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Are We Turning The Corner On COVID? The Week In Review From WFAE

COVID-19 vaccine
News & Record / via Gov. Roy Cooper
Guilford County Health & Human Services registered nurse Sydney Robinson administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a client at the Mount Zion Baptist church vaccination clinic in Greensboro, N.C., on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021.

Are We Turning A Corner With COVID?

Spring represents many things. For some, growth. For others, rebirth. But for most of us, right now, it represents the slow thawing of the winter of COVID-19. And what a long winter it's been.

We're not out of the woods — as evidenced by emerging hot spots in some areas — but things are improving in the Carolinas. More people are getting vaccinated, and more safety restrictions are being eased. That's news that can't come soon enough for businesses that run on crowds. Musicians and other performers have been some of the hardest hit – and so have the businesses that book them for shows.

Perry Fowler falls into both categories. He co-owns Charlotte venue Petra's and performs in the band Sinners and Saints. Despite the rough year, Fowler's optimistic. In an interview for WFAE's Rebuilding Charlotte series, he said he's confident that the city's music scene will "bounce back."

Of course, letting more fans in music and sports venues has some risk, since the virus is still very much with us. As NASCAR proved last week, thermometers aren't the only way to screen people at events. A COVID-sniffing dog made the rounds on staff and crew members at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and the same strategy could be used for Charlotte's Coca-Cola 600 in May.

dixie covid-sniffing dog.jpeg
Sean Gardner
Getty Images
Dixie, a COVID-sniffing dog, was deployed at a NASCAR race on Sunday to screen pit crew members and staff.

Something else that's budding this spring: momentum over Charlotte's new medical school. The location of the school,just outside uptown, was announced this week. The project is expected to have a big economic impact on the region.

School news wasn't limited to higher ed this past week. A school discipline bill in the North Carolina House revived a debate over racial equity and dropout prevention. About a decade ago, North Carolina officials opted to reserve long-term suspension for specific serious offenses, but now some Republican lawmakers want to revisit those rules, letting principals decide what counts as serious.

"If someone was repeatedly calling you a very ugly or nasty name and you’re a teacher, I would hope that you would like your principal to be able to respond that that is a serious offense, because they are threatening you, to a level," Gaston County Rep. John Torbett said.

For much of the past year, discipline – and most everything about school – was upended by the pandemic. Now, as students are back in classrooms across the state, we're learning more about COVID-19's impact on learning. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools this week released first-semester test results that showed a significant increase in the number of students failing state science and math exams.

WFAE took a look back at the early days of COVID-19. In Mecklenburg County, health officials reported 361 deaths from the virus in the pandemic's first seven months. But a review of data from the state health department shows that number may be even higher. Mecklenburg had 342 more deaths in the spring and summer of 2020 than it did in the same time in 2019 – and that's on top of the official COVID-19 deaths.

“I think that undiagnosed COVID is a real issue," said Jonathan Studnek, deputy director of MEDIC, Mecklenburg's EMS agency.

It's been such a rough year for so many people. This week, WFAE remembered Bethane Middleton-Brown, who died March 18. Middleton-Brown was well known in Charlotte, but her words echoed across the world in 2015, after her sister, the Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor, and eight other Black parishioners were killed at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Confronting her sister's killer, Middleton-Brown said this, before sharing a lesson her sister taught her: "For I'm a work in progress, and I acknowledge that I am very angry... We are the family that love built! We have no room for hating."

Bethane Middleton-Brown
Gwendolyn Glenn
Bethane Middleton-Brown stands at her Charlotte home in 2017.

Keep in mind: There's still a lot of hurt out there. Even though things are, overall, looking up these days, there's still a lot of work to be done.

That's something that's on Mike Wirth's mind. The Charlotte artist was moved by the story of the encampment near uptown that was known as "tent city." The encampment, which served as a blunt reminder of homelessness in Charlotte, was dismantled by health officials last month and many of its 200-plus residents were put in temporary housing.

With the encampment itself gone, Wirth didn't want the public to forget about the crisis, so he created a mural version of it to serve as a reminder.

"Many of us have never experienced homelessness to know what it's like," he said. "And I think that's scary. That gives us a certain amount of complacency, and problems don't get solved."

Tent City Mike Wirth.jpg
Mike Wirth
Artist Mike Wirth wants viewers to put themselves in the place of Charlotte's homeless population.


Man Shot, Killed By Deputy U.S. Marshal In Charlotte

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police say 32-year-old Frankie Jennings was shot to death by a deputy U.S. marshal Tuesday. The deputy, whom CMPD would not publicly identify, shot and killed Jennings, who was Black, while attempting to serve warrants on him.

Gaston To Require Notice Before Allowing Protests On County Property

People who wish to hold a protest or other event on county property in Gaston County will now need permission ahead of time, according to a new ordinance approved Tuesday night by Gaston County commissioners.

Democrats Push To Expand NC Hate Crimes Law, But Will It Get A Hearing?

After the killings of eight people in metro Atlanta a week ago, including six women of Asian descent, calls to expand North Carolina's hate crimes law are increasing. Legislative leaders have not been willing to consider similar proposals in recent years.

Another NC Bill Would Make Sheriffs Cooperate With ICE

Senate Bill 101 would force sheriffs to learn the immigration status of inmates and help the federal government to detain them. A similar one was vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper in 2019, but this one is slightly different.

More Than 100 Speak For, Against Charlotte's 2040 Plan

The Charlotte City Council held a public hearing Monday night on the city's 2040 Comprehensive Plan, which included a controversial proposal to eliminate single-family-only zoning. Mayor Vi Lyles has delayed a vote on the plan until June.

Can Teens On TikTok Tackle Housing Discrimination?

Three local governments near Charlotte are hoping they can use the popular video-sharing social app TikTok — and a cash prize — to help younger residents learn about housing discrimination.

Budget Challenge: Not Knowing How Many Kids Will Return To Public School

As school districts across North Carolina prepare their budgets, tens of millions of public dollars are riding on whether — and where — the students who left public schools during the pandemic return.

empty classroom


A survey from the National Domestic Workers Alliance found more than 90% of domestic workers lost jobs due to COVID-19. The majority of these workers are women of color and the main breadwinners in their families. WFAE's Maria Ramirez Uribe talks to a North Carolina woman who found herself only making $100 a week as COVID-19 started to spread.


Violence against Asian Americans — including the recent shooting deaths of six Asian women in Georgia — has WFAE's Tommy Tomlinson thinking about the many ways in which we create enemies in our lives. In his On My Mind commentary, he recalls a recent phrase that helps sum it up.


Churches, synagogues and mosques in Charlotte shut down along with everything else during the pandemic. Now, clergy members find themselves among the many who can receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and as more people get the vaccine and restrictions are lifted, these faith communities will soon return to normal.


NPR Music said recently, “To know what tomorrow sounds like, one need only listen to the women in rap today.” And to know what the future of Charlotte hip-hop is, one need only turn to rhythmic lyricist ReeCee Raps. Listen to her story in the latest Amplifier.


Sharon Road, Sharon Lane, Sharon Amity, Sharon Woods Lane, Sharon Township Lane, Sharon Avenue, Sharon Chase Drive, and ... well you get the point. With so many roads named after her, it's no wonder Charlotteans are curious to know why so many things are named after Sharon -- and to learn more about the namesake. We have answers in this episode of FAQ City.

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Dash joined WFAE as a digital editor for news and engagement in 2019. Before that, he was a reporter for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia, where he covered public safety and the military, among other topics. He also covered county government in Gaston County, North Carolina, for its local newspaper, the Gazette.