By Collin Cunningham
(CHARLOTTE, N.C.) Happy Friday, QCR readers! It is Jan. 28, and health officials in Mecklenburg County say the BA.2 subvariant of COVID-19 is now closer to Charlotte. We'll tell you what they have to say about the severity of "stealth omicron" and why the county decided to stop applications for its coronavirus rental relief program before suggesting other resources for residents.
Our Friday weather update will clue readers into what to expect outside this weekend, with meteorologists continuing to call for snow, and the weekend reading list will give them something to read once powder hits the ground.
What happened: BA.2, a subvariant of COVID-19 that was first detected in North Carolina on Monday, is now in Mecklenburg County. Public Health Director Dr. Raynard Washington announced on Thursday that medical officials had witnessed a pair of positive cases of the subvariant in test samples collected last week.
Washington also said that the subvariant doesn't create any new cause for concern, and is unlikely to result in another case surge, adding the following:
"The previous subvariant of Omicron had a unique profile on PCR tests that allowed for early indication that it was likely Omicron. The new subvariant does not have that same profile, but PCR and antigen tests still effectively detect the COVID-19 virus."
Why it matters: Despite its adopted nickname of "stealth omicron," AP News reported that the World Health Organization has not classified BA.2 as an omicron subvariant. And, according to The Guardian, it isn't new, either.
Local numbers: Thursday data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services shows a 14-day average of 3,162 new coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents in Mecklenburg County, down 48 from Wednesday. Statewide, NCDHHS reported 28,753 new COVID-19 cases the same day, with daily hospitalization totals continuing to set pandemic records — yesterday had 5,158 inpatients.
Testing and vaccination sites: In addition to Mecklenburg County's free at-home test distributions taking place at J.M. Alexander Middle School and Central Piedmont Community College on Saturday, the county maintains an interactive map of providers offering testing and vaccinations.
Charlotteans who need help paying for rent or utilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic have one less resource after RAMP CLT closed applications to the public. Now, only residents who earn under 80% of Charlotte's median income and have a pending court date or those who make less than 30% of the median, are eligible.
DreamKey Partners, the nonprofit that managed the distribution of Mecklenburg County's COVID-19 relief funds through the program, distributed $51 million to help 11,000 Charlotte households pay to stay in their homes in 2021. It's the second Charlotte rental relief program to end new funding opportunities for renters in the past two months, both citing high demands and draining funds.
Other relief programs: Though RAMP CLT is closed indefinitely, readers can apply for assistance from the following initiatives in the Charlotte metro area:
- The Matthews HELP Center at 119 N. Arnes Street in Matthews — assists with housing and utilities, food, clothing, transportation
- Crisis Assistance Ministry at 500-A Spratt Street in Charlotte — assists with housing and utilities, clothing, household goods, furniture, appliances
- Community Link at 601 E. 5th St. Unit 220 in Charlotte — assists with housing and homelessness and asset building to help families buy homes
Community members have put nearly $10,000 toward a GoFundMe in support of a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools principal who lost her house to a fire on Tuesday. Long Creek Elementary School posted a plea to donate to Principal Shannon Hamilton on its Facebook page on Wednesday.
The update states that Hamilton and her family are safe but the fire torched many of their personal items. Readers who want to help can bring the Hamilton family some of their favorite items to the , as listed on this Google Sheet, or donate to the GoFundMe, which has racked up over $9,300 as of Friday morning.
4. Seven-day weather forecast, Jan. 28 to Feb. 4
The National Weather Service issued a winter weather advisory that predicts up to two inches of snow in Charlotte and the Carolina Piedmont region between 7 p.m. today and 7 a.m. Saturday. The flakes will begin as rain before getting solid as the evening cools, potentially leading to icy roads over the weekend.
More moisture is anticipated for Feb. 2 and 3. Weather.com estimates a roughly 60% chance of rain for those days when higher temperatures will prevent droplets from morphing into snow.
5. Weekend reading list
It was a busy week in Charlotte. and the Roundup can only be so long. Here are a few stories that weren't touched upon this week but are still deserving of readers' attention.
- Mecklenburg County is currently in the process of analyzing over 400,000 properties for the county's first four-year property revaluation in 2023. Previous iterations of the value updates eight years, and The Charlotte Observer has compiled a list of four things residents should know about how parcels will be priced.
- The Observer also has a piece on a binary choice for Novant Health employees: take a full week off or receive a full week's pay in cash?
- With rental relief applications closing, it bears looking at the costs of new developments in Charlotte. Qcitymetro lists 11 recently constructed West End properties costing over $500,000.
- The recently rebranded Queen City News, formerly FOX 46, is bundling up for tonight's snow storm by going deep into the drifts with stories on how January's snowfall stacks up to previous years and how both street-cleaning crews and area residents are adapting to recent weather.
- Charlotte Magazine took to the oval to peer into the future of NASCAR, in Charlotte and throughout the United States. The magazine also published its own power ranking of local motor sports venues, ranging from Salisbury to Gaffney, South Carolina.