A map of a power outage in McLean, caused by a tree that fell on utility wires on Spring Hill Road (via Dominion Energy)

(Updated at 11:35 a.m.) 302 people in McLean are without power after a tree fell and took out some utility wires on Spring Hill Road overnight.

Dominion Energy spokesperson Peggy Fox says the fallen tree broke one pole and two cross-arms, bringing down four spans of wire.

Spring Hill Road has been closed between Georgetown Pike and Old Dominion Drive so that crews can work to address the downed pole and restore power, WTOP reported.

According to Dominion’s outage map, a crew is currently assessing the damage caused by the tree, and the estimated time of restoration is between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., a timeframe confirmed by Fox.

The Spring Hill Recreation Center (1239 Spring Hill Road) is temporarily closed due to the ongoing power outage, according to the Fairfax County Park Authority.

“Summer camps have been relocated to the school next door,” the park authority said on social media. “Indoor classes are temporarily canceled. Outdoor classes are being held as scheduled, but check with your instructor.”

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The third Wednesday of July has arrived, and that means it is officially National Hot Dog Day.

Once again, Vienna Inn will celebrate the occasion by offering a slight discount on its signature hot dogs. Starting at 10 a.m. today, customers can buy a hot dog for $2, and chili dogs are also available at an additional cost.

The typical price of a hot dog from the longstanding Vienna restaurant ranges from $2.45 to $2.75, depending on whether it’s served with cheese, chili, onions, and other toppings.

“We have customers stop in from all over the country to try one of our dogs,” Vienna Inn owner Marty Volk said in a press release that says the restaurant still serves more than 10,000 hot dogs a month even with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

National Hot Dog Day is an annual event cooked up by the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, a trade organization established by the American Meat Institute, but the promotion carries a bit more weight this year for small businesses like Vienna Inn that could use the boost after over a year of navigating the pandemic.

At this time last year, Vienna Inn was only able to provide a limited amount of indoor seating, relying instead on contact-free curbside pickups and outdoor dining under a newly installed tent in its parking lot at 120 Maple Avenue E.

Dubbed the Outside Inn, the tent accommodates over 60 diners and has been outfitted with large-screen televisions to replicate the sports bar experience that’s as much a part of the establishment’s appeal as its chili dogs and wood-paneled furnishings.

Volk says the addition of the outdoor tent has been critical for getting Vienna Inn through the past year.

The tent was made possible by an emergency ordinance that the Town of Vienna has had in place since June 2020, allowing commercial activities on sidewalks and in parking lots due to COVID-19 health concerns. The ordinance has been extended five times, most recently on June 7, and is now scheduled to expire on Dec. 7.

“The last year was a challenge,” Volk said by email. “Without the addition of the Outside Inn (our tent which allowed for outdoor dining) and the loyalty of our customers who raised money to buy meals for first responders and hospital workers and found any excuse to order take-out, we may not be here today.”

Earlier this year, Vienna Inn commemorated its 61st anniversary with celebrity guest hot dog tenders and a challenge to customers to purchase 1,960 meals for first responders and other front-line workers by the end of February. The restaurant exceeded its goal by selling 2,176 meals that month, according to its website.

Vienna Inn says it has seen “a large increase” in dine-in customers since Virginia lifted all capacity and social distancing restrictions on May 28.

The restaurant is now preparing for an influx of new faces with the Virginia State Little League Majors Little League Tournament rolling into town tomorrow (Thursday).

“It’s been nice getting back to somewhat normal,” Volk said. “Seeing familiar faces, sports teams and families back in the restaurant has been a great feeling.”

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Morning Notes

Vienna Metro station across I-66 (photo by John Lee/Twitter)

Vienna Contractor Settles Federal Lawsuit — IT company Sage Consulting Group, Inc. agreed to pay $4.8 million to settle allegations that the company and its owner Robert Pleghardt paid kickbacks to obtain subcontracts on set-aside contracts intended for small businesses owned and operated by socially and economically disadvantaged citizens. The settlement was announced yesterday (Tuesday) by Acting U.S. Attorney Raj Parekh for the Eastern District of Virginia. [U.S. Attorney’s Office]

Capital One Plans Technologist Hiring Surge — “Amid cloud growth, banking giant Capital One plans to add 3,000 new roles for technologists by the end of 2021…Almost 75% of the hires will be in engineering roles, focusing on machine learning, software development and data work to advance the company’s natural language processing.¬† Capital One said ‘hundreds’ of positions will be open at the company’s headquarters in McLean, Virginia, with others will be at locations across the country.” [Technical.ly]

Language Barriers Challenge Those Seeking Unemployment Benefits¬†— “Many non-English speakers who lost their jobs during the pandemic had to rely on their children, family or friends to help them file unemployment insurance claims with the [Virginia Employment Commission]. The state agency does not provide claimants with any language translation options other than English and Spanish on its website.” [Inside NoVA]

Wolf Trap Adds More Summer Concerts — Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts has added five more shows to its 50th anniversary season lineup, including singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile, “Star Wars: A New Hope” in concert with the National Symphony Orchestra, and a “Broadway in the Park” musical theater showcase featuring “Hamilton” star Ren√©e Elise Goldsberry and Tony winner Brian Stokes Mitchell. [Patch]

Photo by John Lee/Twitter

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Morning Notes

Fairfax County Police Officer Shoots Woman — A woman was taken to the hospital in critical condition yesterday (Monday) after a Fairfax County police officer fired their weapon and shot her during a confrontation at a group home in Springfield. Police say they responded to the 8000 block of Gosport Lane by a disturbance call about a woman reportedly assaulting people. [The Washington Post]

Bijan Ghaisar’s Family Protests Park Police Task Force Appointment — “The parents of Bijan Ghaisar, a 25-year-old resident of McLean who was shot and killed by U.S. Park Police in November 2017, are protesting Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s decision to appoint former U.S. Park Police Chief Robert MacLean to head a new task force reviewing law enforcement policies…in the wake of the police’s violent crackdown in Lafayette Park in 2020 during the presidency of Donald Trump.” [Patch]

Falls Church City Seeks School Supplies — “The City of Falls Church Housing and Human Services (HHS) team will help local families with free school supplies. Donations for all ages — and especially middle and high school students — can be delivered to City Hall (300 Park Ave.) through Friday, August 13.” [City of Falls Church]

Falls Church Startup Proposes Automating Tax Appeals — A startup co-founded by Falls Church City Councilmember Ross Litkenhous is looking to raise $2 million to fund a software platform that they say will simplify the property tax appeals process. Launched in February, Calvary Real Estate Advisors would help users fill out the assessment appeal, find ways to save money, and send the form to the right place. [Washington Business Journal]

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Coronavirus illustration (via CDC on Unsplash)

If there were any doubts that the novel coronavirus is experiencing a resurgence in Fairfax County, the past week put those to rest.

With an additional 39 cases reported today (Monday), the county is now averaging 36.6 COVID-19 cases per day for the past week — the highest since May 15, when the seven-day average was 37.4 cases, according to Virginia Department of Health data.

The 48 cases recorded last Thursday (July 15) were the most in a single day since May 27, but the 78 cases that came in that day were an anomaly, whereas this appears to be part of a gradual increase in transmission after a month-long lull in June.

The Fairfax Health District, which also includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, has now reported 78,567 COVID-19 cases over the course of the pandemic. 4,161 people have been hospitalized, and four more people have died from the virus since last Monday (July 12), bringing the death toll up to 1,151 people.

Fairfax County COVID-19 cases over past 90 days as of July 19, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)
All Fairfax County COVID-19 cases as of July 19, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)

Fairfax County is hardly alone in seeing a rise in COVID-19 levels.

Virginia as a whole has gone from a weekly average of 129 cases on June 20 — its lowest since the initial days of the pandemic in March 2020 — to a weekly average of 376 cases today. Nationwide, community transmission remains substantial, particularly across the South, lower Midwest, and Mountain West, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Benjamin Schwartz, director of Epidemiology and Population Health with the Fairfax County Health Department, says the more infectious delta variant “is likely a major contributor” to the county’s recent increase in COVID-19 cases.

As of Friday (July 16), the Fairfax Health District has confirmed 13 infections stemming from the delta variant, which hasn’t become as prevalent in Virginia as it is elsewhere in the U.S. In some areas around the country, that variant accounts for more than 70% of new cases.

However, infectious disease experts with Virginia Commonwealth University say “it’s not a matter of if but when” the delta variant will become widespread here.

“The key messages are, we can’t let down our guard, and everyone who isn’t vaccinated should be vaccinated as soon as possible,” Drs. Gonzalo Bearman and Michael Stevens said in a VCU Health news release.

As with the rest of the country, COVID-19 appears to now be mostly spreading in Fairfax County among people who have not been vaccinated. According to the VDH’s dashboard, which is updated every Friday, 99% of the cases, hospitalizations, and deaths recorded in Northern Virginia since Jan. 1, 2021 have involved people who were not fully vaccinated.

“While we can’t predict future case numbers, we do know that the delta variant increases the risk of infection for people who are not vaccinated,” Schwartz said in a statement. “Vaccination is the most important step someone can take to not only reduce their chance of being infected with the delta variant but also protect others in their family and community.”

While demand has started to level out in recent weeks, the Fairfax Health District has administered 1.3 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to 759,473 residents, including 76.2% of all adults. 64.2% of the district’s overall population has received at least one dose.

664,007 residents are now fully vaccinated, which amounts to 67.7% of adults and 56.1% of the total population.

“While we have done well — vaccinating about 3 of every 4 adults in the county — we need to do even better vaccinating people 12 years and older if we are to stop the increase in infections,” Schwartz said.

He encourages people who remain hesitant about getting vaccinated to consult their health care provider or the Fairfax County Health Department, which has a call center at 703-324-7404, to discuss their concerns.

“People for whom getting vaccinated just hasn’t been a priority should be aware of the increase in infections as added motivation to get protected,” Schwartz said. “With over 300 sites in Fairfax County providing vaccinations, many accepting walk-ins, vaccination never has been easier.”

Photo via CDC on Unsplash

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Morning Notes

(Updated at 8:15 p.m. on 7/23/2021) Fairfax County School Board Members at Nats Park During Shooting — Karl Frisch and Megan McLaughlin, who respectively represent the Providence and Braddock districts on the school board, were at Nationals Park on Saturday (July 17) when gunfire outside the stadium sent fans running for cover and suspended the game. Three people were injured in the shooting, including a woman who was attending the game, according to police. [Karl Frisch/Twitter, Megan McLaughlin/Twitter]

Virginia Announces Universal Broadband Plan — Gov. Ralph Northam announced a plan on Friday (July 16) to invest $700 million to make broadband services universally accessible throughout the state. The funds will come from the state’s $4.3 billion federal COVID-19 relief allocation from the American Rescue Plan Act. [The Washington Post]

Mosaic District Art Gallery Presents New Show — The¬†Torpedo Factory Artists Association¬†will present the results of its regional painting competition at The Gallery @ Mosaic (links corrected) from July 23 through August 22. With more than 30 paintings from nearly 400 submissions, the show will the association’s first regional painting showcase and give the pop-up gallery its first in-person reception since it recently reopened after closing for the COVID-19 pandemic. [Northern Virginia Magazine]

McLean Little League Softball Teams Celebrate Strong Seasons — “It has been the case for many years now, so it was no surprise that McLean Little League all-star girls softball teams again had strong showings in recent state tournaments, with one squad winning the championship and two others finishing second.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

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The weekend is almost here. Before you start getting hyped up for the Olympics¬†or head to bed for some much-needed sleep, let’s revisit recent news from the Tysons area that you might’ve missed.

These were the most-read stories on Tysons Reporter this week:

  1. Local chef to bring new Americana restaurant with bar and market to Falls Church
  2. Nearly all new COVID-19 cases come from unvaccinated people as Fairfax County faces slowing demand
  3. Big Buns burger joint cooks up Vienna move with former Elevation Burger as possible site
  4. Motorcyclist dies after Fourth of July crash on I-66 near Vienna
  5. Broadway comes to Tysons with new additions to Capital One Hall lineup

Ideas for stories we should cover can be sent to¬†[email protected]¬†or submitted as¬†an¬†anonymous tip. Photos of scenes from around the community are welcome too, with credit always given to the photographer.

You can find previous rundowns of top stories on the site.

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Vienna has hosted many tenants at 175 Maple Avenue East over the years, from a gelato shop to a Persian rug store and America’s arch support experts, but the southwestern corner of Maple Avenue and Park Street hasn’t seen anything quite like Lily’s Chocolate & Coffee.

The cafe, which held its grand opening this past Saturday (July 10), purports to be the first in the U.S. to specialize in lokma, a fried dough pastry popular in the Middle East and Mediterranean.

Owner Saifalden Alobaidi and his sister Lily Alobaidi wanted to share a taste of their native Iraq with their adopted home, but knowing that many potential customers might not be familiar with the treat, they decided to add their own touch, substituting the traditional honey or date syrup coating with a drizzle of chocolate.

“It’s a family-owned business,” Saifalden told Tysons Reporter. “We’re just trying to bring our culture from back home, from Iraq, introduce it to the community here…and make a friendly place, so people can come to a different vibe, a different coffee shop style than normal.”

The lokma, which can be filled with peanut butter or nutella, isn’t the only thing that distinguishes the Town of Vienna’s newest eatery, which operates from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday.

In fact, just about everything in Lily’s Chocolate has been specially designed, from the cardamom-spiced hot tea and Belgium-imported chocolate to the mousse, cakes, and other bakery-style desserts that Lily makes herself each day.

The coffee is a blend of Guatemalan and Brazilian beans that the Alobaidis developed through “a lot of coffee tasting,” Saifalden says. The beans are roasted by Grace Street Coffee in Georgetown, which has formed a partnership with Lily’s Chocolate.

Even the cafe’s tables, chairs, lighting fixtures, and other furnishings were custom-made by Saifalden, who also works as a civil engineer and owns a construction business. This is his first venture into the food service world.

“We’re trying to be unique so it’s not repetitive,” Saifalden said. “Even the coffee taste we have, the pastry we sell, the style of the place, we’re trying to be different than what’s in the market.”

The Alobaidis immigrated from Iraq to the U.S. — specifically to Arizona — in 2009, according to Saifalden, who obtained a master’s degree in engineering management from the University of Arizona before entering construction work.

After traveling from state to state for a while, he moved to McLean in 2016, and he and Lily came up with the idea for a lokma shop, signing a lease for the Maple Avenue spot in October 2020.

Though he now lives in Reston, Saifalden says he loves the Town of Vienna for its family-friendly atmosphere and an increasingly diverse population that embraces different cuisines and cultures. The town’s central location within Fairfax County and efforts to support small businesses heightened its attractiveness.

Getting Lily’s Chocolate off the ground was not without its challenges, though, as the COVID-19 pandemic delayed shipments and prolonged the licensing process and other preparations.

Saifalden also allows that he has gotten a few comments about the availability of parking at the site, which is prominently but awkwardly situated at the intersection of two busy streets with little room for drivers to manuever into or out of spaces without blocking traffic.

The building does have additional parking in the back, and he says the cafe is working to put up a sign to make that clearer to passersby. He also anticipates getting reliable foot traffic, including from pedestrians and bicyclists coming into town on the Washington & Old Dominion Trail.

According to Saifalden, Lily’s Chocolate drew over 300 people between 6 and 9 p.m. for its grand opening, which offered free pastries, tea, and coffee. The cafe has also gotten some social media buzz, thanks in part to the popular Vienna VA Foodies Facebook group.

Expansion plans are already taking shape. A friend has expressed interest in starting a franchise in Georgia, and the Alobaidis are looking at a possible location in Georgetown to complement their partnership with Grace Street Coffee.

“We’ve been getting a lot of feedback from people about the place, the design, the location, the scene, the quality of the coffee, the pastry or the lokma that we are serving, and a lot of reviews on Facebook, on Instagram as well,” Saifalden said. “We appreciate everybody’s business here.”

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Morning Notes

Metro Extends Service Hours This Weekend — Starting Sunday (July 18), Metro will provide rail service until midnight for the first time since operating hours were reduced at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The transit agency approved a package of fare reductions and service improvements in June aimed at attracting riders as more offices are set to reopen in the fall. [The Washington Post]

Freedom Hill Park to Recognize Historic Carter Family — As part of an interpretive history project, the Fairfax County Park Authority is inviting the public to a traditional land ceremony and sign dedication at Freedom Hill Park in Vienna on July 31. The new signs will tell the story of the multiracial Carter family, whose accomplishments include establishing the First Baptist Church of Vienna and possibly spying for the Union during the Civil War. [FCPA]

Fairfax County School Board Elects New Chair — The school board unanimously approved Sully District representative Stella Pekarsky as its new chair for the 2021-2022 school year. Board members thanked Mason District representative Ricardy Anderson for her time as chair amid the pandemic and noted she will get some much-deserved time with her family. [FCPS]

Food Trucks Stop by Providence Community Center — “Come by the Providence Community Center tomorrow [July 16] from 11am to 1:30pm for some freshly made empanadas by @empanadasdemza! This will make for a great snack over the weekend so make sure you grab some extra to share with your friends and families!” [Supervisor Dalia Palchik/Twitter]

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Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand (via FCPS)

(Updated at 11:30 a.m.) Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand will step down from the position at the end of the upcoming school year, FCPS announced this morning (Thursday).

Brabrand will leave at the end of his current contract, which was extended through June 30, 2022 by the Fairfax County School Board in December.

The announcement of Brabrand’s impending departure comes as FCPS prepares to start a second phase of expanded summer school and resume five days of in-person learning for all students when the 2021-2022 school year kicks off in August.

“My colleagues and I are extremely grateful for Dr. Brabrand’s unwavering commitment to FCPS students, staff, and families,” School Board Chair Ricardy Anderson said in a statement. “We look forward to our continued collaboration toward the goal of returning all students to school safely for five days in the fall and providing every child the instructional and social emotional services they need this coming school year.”

While FCPS did not expand on Brabrand’s decision to leave next year in its press release, his departure follows a year of unprecedented challenges as school systems nationwide scrambled to adapt to closures and a massive shift to virtual learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the leader of Virginia’s largest public school system, Brabrand was tasked with balancing the sometimes competing needs of a diverse population of students and staff, drawing criticism from both parents who pushed for school buildings to reopen and faculty wary of the health risks that they would face from teaching in person.

Prior to the pandemic, Brabrand’s tenure as superintendent, which began in 2017, has been characterized by an emphasis on equity and supporting students’ social and emotional needs as well as their academic success.

The effectiveness of his efforts has been mixed so far. For instance, changes to the admissions process for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology produced the magnet school’s most diverse class in years, but conditions for students with disabilities in FCPS have drawn repeated scrutiny, prompting a federal investigation and policy changes.

Brabrand’s career with FCPS has spanned almost 30 years, starting in 1994 when he was a social studies teacher, according to the news release.

Dr. Brabrand, a career changer who was inspired by doing volunteer work in the schools, began his career in FCPS as a social studies teacher in 1994. He also served as an assistant principal at Herndon High School and an associate principal at Lake Braddock Secondary School before becoming principal at Fairfax High School in 2005. In 2009, he was promoted to cluster assistant superintendent, where he was responsible for 29 schools and more than 22,000 students, and provided collaborative leadership for 27 principals and administrators. Prior to being named superintendent at FCPS in 2017, Dr. Brabrand spent five years as superintendent of Lynchburg City Schools.

“I pledge to continue to serve with the same love and passion for FCPS that I had when I started,” Brabrand said. “In the best of times and in the worst of times, I have always strived to lead with a steady hand and a full heart.”

FCPS says Brabrand will work with the school board “to lay the groundwork for a smooth transition in leadership at the end of his term.”

The school system plans to hire a search firm to identify and recruit potential candidates, according to a new webpage on the search process.

“The School Board will immediately begin the process of finding a new division superintendent,” FCPS said. “Community members will have opportunities to participate in the process.”

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