Weekly News Roundup: Testing Increases, No Shelter-in-Place Order for N.C. Yet
Mecklenburg Residents Not Under Shelter-in-Place Order Yet
Things could change at any time, but as of Friday night, Gov. Roy Cooper stated he would not issue a shelter-in-place order like those implemented in California and Illinois, nor would he order any additional business closures. A shelter-in-place order means the government has asked residents to stay inside their homes or other safe spaces.
Earlier in the week, Gov. Cooper limited all restaurants and bars to takeout service only, and Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris ordered that all gyms, fitness centers and theaters close down completely.
As of Friday night, there were 43 positive cases of COVID-19 found in Mecklenburg County, according to the health department. As of 7 p.m. Friday, the North Carolina Department of Health & Human Services reported 139 positive cases around the state. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control has reported 125 cases in that state, including a 7-month-old baby that tested positive in Kershaw County on Friday.[UPDATE: On Saturday morning, the Mecklenburg County rose to 77, and the North Carolina total rose to 184.]
Despite Harris telling Mecklenburg County commissioners that we were moving toward a local shelter-in-place situation “more quickly than we like” on Tuesday, County Manager Dena Diorio downplayed that potential in a text message to commissioners on Thursday, stating that Harris does not have the authority to issue such an order.
“Unfortunately, Gibbie’s comment was taken out of context,” Diorio reportedly stated in the text. “We could not and would not do that locally without talking to you first and consulting with the State and hospital systems.”
LabCorp Doubles COVID-19 Testing Capacity
During an update on Thursday, Harris assured media that the rapid increase in positive cases locally was expected due to an increase in much-needed testing in the county. That capacity is expected to increase again, as Burlington-based laboratory testing company LabCorp announced on Thursday that it now has the ability to perform more than 20,000 COVID-19 tests a day, beginning on Friday. That doubles what LabCorp was able to accomplish just a week prior to the announcement.
The tests will take place at the company’s labs in Burlington; Phoenix, Arizona; and Raritan, New Jersey. Patients are not tested at the labs, as specimens are sent there through healthcare providers. For the time being, only individuals showing symptoms will be tested, according to a statement from LabCorp on Thursday.
“The company is intently focused on making COVID-19 laboratory testing available to patients who are symptomatic and should be tested,” the statement reads. “LabCorp has moved quickly to significantly increase its testing capacity by adding staff, equipment and more high-throughput testing now underway as a result of approved emergency use authorization.”
So if you see numbers of positive cases begin to rise, just remember: The infected we know are safer than the infected we don’t.
Evictions Halted Statewide
As countless people across the state have become unemployed by business closings this week, N.C. Chief Justice Cheri Beasley ordered a stop to eviction proceedings on Thursday, following up on a Sunday order to halt eviction hearings. According to Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden, there were about 75 eviction notices already in the pipeline when the hearings were halted that his department would have had to carry out. They now won’t have to do so until April 17 at the earliest.
McFadden released a statement on Friday saying that he was relieved he would not have to carry out eviction orders, as he had called for an order to halt them earlier in the week.
“Removing people from their homes during this crisis is simply not in the best interest of our community or public safety,” the statement read. “I hope that this temporary delay of evictions will provide some relief to those facing hardships as we weather this pandemic.”
Richard Burr Plays Calm for the Cameras, Panics in Private
Thursday was not a good day for our U.S. Sen. Richard Burr. First, NPR published a secret recording of Burr warning a private room full of donors of the dire dangers of the oncoming COVID-19 virus at a time when he was publicly downplaying the threat. So that was a story that brought into question Burr’s integrity and honesty, which isn’t really news to us North Carolina constituents. Then later on Thursday, the other shoe dropped, as ProPublica reported that Burr may have run afoul of the law with all his exclusive coronavirus knowledge.
According to the ProPublica report, Burr dumped between $628,000 and $1.72 million in stocks in 33 separate transactions on Feb. 13, around the same time that the intelligence committee that he heads was receiving daily, confidential briefings on the COVID-19 threat. A week later, the stock market began a decline that has since reached 30% below where it was. The actions reek of insider trading, which refers to the trading of a public company’s stock based on nonpublic information and is illegal.
On Thursday, Burr’s spokesperson said, “Senator Burr filed a financial disclosure form for personal transactions made several weeks before the U.S. and financial markets showed signs of volatility due to the growing coronavirus outbreak. As the situation continues to evolve daily, he has been deeply concerned by the steep and sudden toll this pandemic is taking on our economy.”
Seeing as how the fact that he made the trades before the market showed volatility is sort of the point here, Burr felt the need to make his own statement on Friday: “I relied solely on public news reports to guide my decision regarding the sale of stocks on February 13. Specifically, I closely followed CNBC’s daily health and science reporting out of its Asia bureaus at the time. Understanding the assumption many could make in hindsight, however, I spoke this morning with the chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee and asked him to open a complete review of the matter with complete transparency.”
Four Murders Put Yearly Total at 22
Though many people have had their minds elsewhere this week, it has been a violent seven days in Charlotte, with four killings since our last News Roundup. It began on Saturday night when police responded to a shooting call in the Southside neighborhood near South End and found 19-year-old Antwon Risher dead of a gunshot wound. The next day, police arrested 18-year-old Donquavis Jackson after a brief car chase and charged him with Risher’s murder, along with robbery with a dangerous weapon and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
On Sunday afternoon, North Tryon Division officers responded to a domestic violence call on Delta Lake Drive in east Charlotte and spoke with two family members who had been fighting. Shortly thereafter, 63-year-old Sylvester Coswell complained of a headache then became unresponsive. He was transported to a nearby hospital, where staff deemed his condition not survivable. He was pronounced dead the next day. Though the incident was originally deemed a homicide, detectives decided not to press charges after talking with all parties involved.
Just after 9:30 p.m. on Monday, police responded to a shooting call at an apartment complex on Hosta Drive in the Derita area of north Charlotte and found 24-year-old Tevonte Epps suffering from a gunshot wound. He was transported to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Police found another victim nearby who was also shot in the incident, though they suffered non-life-threatening injuries. On Wednesday, police arrested 19-year-old Jaiveon Smith in Georgia and charged him with murder, attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, and robbery with a dangerous weapon.
A person was shot and killed while being treated in an ambulance in a hotel parking lot on Wednesday night. A security guard at the Days Inn on East Woodlawn Road originally called police due to a disturbance on the property, and MEDIC were also dispatched to treat 34-year-old Jeremy Whitted, also known as Monika, who was having trouble breathing. Whitted reportedly asked if their acquaintance, later identified as 32-year-old Prentice Bess, could join them in the ambulance. MEDIC refused, so Bess left, but allegedly returned later and shot and killed Whitted while they were still in the ambulance. Bess was taken into custody on the scene and has been charged with murder. Whitted was a local LGBTQ activist and kept separate, active Facebook accounts as Jeremy and Monika.
In a separate incident later that night, police responded to a parking lot on Nations Ford Road near Ramblewood Park in southwest Charlotte and found 25-year-old Michael King dead of a gunshot wound. No arrests have been made in his murder.
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