News & OpinionWeekly News Roundup

5 Things To Know: Mecklenburg Sees Record Highs for COVID-19

…and four more stories from Dec. 13-19, 2020

Mecklenburg COVID-19
Atrium and Novant both received shipments of vaccines this week, but it could be months before it makes a dent in COVID-19 community spread in Mecklenburg County. (Pjoto courtesy of Atrium Health)

Mecklenburg County Sets Record for COVID-19 Hospitalizations and Cases

According to the latest data from Mecklenburg County Public Health, released Friday morning, the county has seen a record high in daily hospitalizations and new confirmed COVID-19 cases this week. The 331 Mecklenburg County residents hospitalized due to COVID-19 on Wednesday was the most at any time locally during the pandemic. The spike may be be connected to Thanksgiving gatherings. The average amount of people hospitalized on any given day due to COVID-19 in Mecklenburg County over the past week was 298, nearly double the weekly average of 150 reported by MCPH on Nov. 13. 

The 937 new infections confirmed on Thursday was also a one-day record, well above the previous record of 784 reported earlier this month. 

Mecklenburg COVID-19
New COVID-19 case numbers in Mecklenburg County are moving off the charts. (Graph courtesy of MCPH)

According to Friday’s report, there had been 54,271 total cases and 508 deaths due to the virus as of that point, an increase of 4,897 cases and 27 deaths since the same time last week. That’s more than double the amount of deaths to have occurred in the previous week. According to in-depth data from cases that occurred through Wednesday, the average test-positivity rate continues to climb. The average number of tests returning positive remains at 12.1%, an increase over the past two weeks.

Meanwhile, both of the largest health-care providers in the area — Atrium Health and Novant Health — began administering vaccines to hospital employees this week. As pointed out in an informative Twitter thread from N.C. Sen. Jeff Jackson on Friday, even if the two companies receive hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses in the next month as planned, that won’t put much of a dent in community spread due to multiple factors. Jackson and health officials agree it may be months before we see meaningful decreases in community spread thanks to vaccinations. 

Two Area Police Officers Killed in Line of Duty Within Days of Each Other

A 25-year-old officer with the Concord Police Department was shot and killed while responding to a call on Wednesday night, becoming the second police officer in the Charlotte area to be killed in the line of duty in a matter of days. Jason Shuping was shot and killed while responding to a call about a vehicle crash on Gateway Lane near Concord Mills Mall just after 10 p.m. on Wednesday. The suspect, 29-year-old Jeremy Daniels, exchanged fire with Shuping and at least one other officer, 23-year-old Kaleb Robinson, who was also shot but suffered non-life-threatening injuries. Daniels was also killed during the shootout. 

Jason Shuping. (Photo courtesy of Concord Police Department)

Officers responded to reports of a crashed car at around 10:15 p.m. and found an unoccupied vehicle that had crashed into a guardrail. A woman approached one of the responding officers and told them a man had tried to take her car at the Sonic on Gateway Lane. When they approached a nearby man who fit the description, he pulled out a gun and opened fire. When two more officers arrived and found their injured colleagues, Daniels tried to escape in an SUV. More gunfire was exchanged and Daniels was shot and killed. 

A Mount Holly police officer, also 25, was also shot and killed while responding to a call last week. Tyler Herndon was responding to a breaking-and-entering call at a car wash on Beatty Drive on Friday, Dec. 11. He was the first Mount Holly police officer to ever be killed in the line of duty. The suspect, 24-year-old Joshua Funk, was shot during the incident but suffered minor injuries. He was charged with murder and released from the hospital into the custody of the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office.

Providence Day School Makes National Headlines After Black Student’s Expulsion

All eyes were on Providence Day School (PDS) this week after the New York Times published a story about a teen who was expelled from the school because of complaints his mother lodged against what she deemed a racially insensitive assignment. According to the report, the school terminated 14-year-old Jamel Van Rensalier’s enrollment at the school after his mother complained about August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Fences being included in the curriculum.

The play uses the N-word multiple times, and Rensalier’s mother, Faith Fox, felt it was not age-appropriate for ninth-graders and would put her son in an uncomfortable position as one of the only Black children in the classroom. PDS’s student population is 70% white and 7% Black. 

Officials have said it wasn’t Fox’s complaint about the curriculum that got Rensalier expelled, but her constant emails to teachers, which they say reached the point of harassment. In a statement posted to Facebook on Wednesday, PDS head of school Glyn Cowlishaw gave examples of what Fox said in those emails, specifically targeting a Black woman named Dr. Nadia Johnson who works at the school and whom Fox called a “sellout.” 

However, many in the community have continued to call out PDS for a culture of racial insensitivity that was highlighted in June by the creation of an account called Black at Providence Day, one of many similar accounts that share students’ experiences with racism inside CMS schools.

La Shish Kabob Owners Charged with COVID Relief Fraud

The U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday unsealed an indictment against two family members who own La Shish Kabob, a popular Middle Eastern eatery in east Charlotte, for allegedly receiving more than $1.7 million in COVID-19 relief funds through the Payroll Protection Program by filing fraudulent loan applications. 

Izzat Freitekh, 55, and his son Tarik Freitekh, 33, were each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of bank fraud in an indictment filed in the Western District of North Carolina.  Izzat was also charged with one count of making false statements.

Izzat Freikhat in 2018. (Photo by Ryan Pitkin)

The indictment alleges the Freitekhs submitted applications that included false and fraudulent IRS tax documentation submitted on behalf of La Shish Kabob Restaurant and, separately, La Shish Catering. The indictment also alleges the two filed an application that included fraudulent IRS tax documents submitted on behalf of Green Apple Catering LLC (Green Apple), representing that Green Apple paid $4.8 million to employees in 2019 despite evidence that the company did not exist until March 2020; and an application that included false company payroll information and fraudulent IRS tax documents submitted on behalf of Aroma Packaging Systems.

La Shish Kabob has been active in the east Charlotte immigrant community for years, this year supplying ourBRIDGE for KIDS with hundreds of free meals to deliver to families around east Charlotte during the pandemic. Izzat Freitekh told the Charlotte Business Journal on Friday he is “not guilty” and trusts he will be vindicated in court.

Three Murders Bring Yearly Total to 113

There have been three murders in Charlotte since our last Weekly News Roundup, bringing the total number of homicides in the city this year to 113. 

Just after 7:20 p.m. on Dec. 12, police responded to a shooting call at the Andover Woods apartment complex and found 36-year-old Derreck McDonald lying dead of a gunshot wound in the parking lot. No arrests have been made. Later that night, just around midnight, police were handling a traffic stop in University City when they heard several gunshots in the area. While investigating, they found 23-year-old Jontavious Hall suffering from a gunshot wound. Despite life-saving efforts from police and MEDIC, Hall was pronounced dead at the scene. On Thursday, police arrested 21-year-old Stony Asbury and charged him with murder and conspiracy to commit murder in Hall’s killing. 

Jontavious Hall

Just before 7 p.m. on Sunday, police responded to a shooting call on Red Bud Circle in the Coulwood area of northwest Charlotte and found 17-year-old Sharrieff Jones Jr. suffering from a gunshot wound. He was transported to the hospital by MEDIC, but later died. It was at first unclear whether Jones’ death was a homicide, but police later confirmed that it was believed to be a purposeful act and have since charged 18-year-old Deontae Eddings with second-degree murder. 

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