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Charlotte woman demands transparency from nursing homes after grandmother's sudden COVID-19 death

Pearl Sanders told her family she felt fine after testing positive for COVID-19. She died hours later, leaving the family searching for answers.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A granddaughter who lost her grandmother to COVID-19 is calling for more transparency in nursing homes.

Shaleiah Sanders said her grandmother, Pearl Sanders, passed at the age of 82 on Jan. 9 after testing positive for COVID-19.

"She was a pearl. She was a rare gem,” Sanders said. “She was a once-in-a-lifetime gem that you would have had the pleasure of being able to enjoy her company."

Sanders said Pearl was a resident at the White Oak Manor Charlotte facility and was living with dementia.

Her grandmother loved going to church and baking her famous pound cake.

“You didn’t know Pearl if you hadn’t ever had one of her cakes because everybody in the community loved her pound cake,” Sanders said.

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Throughout the pandemic, Sanders said her family would call and Facetime Pearl as much as possible to stay in touch.

“We were hands-on to where the staff actually knew her family because they knew that we actually cared that much,” Sanders added.

Pearl was set to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 4, Sanders said, but that day she said Pearl started running a mild fever and was tested for COVID-19. On Jan. 7, Sanders said the test came back positive.

Her family called Pearl the morning of Jan. 9, and Sanders said Pearl wasn’t complaining of any symptoms.

"She told us she loved us, and that was it,” Sanders said. “It was no signs of, 'I'm hurting, you know, something is wrong with me,' or anything."

Two hours later, Sanders said they were informed that Pearl had died.

"We don't have answers,” she said. “You know, we know it's a pandemic. We know it was a super spreader, but what happened between those two hours to account for why she's no longer with us?"

RELATED: 38% of US nursing home staff getting first COVID shots, CDC says

According to data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, the nursing home has had 27 deaths due to COVID-19, which is currently the highest number of COVID-19 deaths out of all ongoing outbreaks in congregate care facilities in the state.

In Mecklenburg County, public health director Gibbie Harris said they are also seeing an all-time high of 69 current COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care facilities throughout the county.

These numbers making it even more important to continue to vaccinate those that are most vulnerable.

“Almost 64% of the doses have been for 65 or older individuals in our community right now," Harris said.

Sanders said the family didn’t know how bad the situation was at the time and the high number of cases the facility was experiencing.

“We had planned on bringing her home,” she added, “but who would have thought that we wouldn’t even have that opportunity to actually bring her home?”

Sanders has now started an online petition, advocating for the elderly in nursing homes and calling for transparency.

Have a relative or friend in another state and want to know when they can get vaccinated? Visit NBC News' Plan Your Vaccine site to find out about each state's vaccine rollout plan.


“It's important to advocate for them when they can't advocate for themselves,” Sanders said.

Sanders is planning a vigil to honor the lives lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 26 at First Ward Park. Masks are required, and social distancing will be enforced.

WCNC Charlotte reached out to the senior administrator of the White Oak Manor Charlotte facility about the high number of deaths at the facility. She offered to speak with WCNC Charlotte on Feb. 10. The senior administrator of the facility said it has been COVID-free for the past four testing dates.

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