Oct 27, 2020 - COVID

Hey South End, the pandemic is still a thing

South End Rail Trail

South End Rail Trail

South End did it again.

On Saturday, a video of partygoers dancing in a conga line around the crowded Nikko Japanese Restaurant emerged. Almost no one was wearing a mask as they woot woot-ed around the packed dining room.

One person in the crowd at Nikko was Panthers practice squad cornerback Josh Hawkins, who was seen dancing at the restaurant and was later released from the team.

Since restaurants (and bars with food menus) were permitted to open during phase two in May, a number of videos have made rounds on social media in Charlotte. They often show crowds of mask-less people as if the videos were taken before coronavirus altogether.

Many, but by no means all, of the videos are rooted in South End, a neighborhood full of young professionals and shiny new restaurants and shops. (The very restaurants and shops the Agenda covers extensively.)

North Carolina is currently “paused” in phase three until at least November 13 due to worsening coronavirus metrics. As cases rise state- and city-wide, Governor Roy Cooper called for stronger enforcement and compliance from individuals and businesses.

“We hope that greater enforcement, strong community leadership, and more people doing the right things can lower these numbers,” he said during an October 21 briefing.

Enforcement has been sporadic in Charlotte. There have been stretches where Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police and Alcohol Law Enforcement officers have cited dozens of businesses for Covid violations, but there have also been periods where businesses have operated against the governor’s order without a problem.

A county spokesperson told the Agenda they aren’t aware of any specific outbreaks linked to South End.

In Mecklenburg County, 20- to 39-year-olds account for 43.1 percent of cases and 2.1 percent of related deaths. Individuals over the age of 60 account for 12.6 percent of cases and 73.3 percent of related deaths.

These numbers illustrate why some younger people may have a hard time taking the virus seriously. If they get it, they’re unlikely to die or even have severe symptoms.

[Related Agenda story: As some students return to campus, young people share their experiences with Covid-19]

“If we are around young people, we’re probably not going to be as concerned about it because we know that young people are the ideal generation to get it and be fine,” said Hannah Joye, a nursing student at Clemson University.

Rail Trail

Joye isn’t a Charlotte resident yet; she and her friend, Rebekah Lannamann, are planning to move here after graduation. Both of them know a few people who had the virus and recovered.

I met Joye while on a walk on the Rail Trail on Tuesday. I’d gone there to talk to South End residents about their Covid concerns — or lack thereof. Most of the people I saw on the Rail Trail were mask-less and so were all of the people I spoke to. The state mask mandate makes exceptions for people who are exercising strenuously and or able to keep six feet distance between themselves and others.

Seven months into the pandemic, Joye said she wants to start moving on. “I feel like it it’s time to move in a direction of, OK, it’s not as bad as everybody makes it sound and we can kind of get life back to normal a little bit.”

On my walk, a man named Cameron (who wouldn’t give me his last name) told me he lost his job during the pandemic, but “other than that I don’t really care that much.”

Briana Lass told me she’s still social distancing and wearing a mask even though she’s noticed many of her South End neighbors are no longer taking those precautions as seriously.

“(I’m) stressed out and anxious about it all but dealing,” she said. “The whole world has kind of changed a little bit and trying to adapt to that.”

Over the last few months it’s become clear that there are varying levels of precaution taken by South End’s weekend warriors — and people throughout the city and country — from the young woman who drank directly from a beer tap at Hoppin’ (and was banned as a result) to folks like Lass who wish more people would take the virus seriously.

The same goes for businesses.

Sycamore Brewing in South End

Sycamore Brewing, for example, voluntarily closed on a busy Saturday in October because management felt the crowd was getting too large. The next weekend, the maskless conga line video emerged at Nikko less than a mile away.

Business owners who are complying with Covid restrictions are worried about the businesses that aren’t complying, city councilman Larken Egleston says.

The concern is that those businesses ignoring Covid safety will force lawmakers to tighten restrictions again.

“There are a lot more places in the city that are doing it right than wrong,” Egleston said. “I think that it’s unfortunate that there are a handful of establishments that are letting a potential short-term gain override what would be the more responsible behavior that would lead to long term sustainability for the industry.”

Egleston said he’s concerned about Covid cases increasing as we approach the colder months and holiday season. He encouraged South End residents to think of their families and vulnerable populations before they put themselves at risk for Covid-19.

“If they don’t care enough to care about themselves, then hopefully they’ll care enough to care about their family members,” he said. “And frankly they should care enough to care about the people that they don’t know in Charlotte, the strangers that they encounter.”

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