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Vienna could allow medical testing sites in zoning code after drive-thru Covid test facility closes

Vienna’s lone drive-through COVID-19 testing site is officially no more, but the town is moving to make it easier to establish similar facilities in the future.

The Vienna Planning Commission unanimously approved an amendment to the zoning ordinance on Feb. 9 that would allow for temporary medical testing sites during public health emergencies. Such facilities are currently prohibited by the town.

The proposed amendment was brought up by Councilmember Chuck Anderson at the Vienna Town Council’s Jan. 24 meeting.

“This all sort of has evolved out of Covid and the like, where there were a lot of emergency provisions that had to be put in place,” Anderson said.

Vienna allowed the provider Personic Health Care to set up a drive-through testing site in the Emmaus United Church of Christ parking lot at 900 Maple Avenue in early 2021 under an emergency ordinance that waived zoning regulations for certain outdoor, commercial activities.

However, the ordinance could only stay in effect for up to six months after the end of Virginia’s statewide emergency declaration for the pandemic, which was allowed to expire on June 30, 2021.

The Personic site was scheduled to shutter at the end of last year, but with COVID-19 cases surging in Fairfax County at the time, Town Manager Mercury Payton authorized a “wind-down” period on Dec. 31 that kept the facility open through the end of January.

While cases have declined in recent weeks, community transmission of Covid remains high in Fairfax County. The proposed amendment would allow testing facilities in the town during any future surges in this pandemic or other health crises.

“A lot of this has to do with public confidence, because we’ve had a lot of criticisms about this,” Anderson said during the Jan. 24 meeting. “I want to provide the public with the confidence that we’re aware of this and we’re doing something about it.”

If approved by the Vienna Town Council, the amendment would give authority to the town manager to approve licensed temporary medical testing sites when a public health emergency has been declared by local, state, or federal government agencies.

An operator would have to file a conditional use permit application with the town and approved by the town manager before the site can go online. The town manager would also set operational conditions for these facilities, including dates, hours of operation, and how to set appointments.

Appointments came into consideration after issues arose at the Personic testing site this past winter. According to town planner Michael D’Orazio, demand for testing was so high that the lines blocked traffic on Maple Avenue.

Under the amendment, sites where temporary medical testing sites would be permitted include churches and other places of worship, along with public schools and colleges.

Private schools are not included, since Vienna would be required to get permission to use those sites for testing.

The amendment will now head to the Vienna Town Council for its approval. A public hearing is expected to be held on the matter when the council meets on Feb. 28.

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