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5 Things To Know: County Suspends 500+ Employees for Vaccine Noncompliance

...and four more stories from Sept. 12-18, 2021

Mecklenburg COVID-19
A nurse gives a first vaccination dose to an Atrium health-care worker in Charlotte in December, a more hopeful time. Now we’ve hit a wall with just over half of the population vaccinated and hundreds of county employees suspended for vaccine noncompliance. (Photo courtesy of Atrium Health)

County Suspends 500+ Employees for Vaccine Noncompliance

Mecklenburg County has suspended 511 employees for failing to comply with COVID-19 testing and vaccination requirements, officials confirmed Friday. It was originally reported on Wednesday that around 600 employees had been sent suspension notices for vaccine noncompliance, then officials released the count of 511 on Friday morning after verifying that some employees had been wrongfully suspended. 

The total includes 477 employees spread across Mecklenburg County’s departments, not including the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office, which both have independent human resources offices. While 34 library employees have been suspended for vaccine noncompliance, none from the MCSO have been. Park & Recreation saw 187 employees suspended, 160 of which are part-time employees. That’s about 25% of the entire Park & Rec workforce. 

Mecklenburg County officials announced the new protocols in July, stating that all Mecklenburg County Public Health employees must be vaccinated while employees in other departments would either need to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. The protocols officially went into effect on Sept. 7, with this week marking the first suspensions for vaccine noncompliance. 

According to data also released by the county Friday morning, 73.8% of all county employees have been fully vaccinated, including 75.7% of all full-time employees. The 511 employees suspended this week make up about 9% of the total county workforce. 

As for the broader population of Mecklenburg County residents, 651,997 people, or 59% of the population, have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. About 54% have been fully vaccinated. 

According to the most recent data released Friday morning, there were 3,564 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed among Mecklenburg County residents over the past week, and 35 deaths resulting from the coronavirus. According to more in-depth data for cases that occurred through Wednesday, there had been an average of 517 confirmed COVID-19 cases per day over the past week, a slight increase compared to previous weeks. The average of 409 people hospitalized due to COVID-19 on any given day as well as the 11.2% test-positivity rate over the past week were both decreasing trends. 


New Law Allows for Liquor Bottle Sales on Sunday 

A new law passed through the N.C. General Assembly this week allows North Carolina residents to purchase liquor by the bottle on Sundays, but not how you might think (or hope). ABC stores will remain closed across the state on Sundays, but distilleries will now be allowed to sell their liquor by the bottle every day of the week. If you’re staying in Charlotte city limits, that gives you two Sunday options: Great Wagon Road Distilling in NoDa or Seven Jars in northwest Charlotte. 

Great Wagon Road Distilling will now be able to sell its selection of bottles on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of Great Wagon Road)

“That is good news,” wrote an enthusiastic John A Fletcher under a Facebook post from Great Wagon Road announcing the news.

House Bill 890 will also allow for ABC stores to accept online orders, which will then need to be picked up at the respective store. The bill will go into effect on Oct. 1. 


N.C. Court Blocks Discriminatory Voter ID Law

A state court struck down North Carolina’s voter ID law on Friday, saying the law was, “motivated at least in part by an unconstitutional intent to target African American voters.”

In a 102-page opinion, a majority of the three-judge panel wrote that SB 824, passed in 2018, was “in violation of the North Carolina constitutional prohibitions on intentional discrimination.” The ruling, which will likely be appealed by the defendants, means North Carolina voters will be able to cast a ballot without having to show a photo ID during upcoming municipal elections. In Charlotte, those have been pushed back to 2022, with primaries scheduled for March 8 and the general election scheduled for April 22. 

The case, Holmes v. Moore, brought by attorneys with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) on behalf of five North Carolina voters, alleged that S.B. 824, which was approved by a Republican-led supermajority in a lame-duck session, was racially motivated. 

Allison Riggs, co-executive director and chief counsel for voting rights at SCSJ, praised the ruling in a release on Friday. 

“Today’s ruling striking down North Carolina’s latest unconstitutional photo voter ID law is a testament to the overwhelming evidence, including compelling stories of disenfranchisement from voters themselves, which highlighted how the state’s Republican-controlled legislature undeniably implemented this legislation to maintain its power by targeting voters of color,” Riggs wrote. “We applaud the three-judge panel’s decision and hope it sends a strong message that racial discrimination will not be tolerated. Should legislative defendants appeal today’s ruling, we’ll be prepared to remind them of what this court and the state’s constitution mandate: every vote matters.” 


Job Growth Hampered by Delta Variant, Other Barriers

Following a lackluster national jobs report, August labor market figures show North Carolinians are still struggling to return to the labor market, according to new data released by the North Carolina Justice Center on Friday. Our state remains nearly 109,000 jobs short of pre-COVID levels of employment, with most of the losses concentrated in industries where low wages are common. 

North Carolina’s .7% increase in the unemployment rate between February 2020 and August 2021 is better than many states around the country, as the nationwide unemployment rate is still 1.7% higher than it was before the pandemic struck in March 2020. 

 

As stated in the NC Justice Center report, however, "The headline employment figures mask a deep divide that has persisted throughout the pandemic between the job prospects in highly paid professions and lower-wage industries."

Data from late July indicates that while jobs paying over $60,000 a year have increased substantially compared to pre-COVID levels, roughly one out of every jobs paying less than $27,000 are still missing. 

"The Delta variant slammed the brakes on a recovery that was already puttering along in first gear,” said Patrick McHugh, research manager with the NC Budget & Tax Center, in a release on Friday. “With federal unemployment insurance benefits phasing out, and many people unable to rejoin the labor market because they lack child care, are legitimately terrified about getting COVID, don’t have transportation, or other issues, there are a lot of people who are going to be in real financial trouble.”


Teen Found Dead in Southwest Charlotte Park

A 17-year-old boy was the latest in a string of young people who have been murdered in Charlotte in recent weeks. At around 11:20 a.m. on Sunday, police responded to a welfare check in Pressley Road Park in southwest Charlotte and found 17-year-old Jamir Suarez dead. The cause of death is currently unclear, but Suarez's death has been ruled a homicide and is currently under investigation as such. 


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