Salisbury Post names top 10 stories of 2021

Published 12:06 am Thursday, January 6, 2022

COVID-19 vaccinations became widely available last year, with health workers as some of the first local recipients.

The first large-scale clinics started off slow. Access was restricted due to limited supply, with older age groups and people at high risk for contracting COVID-19 among the first OK’d to receive the shots, which were distributed through mass drive-thru clinics. In Rowan County, thousands of shots were administered at West End Plaza. It was a massive undertaking that required collaboration from county and city departments.

In Cabarrus County, health officials used the Charlotte Motor Speedway to help administer vaccines. The Salisbury VA also held large drive-thru clinics for veterans. Novant Health set up a vaccine clinic at the J.F. Hurley YMCA, which is still open on Wednesdays and Fridays. The Rowan County Health Department also organized community vaccination clinics.

National conversations about the vaccine also made their way to Rowan County. Health officials worked to combat fears about taking the vaccine, learned new information about how it protected people from emerging variants and encouraged people to receive booster shot late in the year.

The rollout of COVID-19 vaccines was voted the top story of 2021 by the staff of the Salisbury Post.

At this point, vaccines are widely available at local pharmacies and clinics. In total, 42% of Rowan County residents are fully vaccinated, 64,704, and 46% of people have received at least one dose.

There have been 500 deaths in Rowan County due to COVID-19 and 30,025 total cases. More than once, the county has found itself among the worst in the state for transmission, vaccination percentage and deaths.

The remainder of the Post’s top 10 stories for 2021 are as follows.

2. Sam Moir Christmas Tournament shooting and rise in violent crime

On Dec. 29, two people were shot during half time of a game at a high school basketball tournament with a 50-year history.

Two juveniles from Davie County were injured and hospitalized after the shooting in the lobby of the Catawba College gymnasium, and later two juveniles were arrested and charged with attempted murder in connection to the incident.

The incident led to a litany of meetings between public officials and Rowan-Salisbury Schools instituting new security requirements at events, including using metal detector wands on attendees and banning backpacks and large bags from events.

The shooting came along with a rise in violent crime in 2021 in Salisbury and Rowan County — a trend also seen nationally. After record lows in 2019, there were more murders in 2021 than the previous several.

3. Bell Tower Green

Bell Tower Green was completed Oct. 1. The $13 million park is the result of years of fundraising and more than two years of construction, including delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The park hosted a New Year’s Eve event that brought back the ringing of the bell, which had been missing since 2018, and has hosted other public and private events since its opening.

While the park’s grand opening in September was canceled along with Pops at the Post, the park’s proprietors decided to take down the fences and let the public inside as workers wrapped up finishing touches.

The park occupies a city block and has play areas, an amphitheater and garden areas as well as a water wall, public bathrooms and historic buildings on site. An overwhelming majority of the $13 million came from individuals, families and foundations who made donations, but the park also received state grants and local funding.

4. Craig Pierce’s arrest and prosecution for drunk driving

County Commissioner Craig Pierce pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated in October after being charged and arrested in June.

The Post and WBTV petitioned to have the body camera footage from Pierce’s arrest released, and the footage was made public in August. It showed Pierce threatening to use his office to have the officers who arrested him fired and referenced calling in political favors.

Pierce told officers he was driving home from a charity fundraiser at Morgan Ridge Vineyards and had two glasses of wine. He could not pass field sobriety tests and blew .27 and .26 on breathalizer tests, which is several times the legal limit of blood alcohol content for driving.

5. COVID-19 in schools

In August, Rowan-Salisbury Schools resumed classes with masks optional, but quickly moved to a mask requirement after COVID-19 quarantines and cases among students began rapidly increasing.

At the peak of quarantines, about 18% of students were out of school. There were nearly 300 positive cases and the district reported several clusters of COVID-19 infections.

Masks, in particular, were a hot-button issue in schools. The decision to make masks optional at the start of the year was praised by some people who attended district Board of Education meetings, and the decision to reinstate a mask requirement later was criticized by some of the same people.

There was also disagreement on the Rowan-Salisbury Schools Board of Education. Dean Hunter and Travis Allen consistently voted against the mandate and the remaining members supported it.

A group of local doctors wrote a letter to the board imploring them to keep the mandate in place until local COVID-19 metrics dropped to low levels. In October, after metrics dwindled, the board made masks optional again and quarantines, as well as cases, remained low.

6. $200 million gift to Catawba College endowment

Catawba College receive an anonymous $200 million endowment gift in October.

The gift places the small liberal arts college’s endowment at more than $300 million.

The gift was more than 10 times the size of the institution’s previous largest gift of $13.7 million to clear most of the college’s debt earlier in 2021.

The money went into an endowment fund the college will draw from and the college is working through what the money means for the institution. A third of the funding is required to go to Catawba’s environment and sustainability programs.

7. ‘Fame’ relocation

The Confederate monument “Fame,” which was removed from its pedestal at the intersection of West Innes and Church Streets in July 2020, was not relocated to its current pedestal in the Old Lutheran Cemetery on North Lee Street until July 23.

The monument, depicting a winged figure carrying a Confederate soldier, was one of a litany of monuments removed in the wake of summer protests stemming from killings of unarmed Black Americans, notably the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by former police officer Derek Chauvin.

Its new location was made possible by a deal with the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which owns Fame, to move it to the cemetery. The statue is protected at the current site by a fence, lights and security cameras.

8. Salisbury mayor race

Karen Alexander defeated Al Heggins in a close race in November to become the first modern elected mayor in Salisbury.

Historically, the mayor was selected by a vote of the city council, with the highest vote getter being appointed to the position. When it became a separate election in 2021, Heggins and Alexander, both sitting members of the council, added their names to the race.

Heggins lost 14 votes and requested a recount, but the results did not change.

Two new council members, Anthony Smith and Harry McLaughlin Jr., joined the Salisbury City Council in the same election.

9. Faith Academy opens

Faith Academy Charter School was approved by state officials early in 2021 and opened in August.

The school was approved at the same time as Essie Mae Kiser Foxx Charter School had its charter revoked by the state. The Faith school enrolled 500 students for its first year of classes, a mix of students from the county and elsewhere.

It was a project of Faith-area residents locals in response to the eventual closure of Faith Elementary School, which shut its doors in June. The academy would eventually purchase the school property from Rowan-Salisbury Schools and open its doors in the facility.

The school immediately outgrew Faith Elementary, building modular units on site to accommodate all of its students.

10. Gold Hill solar farm shot down

The Rowan County Board of Commissioners voted down a 574-care solar farm in Gold Hill after public outcry against the project.

The farm would have been located near another 700-acre solar farm and was being pursued by Birdseye Renewable Energy.

The county commissioners voted 5-2 against the project after contentious community meetings, a well-attended Rowan County Planning Board meeting and organized effort by Gold Hill-area residents.

Coming in Friday’s e-edition and on the most-read stories in 2021. 

About Carl Blankenship

Carl Blankenship has covered education for the Post since December 2019. Before coming to Salisbury he was a staff writer for The Avery Journal-Times in Newland and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2017, where he was editor of The Appalachian.

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