Nearly a year after lockdown, the babies are coming

Plus: Your guide to the week's big stories — Tent City ordered cleared; Vaccines delayed by weather; CPCC suffers ransomware attack; Museum aims to save historic school

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Deliveries are up and yard sign rental business swells amid baby boom; Fairmeadows gets frisky

There’s lots of young energy in the Fairmeadows neighborhood near SouthPark these days, as couples including Wes and Kristen Collins bring home new babies in what’s being described as a neighborhood baby boom.

by Cristina Bolling

The baby strollers and the wooden stork signs are out in force in the Fairmeadows neighborhood off Sharon Road in the SouthPark area. And as the weather warms and the spring flowers emerge, so will more babies.

The neighborhood, with its sweeping lawns and 1960s brick ranches and split-levels, has been having a renaissance in recent years as lots of young couples move in, ready to start or expand their families.

So the backdrop was already fertile for a baby boom, neighbors say. The pandemic likely just hastened it.

No one has kept count of how many babies Fairmeadows has welcomed during the pandemic, but neighbors The Ledger talked to say the numbers have been swelling.

Kristen and Wes Collins, who live on one of Fairmeadows’ major thoroughfares, figured their family of four was complete last year, with two kids under the age of 4.

In March, as the pandemic bore down, Wes called for a vasectomy appointment.

No can do, his medical provider said. Vasectomies were considered elective surgeries, and only essential surgeries were allowed because of the pandemic.

A couple of months later came a surprise — Kristen learned she was pregnant. Little Winston Wallace was born Feb. 8 at 8 lbs. and 20.5 inches, joining siblings Charlotte, 3, and Jackson, 2.

Winston will have plenty of playmates on the street, his mom says.

Three families in a string of 10 houses on the Collins’ street or right around the corner will welcome bundles of joy in April or May.

“It’s sort of crazy,” Kristen Collins says.

Why the boom?: Fairmeadows neighbors say they hear the usual jokes about there being “something in the water” and the like, but when you think about it, a pandemic baby boom is not inconceivable.

Spouses who normally travel for work have been grounded, and are able to take advantage of those days each month when conditions are ripe to conceive.

And despite what people are saying about the pandemic making us more sick and tired of our family members, well, some couples are milking the together time for all it’s worth.

Charlotte’s two big hospital systems, Atrium and Novant, were unable to pull together year-over-year birth figures for The Ledger, but a WSOC-TV story in December reported that Novant was expecting a 7.5% bump in births in January 2021 and a near 10% spike in June.

Dr. Lorene Temming, a maternal fetal medicine physician and medical director of Labor and Delivery with Atrium Health, said that Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center saw an increase in deliveries in 2020 as compared to 2019, and projects an increase in volume in 2021.

“In particular, Charlotte OB/GYN, which is in the SouthPark area, has had an increase in new patients, visit volume and delivery volume,” she wrote in a statement to The Ledger.

“It is difficult to know if the pandemic is directly responsible for the increase in [the] number of births we are seeing, although it certainly could be related to increased time at home as well as increased flexibility with work scheduling,” she wrote.

Temming pointed out that birth rates traditionally decrease when there’s a decline in the labor market, so public health officials nationally have predicted a decrease in births due to the pandemic.

But Charlotte has had lower unemployment rates than other parts of the country — 5.8% in Charlotte compared to 6.7% nationally in December 2020 — “and this may explain why we are seeing a different trend,” she said.

A flight of storks: Companies that rent yard signs heralding a baby’s arrival say they’re seeing no signs of business contracting, either.

Jaime Volturno, who owns Happy Sign Surprise in Charlotte and Greensboro, told The Ledger that after more than 10 years of business in Charlotte, “this is the first time that we have not had enough inventory to fulfill all requests for our personalized baby announcement signs.”

Her Greensboro office is seeing that part of the business expand, too. After focusing on birthday signs for the last 5 years, they’re having to invest in baby signs because of demand.

Fun on the horizon: Being home with a newborn during pandemic times isn’t starkly different than pre-pandemic, Collins says. Leaving the house with someone who needs changing, feeding and soothing in frequent intervals has been a challenge since the dawn of civilization. It almost helps that there’s nowhere to go.

“Next month, I’ll start to feel antsy because we should be out and about,” she said. “And visitors — we’re not really sure what to do about visitors.”

Doctors have warned the family to take extra Covid precautions to avoid Kristen coming down with the virus. Because as any young family knows, if mom goes down, everything goes down.

But there’s lots to look forward to on the Fairmeadows horizon.

Kristen Collins says she’s excited for the pandemic to recede and fun activities like library story times to start back up.

And before they know it, the little ones born during the pandemic baby boom will be off to school.

“There will be tons of classmates for these kids,” she said.

Cristina Bolling is managing editor of The Ledger: cristina@cltledger.com.


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This week in Charlotte: Tent City residents forced to clear out, census may delay 2021 elections, Piedmont will ask to raise rates

On Saturdays, The Ledger sifts through the local news of the week and links to the top articles — even if they appeared somewhere else. We’ll help you get caught up. That’s what Saturdays are for.

Politics

  • Census delay may affect elections: (WFAE) Charlotte City Attorney Patrick Baker said Tuesday that he doesn’t think the city can have its city council and mayoral elections this fall as scheduled because of delays in the census. Baker told a Charlotte City Council committee that the city’s seven single-member districts need to be redrawn to comply with U.S. Supreme Court precedent. If the election is delayed until 2022, council members and the mayor would have their terms extended by 12 months. The census delay could also impact the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education elections scheduled for this year, as well as a possible sales tax referendum to pay for transit improvements.

  • Anti-gerrymandering lawsuits: (Observer) Calling North Carolina “ground zero for partisan and racial gerrymandering,” former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Friday in a speech to the UNC School of Law that he will likely be back in North Carolina courts soon, backing yet another anti-gerrymandering lawsuit. Holder now chairs a group called the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which helped bankroll two gerrymandering lawsuits in North Carolina in 2019 — the first against the state’s legislative districts, and the second against its U.S. House districts.

Education

  • CMS lawsuit dismissed: (Ledger 🔒) A lawsuit filed in September by a group of five parents of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students seeking to order CMS to reopen classrooms has been dismissed. On Wednesday, Mecklenburg County Superior Court sent an email to attorneys on both sides announcing the decision by Judge Karen Eady-Williams. A written judgement is expected later this month.

  • CMS working to balance in-person schedule for grades 6-12: (Wednesday) Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials are working on a revised calendar for the middle- and high-school three-week rotation to balance the number of in-person instructional days across all three rotations. Currently, students in grades 6-12 are split into three rotating groups. One group is now scheduled to be in classrooms for 16 days this school year while the other two groups will be in classrooms for 23 days. CMS administrators say they’ll recommend a new schedule at Tuesday’s school board meeting. Board members would have to approve a change.

  • Summer school: (WFAE) Republican sponsors of a bill requiring all North Carolina school districts to offer six weeks of summer school said they’re providing flexibility and funding for the effort to offset pandemic learning loss.

Local news

  • Tent City cleared out: (WFAE) More than 200 people who had been residents of the homeless encampment known as Tent City on the northern edge of uptown have been moved to hotels by Mecklenburg County. County health officials on Tuesday announced that residents would have 72 hours to clear out because of rat infestation and other health hazards.

  • Bad weather delays vaccines: (WFAE) North Carolina vaccine providers have yet to receive nearly 300,000 COVID-19 vaccines the federal government was set to deliver this week, state health officials said Thursday. None of the more than 163,000 first and second doses of the Moderna vaccine scheduled to arrive this week had been delivered, the state health department said. The state also noted that less than one-third of the nearly 127,000 Pfizer vaccines expected this week have been shipped. Mecklenburg County health officials said they’ll notify residents if their shot appointments will be impacted.

Business

  • Piedmont to ask for rate hike: (Biz Journal) Piedmont Natural Gas will file next month for a rate increase in North Carolina, its second in the state in two years. A spokeswoman said the company is still calculating its final request but the reason for it is twofold: to pay for improvements due to increased environmental and safety standards, and because Piedmont needs to increase its pipeline system infrastructure to keep up with customer growth.

  • Dole merger: (Axios Charlotte) Dole Food Company, whose corporate HQ is in uptown Charlotte, announced a merger with Ireland-based Total Produce Wednesday, making it the world’s largest fresh produce company. The newly formed company, Dole plc, will have its American headquarters in Charlotte. The merged company will be double the size of its closest rival, Del Monte Foods.

Sports

  • Panthers players released: (Observer) The Carolina Panthers have informed safety Tre Boston, punter Michael Palardy and defensive end Stephen Weatherly that they will be released, the Charlotte Observer reported. The team released defensive tackle Kawann Short on Tuesday, and combined, the team has saved about $20M in salary cap space for the 2021 season.

  • Knights announce season: (Knights) The Charlotte Knights announced their 2021 season Thursday, with a home opener April 13. Under state orders, Truist Field will be allowed to hold 700 fans, or 7% of its 10,000 seating capacity. Team officials say they’re hoping the rules will change to allow for more fans before the season starts. The team’s 2020 season was canceled due to Covid.

Good reads

  • Effort to save historic school: (Observer) The Charlotte Museum of History has raised $500,000 toward its $1M goal to restore and preserve the historic Siloam School, a wooden schoolhouse that dates to the 1920s and was built to give African American children a quality education despite segregation. The $1M is needed to restore and preserve the school and make it available as a community resource and center for history programs.

  • The case for music in Charlotte: (Charlotte magazine) Former longtime Charlotte magazine editor Richard Thurmond explains why he’s fired up over Charlotte’s music scene. Although it’s been dealt a whopping blow during Covid, Thurmond says, he believes it has the ingredients to make Charlotte a great music city.

Ledger originals

  • When cybercriminals attack: (Wednesday 🔒) Central Piedmont Community College was the victim of a ransomware attack that was discovered Feb. 10 and forced the school to close for more than a week. (Classes resume on Monday.) To gain insight on the challenge CPCC and other cyberhacking victims face, The Ledger talked to Mike Stamas, co-founder and VP of national cybersecurity firm GreyCastle Security about how these attacks happen, how companies can prevent them, and what it’s like when they strike.

  • A new steeple for SouthPark: (Friday 🔒) Veteran Charlotte religion writer Ken Garfield tells the tale of SouthPark Church, formerly Sharon United Methodist Church. Sitting on a gold mine of a property but mired in years of declining attendance, the congregation voted to sell its 6.1-acre property to Childress Klein, the Charlotte-based developer, for $15M. The deal included the church keeping one acre in the middle for its new building, which has now sprung up among new apartments, restaurants and a hotel.

  • Tips on staying focused: (Wednesday 🔒) This week’s installment of “A Better You in 2021” showed you four keys to keeping your “eyes on the prize,” from business coach and strategic advisor Tim Whitmire of CXN Advisory.

  • 7th Street Market tells vendors to keep full hours: (Friday 🔒) Leaders of the 7th Street Public Market have told the market’s 13 vendors that they need to be open whenever the market is open or move on. The market has suffered during the pandemic, as the uptown workforce remains depleted and events practically non-existent. But in a memo to vendors, the market’s board stressed the need for all vendors to be open on the days the market is open because some currently are not keeping regular hours.


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Executive editorTony MeciaManaging editorCristina BollingContributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN AdvisoryReporting intern: David Griffith