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TDOT prepares as winter weather impacts travel

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The Tennessee Department of Transportation is preparing for travel to be impacted from the winter weather system in the area.

It predicts ice and heavy snow to large areas in Tennessee. TDOT is urging drivers to be alert to changing weather conditions and encouraging them to avoid traveling between Sunday night and Tuesday morning.

“Our supplies are stocked, and our crews are mobilized,” TDOT Commissioner Clay Bright said. “We need drivers to understand that it takes time to clear and treat the roads, and it is never safe to travel in icy conditions. If you must get out, please be mindful of our crews. Work with us – move over and slow down.”

Crews applied salt-brine and pre-treatment to TDOT-owned roads and will be treating freezing fog issues over the weekend.

Once the storm begins, TDOT will be operating trucks 24 hours a day throughout the event.

For winter weather tips and travel information, click here.

For the latest on road conditions, click here.

This is a developing story. Stay with News 2 and WKRN.com for updates.

I-TEAM: Two people detained after reports of shots fired near I-90 in Euclid

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EUCLID, Ohio (WJW) — Police have at least two people detained after reports of shots being fired in the area of E. 232nd St. and Ivan Ave. near I-90 in Euclid Sunday morning

Police surrounded a house on Ivan looking for the suspects.

Police Chief Scott Meyer tells the Fox 8 I-Team that the two being detained are not being cooperative. Officers are still searching for a third suspect.

The chief added that so far they have no reports of anyone injured. 

Business owners ponder whether to require COVID-19 shots

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NEW YORK (AP) — As more coronavirus vaccine doses become available in the weeks and months ahead, many business owners face a difficult decision: whether to require employees to be inoculated.

And if they decide “yes,” they have to be ready for the possibility that some staffers will refuse.

Dentist Andrew Geller initially didn’t feel comfortable with requiring his staff to get the shots because of the many unknowns about the vaccine. But he did extensive research and concluded that the 23 employees at Geller Family Dental should be vaccinated. Turns out most were grateful that as health workers they could receive the vaccine when it first arrived.

However, Geller did have more difficult conversations with a handful of employees who were uneasy about getting the shots.

“I did my best to ensure them that this was going to maintain the health and safety of their families. It took a little bit longer for some to make an appointment, but they did, thankfully,” says Geller, whose practice is located in Bronxville, New York.

State governments determine who can be vaccinated and when; in most states, priority has been given to health workers, first responders and older people, but employees of some businesses — for example, restaurant workers in New York — are eligible. The general population isn’t expected to be vaccinated until the spring at the earliest, so most business owners still must decide what their policy on vaccinations will be.

It’s not known how many employers will require staffers to get the vaccine — and many companies likely haven’t made a decision. About two-thirds of Americans say they plan to get vaccinated or have already done so, according to a poll released Wednesday by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The survey also found that 15% of Americans say they will definitely not get the vaccine and another 17% say they probably will not.

Employers can require many staffers to be vaccinated under guidelines from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. They can’t require inoculations for employees with medical conditions protected by the Americans with Disability Act or those who object to vaccinations for religious reasons. The ADA covers employers with 15 or more workers, and some state and municipal laws cover smaller businesses. Owners must find what the law calls a reasonable accommodation to allow these staffers to keep working. One example during the pandemic would be an assignment that could be done in a space a safe distance from co-workers or customers.

Employers have been contacting attorneys and human resources consultants and asking, what should we do?

“We are having some very honest and real conversations with clients to make sure it’s the right decision for them,” says Fernanda Anzek, a consultant with the human resources provider Insperity.

A frequently asked question is whether an employer can dismiss a staffer who refuses to be vaccinated and who isn’t protected by law. The short answer is yes.

“The employer has the latitude under the EEOC to keep the workplace safe,” says Jerry Maatman, an employment law attorney with Seyfarth Shaw in Chicago. But Maatman cautions that while the EEOC has released guidelines about the vaccine, issues over employers’ rights to dismiss staffers who don’t comply are likely to end up in court.

“These rulings are going to take place in the second and third quarters,” he says.

Maatman and Anzek advise businesses to seek legal or human resources advice before disciplining or dismissing employees over vaccinations, whether or not the staffers are in what’s called a protected class.

Legal and HR experts also recommend employers create companywide policies on vaccinations, provide each staffer with a copy and explain to everyone why the shots are necessary. And owners should keep in mind that this is a subject that requires sensitivity and understanding — an overbearing approach can be a morale buster.

“The best plan is education and policies and letting employees know that everything is uniform and you’re not singling anyone out,” says Andrew Zelmanowitz, an employment attorney with Berger Singerman in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Owners may feel some trepidation before broaching the topic. Joann Butler decided to ask her 10 staffers how they felt about getting vaccinated, and “fortunately, everyone agreed it was something we need to do.”

“It’s always a slippery slope when you mandate something like this — with religious and health issues, not everyone is gung-ho,” says Butler, owner of Consultancy Media, a broadcast and production studio in New York.

The circumstances of a particular workplace can make the conversations easier. When Denise Buzy-Pucheu talked to the three staffers at her Newtown, Connecticut, bridal shop, “they were very on board — they want to keep safe,” she said. While in many stores the sales associates can keep a safe distance from shoppers, or have plastic barriers at checkout counters, employees of The Persnickety Bride have to help customers get in and out of gowns. There’s no way to do that without being right next to a bride.

“They understand the severity of this,” Buzy-Pucheu says of her staffers. “We are physically in touch with people.”

Some employers have opted to let staffers make their own decisions. Finally, Restaurant Group, which operates 15 restaurants in four western states and Louisiana, is offering information about the vaccines and time off for employees to get them, but isn’t requiring shots.

“We’re letting them know what their options are, and they can make choices themselves,” says Ashley O’Bryan, director of human resources for the Bozeman, Montana-based company.

At Knead Hospitality & Design, a restaurant group in Washington, D.C., hourly employees are being offered four hours pay and those on salary will get a day of paid time off if they are inoculated.

While co-founders Jason Berry and Michael Reginbogin want their employees to be vaccinated and are offering them incentives to get the shots, they’re stopping short of requiring inoculations.

“There are a lot of people out there who are vaccine-hesitant for religious and ethical reasons. I don‘t think it‘s our job to tell people how to live their life,” Berry says.

Restaurant workers come in close contact with diners, but “we hope there’ll be enough peer pressure or excitement to get people on board on their own volition,” Berry says.

Bitcoin soars, nearing $50,000 for the first time

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(CNN) — Bitcoin is this close to $50,000, continuing a stunning rise that has sent it soaring nearly $20,000 this year.

The digital currency hit a record $49,714.66 Sunday before pulling back somewhat. Bitcoin is still up about 4% over the past 24 hours.

Investors have sent the price of bitcoin skyrocketing during the pandemic as the Federal Reserve cut interest rates to near zero in March 2020 (and expects to keep them there for several more years), severely weakening the US dollar.

That makes bitcoin, comparatively, an attractive currency. There’s a set limit to the number of bitcoins on the planet, and investors believe that once the supply runs out, the digital coin’s value can only increase.

As bitcoin surges to all-time highs, big, name-brand investors are stockpiling it, and huge consumer companies are embracing it, aiding in bitcoin’s soaring valuation.

Last week, Tesla said it may soon accept the digital currency as payment for its cars. And Tesla, the most valuable car company on the stock market, said it is holding some of its cash in bitcoin rather than traditional currency.

On Wednesday, Mastercard announced it will support “select cryptocurrencies” directly on its network at some point later this year. That represented a major milestone for bitcoin: Square and PayPal recently began allowing customers to trade bitcoin, but Mastercard will be bitcoin’s most mainstream, major platform yet.

That’s adding a dose of validity and appeal to cryptocurrency for mainstream investors. For example, a top executive at BlackRock said last year that bitcoin could one day replace gold. And Jay Z and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced Friday that the pair are establishing a bitcoin development fund.

Bitcoin passed $20,000 for the first time in December, and it has more than doubled in value in three months.

 

Appetite for risk

Still, the recent cryptocurrency surge is showing signs of a melt-up — over-enthusiasm fueled by the fear of missing out, not simply market fundamentals. Take Elon Musk’s sarcastic tweets about bitcoin rival Dogecoin in recent months: The digital coin, which itself was constructed as a cryptocurrency parody, shot up 50% earlier this month after Musk tweeted, only to crash over the past week.

Anthony Scaramucci, Skybridge Capital’s founder, has a big stake in bitcoin and a fund geared toward wealthy investors: The SkyBridge Bitcoin Fund LP. But even he says people need to watch out. He told CNN Business last month that it could be a solid addition to the average investor’s portfolio — but you’ve got to have the stomach for it. After all, bitcoin prices crashed below $4,000 shortly after reaching a previous peak of just under $20,000 in December 2017.

“This could be a blow-up top bubble,” Scaramucci told CNN Business in January. “We expect the fund to be volatile and it could lose money,”

Scaramucci said bitcoin could suddenly tumble 20% to 50%. But he also highlighted bitcoin’s staying power over the course of the past decade: If you took $1 and put 99 cents of it in cash and a penny in bitcoin, that investment strategy would have outperformed $1 invested in the S&P 500 over the last 10 years, he noted.

“The more likely trajectory is that people can make a monumental amount of money. Bitcoin is unfettered by Federal Reserve policy or gold supply issues,” he said. “There is more demand for bitcoin now than supply. The price should go up.”

Patrol car hits black ice in Trousdale County

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TROUSDALE COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – A Trousdale County deputy is shaken up after his patrol car hit black ice and rolled down an embankment Sunday morning.

The Sheriff’s Office says the deputy was traveling slowly on his way to work when he hit a patch of black in a curve.

The deputy was wearing his seatbelt and has minor injuries. Officials say he will return to work on Monday.

Mt. Juliet police warn of slick roads

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MT. JULIET, Tenn. (WKRN) – Police in Mt. Juliet are warning drivers of the slick roads across the city.

Police say there are several vehicle crashes in Mt. Juliet, including on I-40 and Mt. Juliet Road.

Freezing drizzle and freezing fog created these hazardous conditions.

Officers say to stay home and stay safe if possible, but if you must travel, be slow and use caution.

North Greenhill Rd near Green Hill High School is closed due to ice.

Watch Your Step: All surfaces are slick! Along with crashes on roadways, crews have been responding to injuries related to people slipping & falling. The ice hazard continues city wide. https://t.co/nOl8p2KAhz

— Mt. Juliet Police (@MtJulietPolice) February 14, 2021

This is a developing story. Stay with News 2 and WKRN.com for updates.

Jackknifed semi causes backup on I-24

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Tennessee Highway Patrol says a jackknifed semi is causing traffic issues on I-24.

This happened around 9:40 a.m. Sunday.

THP says westbound traffic is affected with the roadway closed.

Eastbound traffic is affected with no delays and it is expected to clear around 11 a.m.

No other information was immediately released.

This is a developing story. Stay with News 2 and WKRN.com for updates.

Metro Health Dept. reports 204 new cases of COVID-19 in Davidson County

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — There are now 87,959 total cases of COVID-19 in Davidson County as of Saturday, according to the Metro Public Health Department.

Davidson County has begun vaccination efforts. Click here to pre-register. 

Metro Public Health Department launched an initiative to ensure no doses of COVID-19 vaccine are wasted by implementing a standby list for Davidson County residents. If you are interested in participating in the Standby List, you’re asked to email the health department at COVID19VaccineStandby@nashville.gov each day the standby list is operational.

The total number of confirmed and probable cases grew by 204 in the past 24 hours. There have been a total of 617 deaths in Davidson County.

A reported 84,455 individuals have recovered from the virus. Of the confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Davidson County, 2,887 are “active.”

The health department reported available hospital beds in Nashville are at 20% and available ICU beds are at 14%.

Stay with News 2 for continuing coverage of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

MORE COVERAGE

Average US virus cases dip below 100K for 1st time in months

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ATLANTA (AP) — Average daily new coronavirus cases in the United States dipped below 100,000 in recent days for the first time in months, but experts cautioned Sunday that infections remain high and precautions to slow the pandemic must remain in place.

The seven-day rolling average of new infections was well above 200,000 for much of December and went to roughly 250,000 in January, according to data kept by Johns Hopkins University, as the pandemic came roaring back after it had been tamed in some places over the summer.

That average dropped below 100,000 on Friday for the first time since Nov. 4. It stayed below 100,000 on Saturday.

“We are still at about 100,000 cases a day. We are still at around 1,500 to 3,500 deaths per day. The cases are more than two-and-a-half-fold times what we saw over the summer,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “It’s encouraging to see these trends coming down, but they’re coming down from an extraordinarily high place.”

She added that new variants, including one first detected in the United Kingdom that appears to be more transmissible and has already been recorded in more than 30 states, will likely lead to more cases and more deaths.

“All of it is really wraps up into we can’t let our guard down,” she said. “We have to continue wearing masks. We have to continue with our current mitigation measures. And we have to continue getting vaccinated as soon as that vaccine is available to us.”

The U.S. has recorded more than 27.5 million virus cases and more than 484,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins data.

With parents and political leaders eager to have children around the country back in school for in-person learning, it is important that people continue to observe precautions, Walensky said.

“We need to all take responsibility to decrease that community spread, including mask wearing so that we can get our kids and our society back,” she said.

The CDC released guidance on Fridayoutlining mitigation strategies necessary to reopen schools or to keep them open.

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Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Woman beats COVID-19 after doctors told family she had hours to live

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BENTON Ark. (KARK) — An Arkansas woman hospitalized with COVID-19 in November finally returned home last week after 84 days.

After experiencing cold-like symptoms at the beginning of November, Rhonda Withem was diagnosed with COVID-19. Her family noticed her condition was worsening and called 911.

“It was scary for sure,” said Withem’s daughter, Nicole Brewer.

Withem’s health continued to decline at Saline Memorial Hospital, and she was placed on a ventilator. However, after two weeks of no progress, Brewer said she had a tough decision to make: suspend treatment or allow her mom to endure a lifetime of pain. 

“Our other option was she could have a trach and go to a long-term care 24/7. We were like, ‘Our mom wouldn’t want that,’” Brewer recalled. “She would never be able to breathe again on her own.”

It was Nov. 29 when the family made the decision to take Withem off the ventilator, saying their goodbyes through her hospital door. Doctors gave her just a few hours to live.

“He said it would just be a few hours. She would pass away,” she said.

Then, in a remarkable turn of events, Brewer said she witnessed a miracle. Her mother’s eyes opened and she became responsive for the first time in weeks. The family, as well as doctors, were in awe of the improvement.

“They were just in shock and couldn’t believe it,” Brewer said of her mother’s doctors.

Over the next 10 weeks, Withem continued to defy the odds, beginning rehabilitation at the hospital, where she relearned to eat, drink and walk.

She comes off the ventilator, and it’s just a miracle,” Brewer said of her mother.

It’s almost like starting over from a baby because you have to learn to do everything over again,” Withem added.

After that fear, uncertainty and hard work, Withem was finally welcomed home by her family in Benton.

“God had another plan for me,” she said. “He wasn’t ready to take me.”

Withem said the road to recovery has been long, but the journey home is worth every step.

“It’s just still hard to believe, because a lot of people haven’t made it from this virus,” she said.

Withem lost the majority of her strength in her arms and legs. She is currently in a wheelchair and is working to make progress with a walker. She will continue rehab at home and hopes to return to work by the end of 2021.