Fairfax County Seeks “New Normal” with COVID-19 Recovery

Like everywhere else in the U.S., the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic fallout have hit Fairfax County hardest in its most disadvantaged communities, consultants confirmed in a presentation to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday (Nov. 10).

With the exception of just two zip codes, the areas in Fairfax County with more COVID-19 cases also have more residents of color and lower average median incomes than the county as a whole, according to HR&A project manager Olivia Moss.

The zip codes with the most COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents are concentrated primarily around Falls Church, Annandale, and Bailey’s Crossroads.

On top of that, low-income residents and people of color have been most affected by the national economic downturn that started this spring, when businesses and public spaces temporarily closed in an effort to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.

90% of all job losses in Fairfax County this year have occurred in industries like retail and food services, where average wages are less than 80% of the county’s area median income. 63% of the county’s job losses were in industries where the majority of workers are people of color.

“We know across the country, the pandemic and the resulting economic crisis has not been distributed equally across everyone and every business sector,” HR&A partner Jeff Hebert said. “So, really trying to understand what’s happening in Fairfax and how you can be part of creating a more just recovery in Fairfax is going to be really important to the community that will result after this pandemic is over.”

Fairfax County hired HR&A this summer to develop an economic recovery framework to guide the county’s response to the economic challenges presented by COVID-19.

To create a “new normal” that addresses the socioeconomic inequities exposed and deepened by the ongoing pandemic, Fairfax County needs recovery strategies targeted to different industries and populations based on their specific needs, Hebert and Moss say.

For instance, the county could assist the hardest-hit industries – led by the hospitality and food services sectors, which have shed 12,420 jobs or 26% of their entire workforce – by helping them reduce costs, evaluating regulatory requirements, and supporting programs to rebuild consumer confidence.

Initiatives like the RISE COVID-19 Small Business and Nonprofit Relief Grant Fund that the Board of Supervisors approved in May will be critical too. Through RISE, Fairfax County has awarded $52.5 million to 4,804 businesses so far, 72% of them owned by women, minorities, or veterans.

Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk says Fairfax County should adapt its recovery strategies to specific geographic areas as well as industries, noting that the pandemic’s economic impact in his district has been especially acute in the Richmond Highway corridor.

“Certain parts of Fairfax County are going to have different needs and issues,” Lusk said. “Tysons, Reston, Herndon are in a very different position than Bailey’s, Richmond Highway, and parts further south.”

Workforce development will also be essential to help people whose jobs may never return.

While 40,300 of the approximately 48,200 jobs lost during the pandemic are projected to be recovered by the end of the year, Fairfax County’s labor force has contracted by about 22,000 workers. Women in particular have been driven out by issues like inadequate or uncertain access to childcare, Hebert says.

“The reskilling piece is probably the important thing in here, from my standpoint. Not only if you’re going to help those most vulnerable in the community, you’re going to do that by making sure they have a skill set to take advantage of our future economy,” Board Chairman Jeff McKay said, suggesting the green economy as one industry with a lot of potential for growth.

HR&A will continue analyzing the impact of COVID-19 on Fairfax County before delivering a report with recommendations for recovery strategies and programs in January 2021.

Staff Photo by Jay Westcott

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