By Collin Cunningham
Good morning, Charlotteans, and welcome to the first Queen City Roundup of 2022! Today is also the first day back to school for students at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, which will be operating in-person following winter break despite the record-setting number of COVID-19 cases reported on New Year's Eve.
Students at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and two other local colleges, however, will greet professors via camera after the schools announced a temporary switch to virtual learning on Friday. We'll tell you which schools are affected, and how poorly the Panthers performed against the Saints in New Orleans last night, walking out of the Paris of the South with a final score of 18-10.
It is Monday, Jan. 3, and it's nice to see you again. Here's what to know in 2022.
What happened: North Carolina followed up Thursday's record-setting COVID-19 case amount of 18,571 with a new pandemic high of 19,174 new infections on Friday. Health care workers administered over 76,000 COVID-19 tests to North Carolinians on Thursday, meaning roughly one in every four people being tested are positive for the coronavirus.
Why it matters: The numbers reflect tests performed prior to New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. Expected to be released today, those numbers will likely be much higher. They also don't account for at-home tests. North Carolina health officials encouraged residents to dial back their plans to ring in 2022, including former Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris.
"This is a holiday weekend where people have a tendency to come together and as midnight hits, they have a tendency to hug and kiss and do all of those things to ring in the new year. Well, this is not the year to do that," Harris said on Thursday, per Newsweek. She has since retired and been replaced by Raynard Washington, Mecklenburg County's previous deputy health director.
Speaking of COVID-19 in Charlotte...
2. UNC Charlotte, UNC Asheville and Duke will start spring semester with virtual classes due to COVID-19
Students of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, UNC Asheville and Duke University should ensure their laptop cameras and microphones are working before the spring semester begins. The schools announced the change to virtual learning on Friday in an attempt to reduce COVID-19 infections at their respective campuses.
UNC students resume learning on Jan. 10 and will have classes online through Jan. 24, while the school has recommended that students who live on-campus delay their return until Jan. 19-23. Athletic events will still take place, but students will be unable to attend.
Duke pupils will learn online from Jan. 6 to Jan. 18. The Durham-based college previously told students classes would take place digitally through Jan. 10. Both UNC Charlotte and Duke announced COVID-19 booster shot or testing requirements for students and staff members in December.
3. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Students prepare for in-person return to schools with updated state guidance
What's happening: After today's teacher workday, 140,406 students at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will return to classes in person. During a press conference on Thursday, Harris said there were no plans to delay the start of schools, but said students and staff were required to wear masks inside school buildings. Between Dec. 13 and 19, CMS quarantined 79 students and staff after 28 students and 14 employees tested positive for COVID-19, per The Charlotte Observer.
Why it matters: The return to school follows changes made to the StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit, a guidebook meant to help North Carolina's public schools navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Dec. 30 updates reflect guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that states anyone exposed to COVID-19 should quarantine for five days instead of 10. The same is true for anyone who tests positive but does not experience symptoms.
4. Saints slay Panthers 18-10 in New Orleans, Tepper 'unhappy and embarrassed' with Matt Rhule
What happened: The Panthers had another poor showing in Week 17, blowing a single-point halftime lead as Sam Darnold started as Carolina's quarterback for the first time since he suffered a shoulder injury in Week 7. Darnold's 17 successful passes out of 26 netted the team 132 yards, but also a fourth-quarter interception when Saints safety C.J Gardner-Johnson caught a ball intended for DJ Moore.
But that was in the fourth quarter, with 54 seconds on the clock. Before that, the Cardiac Cats had managed a strong start, with a field goal in the first and a touchdown in the second. Quarterback Cam Newton made a brief appearance in the second quarter, setting Darnold up to throw to Panthers running back Chuba Hubbard, who broke through 21 yards for the TD.
Why it matters: The Panthers are 5-11 and would need a telescope to see the playoffs. Team owner David Tepper is taking notice, potentially jeopardizing coach Matt Rhule's chances to return for a third season with Carolina. According to The Athletic, sources say the hedge fund manager is "unhappy and embarrassed" about his decision to bid a $62 million contract to Rhule.
Carolina is set to play its final game of the season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Florida on Sunday. The Bucs are 12-4 after clinching the NFC South title in their last game against the Panthers on Dec. 26.
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19,000 COVID-19 cases, continued: Hospitalizations rose in tandem with COVID-19 cases in North Carolina, which saw 2,387 people at the medical centers for symptoms of the virus on the last day of 2021, per The News & Observer. The figure is more than double the number of hospitalizations recorded at the outset of December.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services also announced that 27 people had died from coronavirus-related symptoms Friday, though the agency does not report fatalities daily.
And the NCDHHS has a new secretary. WITN reported on Saturday that the department's deputy secretary for health and COVID-19, Kody Kinsley, replaced former secretary Mandy Cohen during a swearing-in on Saturday.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, continued: The nearby Union County Public Schools will also welcome students back into classrooms for traditional learning this week. The district encouraged students to wear masks indoors but will not conduct contact tracing or require students to quarantine after the schools' board voted to end the preventative measures in December.