As vaccine arrives, 'we'll be freer'

Plus: First look at possible Spectrum Center renovations for Hornets; Key CMS meeting tomorrow; N.C. slow to roll out vaccine; Forced labor in Davidson; Holly feels the love at Wells Fargo

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At a retirement community in Matthews, residents dream of family gatherings and playing games again

Edith Patton experienced a milestone during Covid — she sold her car, a 2008 Honda Civic. “I thought I would dissolve in tears, but I didn’t,” said Patton, 86. She’s expecting to get the Covid vaccine within days in the Matthews Glen retirement community where she lives.

by Cristina Bolling

For the last 10 months, 86-year-old Edith Patton has endured the Covid pandemic from the Matthews Glen retirement community where she lives, going without the card games, regular visits from her five children and social events that previously had filled her days.

But now, new freedoms are in sight for Patton. The Covid vaccine is rolling out in Matthews Glen, as seniors ages 75 and older and residents and staff at nursing homes are now eligible for the vaccine. Patton is expected to get her first dose any day now.

The Ledger first wrote about Patton last March, as she described the calm scene unfolding in Matthews Glen (then known as Plantation Estates) as the pandemic was taking hold of Charlotte.

We checked back in with her last week and learned how even in these bleak months she’s been able to find some bright spots.

Her comments have been edited for brevity and clarity:

I have no family members close around here, but all of my children have kept in touch with me by phone. The best thing about this time for me and for my children has been the high level of communication that we have been experiencing. I’ve had (non-Covid) illness during this time and have needed their cooperation. We’ve communicated in a more personal way than we have for years.

There are five of them, and they live in four different states. If we were just all getting together, like at a reunion, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to communicate in as personal a way as we’ve been doing. For awhile, three times a day, I talked to one of them by phone. When I got better and needed less communication, we dropped it down to once a day. It’s meant a lot to me, and it’s meant a lot to them. My children like to hear some of the stories of things they’ve done, from me, and I like to hear things that we did that were important to them.

We have usually been together on some of the national holidays, Thanksgiving and so on, but we just couldn’t do it this year. I spent the holidays here (at Matthews Glen). They had some special activities for us, we had special food, even if it was not quite as good as if we had done it ourselves and maybe not all of our traditional things.

Our administrators have done a great job of keeping us protected and involved in our own protection. There have been times when we’ve gnashed our teeth and said, “Why can’t we have guests? Why can’t we do certain things?”

But we realized we’ve had a very low count of cases here, and so we feel like they’ve been responsible and they’ve kept us informed of any cases among the staff or the residents. They’ve been testing us more often since the numbers started surging again. We have been tested about every-other week. So we’re not just sitting here and hoping. The administration is doing responsibly what we need to have done.

The first (to get the vaccine) will be the highest level of care. They have already been giving the vaccine to nursing staff. I’m 86, so I’ll get it within not too long. Of course, we have the right to refuse it — that is our choice. I have a choice — I can say, “No, I’ll just trust that somehow or another I’ll get by without getting it” (the vaccine). Or I can take the opportunity of what the scientists have provided. I’m inclined to trust the science.

Sometimes we have not been careful enough, not kept the distance that we should. It’s awfully hard. We remind each other and say, “Pull your mask up over your nose.” They bring food to us, and there’s a graduated process of getting together. As the case count went down, we had more freedom to get together. We have different dining environments, so now we can register to reserve a space for four people, or two people. We are not in prison. We get one meal a day brought to us, and you can choose your menu. We can go and eat at our sister campus, or they can come over here, back and forth. We live like people. Things change, and when the count started going up again, we had to limit the number of people who can get together for communication and exercise groups, that sort of thing.

We understand that you don’t play bridge and you don’t play dominoes, where you have to use the same game pieces over and over. We find other things to do. They put out the number of chairs that make sense for groupings of people — 10 chairs in the atrium, where people can come down after breakfast and have a cup of coffee. We try to be reasonable and safe.

We realize that (after the vaccine) it’s not going to be what we consider “normal.” We are not going back to the way it was. Everything’s going to be different. But we’ll be freer, probably, and maybe we can play some of the games we couldn’t. I don’t know what exactly it’ll be like, but as soon as we get the first dose, we’ll begin to worry about whether there will be enough provided to take the second.

I’m old enough to realize that we’ve had lots of experiences in life that we never thought we would have. That’s one of the advantages of living longer — you can look back on more.

We have had people who had a milder case, and so on, and we think we have pulled through that, and we will again pull through whatever the next phase is.

Cristina Bolling is managing editor of The Ledger:

Let’s discuss: What are you most looking forward to doing once the vaccine takes effect in the community? What do you miss the most? The Ledger’s community of paying subscribers has the ability to comment on posts by clicking on the word bubble at the top or bottom of this email. Or click the button below to leave us a comment. We’ll publish the responses in a future edition of The Ledger.

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Today’s supporting sponsors are Landon A. Dunn, Attorney at Law in Matthews …

… and T.R. Lawing Realty:

Hornets look at adding premium seating in arena renovation

The Charlotte Hornets are looking closely at renovations to the Spectrum Center that include reconfiguring the seating and adding pricey luxury seats called “loge boxes,” according to a detailed survey sent to season-ticket holders last week.

It’s been known, generally, that the Hornets have wanted upgrades to the arena, which opened in 2005 and is owned by the city of Charlotte. But the survey reveals the most specific details yet of what those changes might entail.

Many of the questions in the survey have to do with fans’ interest and potential pricing of new premium seating options.

‘Loge boxes’: One of the most notable is a series of questions surrounding what the Hornets are calling “loge boxes,” which “generally include 4 to 8 seats in an exclusive seating area at a more affordable price than a luxury suite.” The questions say that “the new loge boxes would have access to an exclusive lounge area, would have a view of the stage, and would receive tickets to all events at the arena, including Hornets games, concerts, etc.” Survey questions try to discern fans’ willingness to pay for 4-seat loge boxes for the season priced at $80,000, $65,000 and $50,000 per box.

A diagram of the proposed layout shows that the “loge boxes and suites” would encircle the arena in between what are now the upper and lower levels:

The emails also suggest the team is examining a reconfiguration and repricing of lower-level club seats. Showing the diagram above, it asks if fans would be interested in buying season tickets at the following levels and pricing:

  • Platinum club, $12,500 to $17,500 per seat.

  • Gold club, $7,000 to $11,000 per seat.

  • Silver club, $6,000 to $10,000 per seat.

  • Lower level behind the basket, as low as $2,500 per seat.

Lounge, bar: Other questions ask about interest in a standing-room-only section with no dedicated seats but access to a bar and lounge, as well as questions about access to a premium member-only lounge.

Here are some renderings from the survey of a swanky-looking club-level lounge:

The survey also asks about overall satisfaction with food, restrooms, the team store, the scoreboard, sound system, wifi, parking and other elements — but most of the questions seemed geared toward willingness to pay for premium seating.

The Hornets did not return a request for comment on Sunday.

Old-timers will remember that a major reason for building the uptown arena was because the old Charlotte Coliseum on Tyvola Road had almost no luxury suites, which pro basketball teams had considered to be a must-have by the early-2000s. (Incidentally, if you haven’t driven by the old coliseum site lately, you will be amazed at all the apartments under construction there.) Similarly, the Panthers last year installed field-level “bunker suites” at Bank of America Stadium to take advantage of demand from high-spending fans.

City’s contribution: The city and the Hornets are in the middle of a negotiation on arena renovations, and construction is expected to begin this fall, the Biz Journal’s Erik Spanberg reported in October. The Hornets’ lease calls for the city to periodically upgrade the arena to keep pace with the facilities of other NBA teams, he wrote. In 2014, the City Council approved $33.5M for a new main scoreboard and additional arena maintenance.

It might seem an inopportune time to ask the city for money to add $80,000-a-year luxury boxes at Charlotte’s pro basketball arena. No fans are allowed this season, and Charlotte has plenty of other, more pressing needs. But any money coming from the city would likely come from tourism taxes, which must be used to promote tourism. —TM

What to watch for at tomorrow’s crucial CMS meeting

All eyes are on tomorrow night’s school board meeting, where leaders of Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools will once again discuss whether it’s safe for students to return to the classroom — just as they seem to do every month now.

Social media posts have been swirling for days, with people trying to glean insights on what will happen and passing along so-and-so-told-me nuggets of information … Not a lot of clarity, in other words.

The current plan has K-12 students returning part-time starting Jan. 19. National health officials have said research shows that returning students to class should be a priority and can be done safely. But many teachers worry about the risks, especially as Covid numbers are continuing reaching new highs, and logistics have become a lot more complex.

As of Sunday evening, the board’s meeting agenda does not appear to indicate that Superintendent Earnest Winston will recommend changes to the CMS plan to open classrooms next week. It classifies “Jan. 19th Return to In-Person Instruction Readiness” as a report to the board, not as an “action item.” A separate item indicates that the board is expected to vote on giving Winston the power to “transition parts of individual schools from in-person instruction to remote instruction” — which presumably indicates that there’s an intention to have classroom instruction at some point in the near future.

Of course, plans can change. Or the board could vote to continue all-virtual instruction despite the superintendent’s plans to open schools — though that would be unusual and possibly akin to a vote of no confidence in Winston’s leadership. They could do so by adding a vote on changing the return-to-school plan to the agenda at the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting.

If you’ve watched any of these meetings over the last few months — and thousands of people typically tune in on Facebook Live or YouTube — you can tell they look scripted. None of the board members seems especially surprised at the outcome, which appears to be known by the protagonists before the meetings even start. There’s little genuine debate, and majorities seem cobbled together ahead of time.

If you’re planning to watch tomorrow, here’s how you can get an early look at what will happen:

  • Superintendent recommendation. Once Winston makes a recommendation, it is likely to be approved. If he makes no recommendation but just provides an update on CMS readiness, that indicates support for a return to in-person classes.

  • Watch the middle. The factions on the board on reopening classrooms have become clear since July. Carol Sawyer and Jennifer De La Jara have been the most outspoken opponents of returning students to classrooms. Sean Strain has been the most in-favor of reopening, followed by Rhonda Cheek and Margaret Marshall. The remaining board members — Elyse Dashew, Lenora Sanders Shipp, Thelma Byers-Bailey and Ruby Jones — seem to be the swing votes. If one of them gives a clue early which way she is leaning, that could be the way the board majority goes.

CMS also doesn’t operate in a vacuum. It is aware of what other N.C. districts are doing:

  • Raleigh: In Wake County, the largest school district in the state, grades K-12 are scheduled to return next week, and the district seems set to stick with that plan.

  • Greensboro: Guilford County Schools, the 3rd-largest district in the state, behind CMS, returned elementary students to classes last week, and middle school students are scheduled to return by the end of the month.

  • Winston-Salem: The superintendent of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County schools, the 4th-largest district in the state, recommended that K-12 students return to in-person classes this month.

  • Durham: Durham Public Schools, the 9th-largest district in the state, voted last week to go all-virtual for the rest of the school year.

➡️ Separately, a new study by researchers at Duke and UNC Chapel Hill medical schools that examined Covid transmission in North Carolina public schools concluded that “data indicate that schools can reopen safely if they develop and adhere to specific SARS-CoV-2 prevention policies.” The study, published last week in the academic journal Pediatrics, found that Covid spread in schools was less than that of surrounding communities and that “NC traditional public schools were especially effective in preventing clusters compared to the private sector.” Researchers also found no reported child-to-adult transmissions involving the 90,000 N.C. students examined in the study.

More info: Tuesday’s CMS board meeting starts at 6 p.m., and you can watch on the district’s Facebook or YouTube channels. If you care to share your opinion with board members ahead of time, you can find their emails here. (Keep it civil, people.) —TM & CB

All of Wells Fargo celebrates Holly’s birthday

A staple of office culture is the dreaded reply-all email. It’s mildly annoying if you work in an office of a few dozen. But what if you work for a Fortune 500 company with 260,000 employees that is Charlotte’s 2nd-largest employer?

Wells Fargo workers found out on Friday afternoon, when an innocent birthday wish from one worker to another inadvertently looped in thousands and thousands of Wells employees — and then snowballed.

The fun apparently started when a worker named Kim sent an email to a colleague named Holly with the subject line “Happy Day.” She meant to cc her group but somehow wound up copying, from the sounds of it, the entire company. Then came the 200+ replies that went to everyone — versions of “please remove me from this list,” “it’s Katie’s birthday, too” and “stop replying to all” (accomplished, naturally, by replying to all).

As inboxes across Wells Fargo clogged, workers laughed about it on social media, using the hashtag #happybirthdayholly:

  • “Someone at work just basically sent a company wide email wishing a coworker a happy birthday and now my inbox is flooded with replies to all. Seems like 2021 is starting off on the right foot.”

  • “This went from funny to annoying then back to funny 😂”

  • “I still have not seen the ‘thank you everyone for the warm birthday wishes’ yet from Holly. This is the last time the entire company recognizes you.”

There were memes and more memes. A GoFundMe account “to get Holly from Wells Fargo the best birthday present ever.” “Happy Birthday Holly” merch in red-and-yellow Wells colors. It’s like a modern-day version of “Save Ferris.”

Wells’ social media team even chimed in on Saturday on the bank’s official Twitter account:

We reached out to a Wells spokesman over the weekend but didn’t hear back. The main question, of course: Was Holly mortified at the attention? Or did she have a happy birthday? —TM

In brief:

  • Slow roll-out: North Carolina was the 14th-slowest state in making the Covid vaccine available, according to data Sunday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. South Carolina was 4th-slowest. (CDC)

  • Davidson salon owner convicted: The owner of a Davidson nail salon faces up to 20 years in prison after a jury last week found her guilty of forced labor. Charlotte resident Thuy Tien Luong, 37, demanded that the victim work 60-70 hours a week at Luxury Nail Salon, told her she owed $180,000 and “physically assaulted the victim on several occasions, including pulling her hair out, stabbing her with nail salon tools and pouring acetone on her head.” (Justice Department)

  • N.C. inauguration: Gov. Roy Cooper was sworn in for a second term on Saturday in Raleigh. (WFAE/AP)

  • PPP money available: Applications for the second round of Paycheck Protection Program loans for small businesses open this week. Changes include more flexibility on covered business expenses, greater coverage for seasonal workers and the addition of categories of eligible businesses that were excluded in the first round — including metro newspapers owned by large out-of-state hedge funds. (Fast Company)

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Executive editor: Tony Mecia; Managing editor: Cristina Bolling; Contributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN Advisory; Reporting intern: David Griffith