bumped up again. We recently reported that the number of people in the hospital for the virus had more than doubled since mid-December and reached the highest total since Oct. 8.

We also think our elected and bureaucratic officials are shirking their duties even more now than they have tried before.

Even early last year we could see what COVID was doing to families: A New York Times analysis last March found that 574,000 more Americans had died from March 2020 to March 2021 than would have died in a normal year, a sign of the broad devastation wrought by the coronavirus pandemic.

The analysis examined deaths from all causes — not just confirmed cases of coronavirus — beginning when the virus took hold in the United States. Counting deaths from all causes meant researchers did not have to depend on the accuracy of cause-of-death reporting, and it could include deaths related to disruptions caused by the pandemic as well as the virus itself. Epidemiologists refer to fatalities in the gap between the observed and normal numbers of deaths as "excess deaths," according to the Times analysis.

Think what that study will look like for the second year of COVID, when in states like Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama, only about half of us are vaccinated and far fewer are boosted.

We already know that Hamilton County's COVID death toll for all of 2021 exceeded 2020's toll, and September 2021 was the deadliest month of the pandemic for our county to date with the virus's delta variant claiming 141 people. The number came into sharper focus with a year-end audit conducted by the Tennessee Department of Health that reportedly cleared up inconsistencies and backlogs, according to Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey.

It was Piercey, by the way, who at the end of the year announced Tennessee would scale back on COVID data reporting.

Gee. Wonder why.

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