NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - Mayor John Cooper called it "fake news" that Nashville is hiding information about its COVID clusters in bars.
The mayor spoke at length in a one-on-one interview with News4's Nancy Amons on Friday.
"It's a national story that no one locally believes is true," Cooper said.
National news outlets have latched onto questions of whether Nashville's mayor deliberately overstated the number of COVID cases tied to Nashville bars before shutting them down for two weeks on July 2.
Cooper's 14-day closure on the eve of the Fourth of July weekend angered bar owners.
Internal emails show that Metro's Health Department had traced only 19 COVID cases to bars since March.
Cooper told News4 the numbers were increasing and he wanted to prevent community spread, making the comparison between COVID case in a crowded indoor bar to lighting a match in a barn.
"This is just a group of people who have been playing with matches in a barn, complaining about taking the matches away," Cooper said.
The mayor of Nashville says his administration is committed to "providing timely and transparent information" in regards to public health.
Internal emails have raised questions about how information concerning the bar clusters was going to be released.
In an exchange between a health department employee and Ben Eagles, the Mayor's Senior Adviser, on June 29, Eagles asked the health department, "How many cases have spread at bars?"
The health department employee responds with a chart showing 19 cases, but asked, "This isn't going to be publicly released, right? Just info for Mayor's Office?"
Eagles answered: "Correct, not for public consumption. To help understand and guide policy formulation."
Eagles told News4 Thursday the information was to form a policy to curb what had become a runaway spike in COVID cases.
"To paint the city as a big cover up, that's flatly untrue," Eagles said Thursday.
"We were tough early and that's why we're successful today," Cooper said Friday.
On July 2, the city disclosed that there had been an outbreak tied to 10 bars. News4 filed an Open Records request for the names of the bars and details about the clusters.
The health department wrote to News4 some six weeks later that there were no records available.
Cooper was asked about this on Friday.
"Will you reconsider releasing that information?" Amons asked Cooper.
"Sure, I mean I am going to sit down with the lawyers and public health. Anything that is more transparent, we are going to do," Cooper said.
Cooper added that the city has to be careful not to damage the reputation of a small business by saying there was a COVID outbreak there, especially if there's no proof.
Cooper issued a statement on Friday afternoon about the email exchange that has been the subject of a story at other media outlets.
“Following an exchange of emails dating June 29th, 2020, between the Mayor’s office and Metro Public Health in which our administration gathered information about the sources of COVID-19 spread in Davidson County, the number of cases and clusters linked to Nashville bars was shared with media in response to a question during a press conference on July 2nd, 2020. FOX17 Nashville was at this press conference.
“Among others, The Tennessean and NewsChannel 5’s Phil Williams have fact-checked and debunked the allegations within FOX17’s September 16th report. Mayor Cooper calls on the station’s general manager, Noreen Parker, and the reporter, Dennis Ferrier, to apologize to all Nashvillians for misleading the city and eroding public trust through negligent reporting.”
Members of Tennessee's Congressional delegation is speaking out about the controversy of whether Nashville Mayor John Cooper withheld health data.