Feb. 27-March 6, 2021: The Week In Review From WFAE
It's Been One Year Since COVID-19 Started Reshaping North Carolina Life
Wednesday was March 3. For the most part, it was unremarkable — dry, relatively quiet, mild temperatures, flowers starting to bloom. Typical of the time of year when winter starts losing ground to spring. But Wednesday, March 3, represented something entirely remarkable: one year since the first case of COVID-19 was reported in North Carolina.
In the weeks that followed, life as we knew it changed. People panicked. Business closed. Events canceled. People started losing jobs because of the virus. People started getting sick because of the virus. People started dying because of the virus. For many of us, the last year has been a time to focus on the things and people we cherish, to appreciate the time we've been given and be grateful for what we have.
But thousands of people in our community are struggling to get by -- some without basic necessities. For people experiencing homelessness, the pandemic has only exacerbated that struggle. More people have lost homes over the past year, and a disproportionate number of people experiencing homelessness in Charlotte are Black. A local couple is doing what they can to help provide basic services to people who need them. As part of our series The High Cost of COVID-19, WFAE's Gracyn Doctor reported on Adrienne and Emmanuel Threatt, who came up with what they call the "Hope Tank," a box truck outfitted with laundry equipment, showers and bathrooms to let people freshen up.
"The way that people have this sense of renewal once they've had the opportunity to take a shower after not having had one for weeks or months, being able to wash their clothes so that they can go to a job interview and not be insecure because they have stains on their clothes or smell a certain way -- to me, that's huge," Adrienne Threatt said.
Trying to house more people is one of Charlotte's biggest challenges. Part of the problem is a lack of housing inventory, and city staff is eyeing the elimination of exclusively single-family zoning as a way to boost supply. Part of Charlotte's 2040 plan calls for allowing more duplexes and triplexes in neighborhoods that now only have single-family homes. The idea is that more supply will ultimately make housing more affordable.
But not everyone on City Council is on board with the plan after pushback from residents, and its future is unclear as a voting deadline looms. Braxton Winston, the council member most outspoken in favor of scrapping single-family zoning, called the practice racist and a "tool of segregation." There's history to back that up, but now some people questioning the plan, including council member Victoria Watlington, worry a boom of denser housing units could accelerate gentrification — and actually increase housing costs — in African American neighborhoods.
Housing wasn't the only hot-button item on City Council's agenda this past week. Most members supported a plan to stop giving yearly money to the Arts & Science Council, a nonprofit that supports arts and culture initiatives in Mecklenburg County. There hasn't been a formal vote yet, but the plan would be a blow for the nonprofit. Last year for example, the city's $3.2 million contribution made up a quarter of the ASC's budget. If the plan goes forward, Charlotte would effectively bypass the ASC, dedicating $4 million to arts initiatives and institutions and asking corporate donors to match that amount.
Meanwhile, North Carolina is making progress in its fight against COVID-19. Infection rates and hospitalizations have been dropping for weeks, and more than 1.6 million people have gotten at least one vaccine dose. In Mecklenburg County, health officials reported a drop in deaths at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Both North Carolina and South Carolina are expanding the list of residents who can get vaccinated, and more doses are coming in -- especially after last weekend's news that Johnson & Johnson's one-dose shot was approved.
That expanded list in North Carolina includes many frontline essential workers, like firefighters, police and people who work in grocery stores and restaurants.
Yet despite overall progress, Mecklenburg County trails most of the state on vaccinations -- even after mass-inoculation events at major sporting venues. Queens University News Service found that as of early this past week, only about 9% of Mecklenburg residents had gotten at least one dose. Even Wake County, with a comparable population to Mecklenburg, was doing better. One explanation, according to a Mecklenburg health official: People from outside the county are flocking here for vaccines.
Of course, it's not always easy to get a vaccine -- especially for people who can't leave their homes due to illnesses or disabilities. In Cabarrus and Gaston counties, health workers are bringing vaccines to home-bound residents.
WFAE's Claire Donnelly was there as a paramedic gave 79-year-old Henry Crowder his first dose of the vaccine — at his home in Concord.
He had this to say, after scheduling a followup:
"If somebody's gonna give you a shot, you'd better take it."
ICYMI: MORE LOCAL NEWS
A new report says as many as two dozen wind farms could be built off the East Coast over the next 15 years. But North Carolina has work to do if it wants to compete for the estimated $140 billion in investment.
Leaders in the historically Black neighborhood of Smithville in Cornelius presented the town board with an updated revitalization plan they hope will fend off gentrification.
Marcellus "MT" Turner will begin his position as chief librarian and CEO of Charlotte Mecklenburg Library on April 1. He comes from Seattle, and he says the position overseeing the construction of a new main branch was one he couldn't pass up.
North Carolina bars and nightclubs got their first taste of relaxed restrictions last weekend. It was the first weekend bars were allowed to serve people indoors in nearly a year. Capacity is reduced and patrons still have to wear masks when not drinking.
Every school district has grim numbers illustrating the academic cost of COVID-19. In Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, 20% of students failed English language arts classes the first semester of this year. How to help students is a complex problem.
- CMS Grades Point To Where COVID-19 Has Hit Hardest
- How To Help: Volunteers Can Aid Students' Recovery From Learning Loss
THE HIGH COST OF COVID-19
North Carolina’s eviction moratorium is set to expire on March 31, and the Latin American Coalition says the organization has been receiving an influx of calls asking for support.
What does resiliency look and feel like for you? Over the last year, we’ve all experienced the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. What helped you get back up? What did you do to cope? In the first installment of our new series Still Here, a South Carolina woman shares her story of love, loss and new beginnings.
North Carolinians now have more freedom to go places and do things after the state reduced some restrictions that were put in place for the coronavirus pandemic. WFAE’s Tommy Tomlinson, in his On My Mind commentary, says it's still important to remember why those rules were there in the first place.
HAVE YOU HEARD?
Robert Gipe has spent most of his adult life teaching art and making art in the coal country of eastern Kentucky. He’s best known for his theater productions about hot-button issues such as stripmining and opioids. He’s a consultant to the upcoming Hulu series "Dopesick," based on the bestselling book about the opioid crisis in Appalachia. He talks about it all in the latest SouthBound.
BEST OF CHARLOTTE TALKS
How do we learn about the sins of our country’s history while also celebrating its accomplishments? How do we teach young people to evaluate our failures so they can learn from the past? The North Carolina State Board of Education is grappling with that as it approves new standards for exploring American history.