Tysons, VA

Three more people in the Fairfax Health District have died due to the novel coronavirus, the Fairfax County Health Department reported today (Wednesday).

All three men were hospitalized as a result of the illness, bringing the total number of deaths in the district to five.

“We are saddened by these additional deaths in our community caused by COVID-19,” said Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu , the health department’s director. “We extend our deepest sympathies to the families and loved ones. 

The men were in their 60s, 80s, and 90s.

As of today, there are 288 confirmed COVID-19 cases — up from 245 cases yesterday — in the Fairfax Health District, which includes Fairfax County, the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church and towns in the county. The number has been steadily increasing over the last several days.

“This is a reminder that we have to be diligent in doing our part to slow the spread of virus in our community. Please remember to wash your hands thoroughly and often, cover your coughs and sneezes, avoid touching your face, stay home if you are sick, and abide by Governor Ralph Northam’s ‘stay at home’ order,” Addo-Ayensu said.

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Revenues from decreased ridership are taking a hit on the Fairfax Connector as the fallout of COVID-19 outbreak continues to unfold.

The bus service is set to receive $1.85 million in funds from the Commonwealth Transportation Board, which oversees statewide transportation and transit projects, to help address the impact of the coronavirus — including a dip in revenue from fares.

Last week, the board approved supplemental funding to help stave off the impact of service reduction, ridership losses and decreases in revenue.

But the funding, which was OK’d by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors at a meeting yesterday (Tuesday), would only keep the buses rolling for about two months.

Fares on buses were temporarily suspended last week because the fare boxes are located at the front of buses. Due to the coronavirus, customers are required to enter and exit buses using the rear doors.

Here’s more from the board matter approved by the Board of Supervisors:

County staff have been responding to the onset of COVID-19, ensuring that Fairfax Connector employees are prepared, and the County’s capital assets are cleaned frequently to help reduce the potential spread of the disease.

At the same time, County staff have been ensuring Fairfax Connector service continues to be available to serve Fairfax County residents who have no alternate way to travel during this emergency.

The Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) is continuing to implement changes necessary to protect the health and safety of Fairfax Connector employees, customers and the public during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as requiring passengers to enter and exit the bus using the rear doors, with the exception of customers who need to use a wheelchair ramp.

Fare collection on buses has been temporarily suspended due to the location of fareboxes at the front entrance of buses. The County will continue make adjustments to Fairfax Connector service to prevent and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and will ensure information on such adjustments is provided to the public.

An FCDOT spokesperson said that although ridership had dipped, statistics on the extent of the increases are not yet available.

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Updated 4/1/2020 — Corrects information about a proposed $1 million fund to help small businesses.

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to take a major hit on the economy, Fairfax County leaders are bracing for the impact of the outbreak on the upcoming county budget.

At a budget meeting today (Tuesday), county leaders said they plan to revisit the proposed fiscal year 2021 budget, which was developed before the coronavirus pandemic impacted the area. A revised proposal is expected to go before the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors by April 7.

The county is expected to take a hit from losses in the following categories: sales tax, transit occupancy tax, business permits, and licensing tax, personal property tax, and state revenue, among other categories. Over three months, a 25 percent dip in the local sales tax results in roughly $12.7 million in losses.

All agencies are tightening their belts and limited spending for critical needs only.

This year, county officials hope to set aside $11.3 million to offer help to nonprofit organizations, local businesses, manage the COVID-19 crisis, and fund licensing for the shift to teleworking.

As of today, there are 245 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Fairfax Health District, which includes Fairfax County, the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church and towns in the county — leading all other jurisdictions in the state.

Support for Businesses and Nonprofits

In addition to federal assistance, a proposed $1 million fund to be administered through the Community Business Partnership could help small businesses struggling financially and at-risk of closing.

The microloan program, if approved, would allow small businesses to apply for a maximum of $30,000 with an interest rate of 3.75 percent. To qualify for funds, businesses must have fewer than 50 employees, demonstrate financial hardship linked to COVID-19 and be based in the county.

Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk said that he wants to see the county diversify its commercial tax base.

“It’s imperative today as we look at the impact on small businesses,” he said at the meeting today.

Local nonprofit organizations are struggling to raise money and need help with services and support, according to Chris Leonard, the director of the county’s Department of Neighborhood and Community Services.

More individuals are calling the department for help with unemployment, low income and financial strife.

A recent survey of local nonprofit organizations found that most organizations are seeing more requests for food, health, hygiene and financial assistance, Leonard said. Youth programming and transportation are most likely to see major reductions.

He hopes to create a program to offer financial assistance and food for individuals most in need, targeted especially for local residents making 200 percent of the area median income. Support would be provided through the county’s existing network of community-based organizations.

County officials noted that the initiatives, programs and funding will shift as the COVID-19 outbreak continues to unfold.

“We’re going to have to evolve this as we go,” Lennard said.

Next Steps For the Budget 

Once the revised budget is ready by April 7, residents can expect opportunities to testify April 14-16.

Joseph Mondoro, the county’s chief financial officer, said that the meeting today that people will be able to testify via video, phone, online forms and even in-person. Although Chairman Jeff McKay said that he would like people to only come in-person as a last resort.

McKay added that quarterly reviews, which the county already does, will will be “much more robust” for the FY 2021 budget.

Much of the discussion between the supervisors today involved ideas they had for where to cut or boost up the new budget, including suggestions from Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross to “keep first responders in mind” and Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity to delay funding the body camera program for the police department.

At the end of the meeting, McKay said there will be “shared pain” in the new budget, noting that cuts should not focus on one area.

McKay said that one of his top priorities is to keep on the county’s employees.

“We want to protect our employees,” he said.

Catherine Douglas Moran contributed to this report

Photo via Fairfax County Government

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The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to climb in Fairfax County.

According to statistics released by the Virginia Department of Health today (Sunday), there are now 187 cases in the county, up from 124 cases on Friday.

While the latest spike is indicative of increased testing by commercial labs, local health officials say there is evidence of community-wide spread of the illness.

The case numbers will continue to increase, but we do have some control over how fast that increase occurs and how high it goes,” the county stated.

Arlington has the second-most confirmed cases (84) in the state, followed by 61 in Loudoun County.

In the county, two people have died from the respiratory disease, including a man in his 60s who died on Friday.

So far, residents between the age brackets of 18-49 and 50-64 have gotten ill at the same rates (16.1 percent each), while people age 65 and older comprise 21.4 percent of the total confirmed cases.

Overall, there are 890 confirmed cases and 22 deaths statewide, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

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In response to the novel coronavirus, several local stores are offering special shopping hours for seniors and high-risk customers.

We’ve rounded up what we know so far about these hours, although some grocers have not defined the age minimum for being classified as a “senior.”

Here’s the latest update on specialized shopping hours for seniors and high-risk people:

  • Balducci’s Food Lover’s Market: First hour of shopping every day
  • Target: First hour of shopping on Wednesdays
  • Whole Foods: (Vienna, Idylwood Plaza and Tysons): people ages 60 and older can shop at 7 a.m. before the stores open at 8 a.m.
  • Safeway: 7-9 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, per a store representative
  • Harris Teeter: 6-7 a.m. on Mondays and Thursdays for people ages 60 and older
  • Giant: People age 60 and older or with compromised immune systems between 6-7 a.m.
  • Walgreens: Tuesdays from 8-9 a.m., also open to caregivers and immediate families
  • Trader Joe’s: Mondays from 9-10 a.m.
  • Walmart (1500 Cornerside Blvd in Tysons): will open at 6 a.m. for seniors on Tuesday, March 24
  • The Fresh Market: seniors and immuno-compromised people can shop 8-9 a.m. every day at all locations

Additionally, some stores are offering in-person and online express lanes for seniors:

“Harris Teeter will designate ExpressLane Online Shopping pick-up times from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. for seniors only every Thursday until further notice and will waive the $4.95 fee & offer $5 delivery for seniors during these times,” according to the grocery store chain.

“Every day between 9-10 a.m., crew members will maintain an additional line outside the front door for our senior customers,” according to Trader Joe’s website. “This will ensure that those customers in need will have an expedited entrance to the store to help make their experience a more positive one.”

Ashley Hopko and Catherine Douglas Moran contributed reporting

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As the number of coronavirus cases grows, Fairfax County Public Schools will be closed for the rest of the school year along with all other schools in the state.

In a press briefing today (Monday), Gov. Ralph Northam announced the closure of the schools.

All recreational and entertainment businesses must also close by midnight tomorrow (Tuesday), along with non-essential businesses that cannot limit patrons to 10 people or less, Northam said, adding that grocery stores, banks and pharmacies will remain open.

Northam said that restaurants can stay open for carry-out, curbside pick-up and delivery service.

“We are in this for months, not weeks,” Northam said. “So we are taking additional actions to keep Virginians safe.”

The state is currently seeking help to provide child care for essential personnel like health care providers.

So far, the state has 254 confirmed cases, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

Fairfax County has the highest number of cases across all jurisdictions. The number jumped from 31 on Sunday to 43 today.

Image via Twitter

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Local public health officials have found evidence that COVID-19 is now being spread via community transmission in Northern Virginia, according to a county press release.

As of today (Thursday), there are 16 presumptive cases in the Fairfax Health District, which also covers the City of Fairfax, the City of Falls Church and towns within the county, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, community transmission refers to when the spread of illness is linked to unknown sources.

“Community transmission, or ‘community spread,’ is defined by the CDC as a ‘spread of an illness for which the source of infection is unknown,'” according to a City of Falls Church press release.

Initial cases of the respiratory disease in the county were first linked to local residents who had contact with North Carolina residents with coronavirus. Two cases were linked to the Reston-based headquarters of the U.S. Geological Survey, according to a recent Reston Now exclusive.

Local officials continue to urge residents to practice social distancing as much as possible. Social distancing involves increasing the distance between people to avoid spreading the illness. Health officials say that staying at least six feet away from other people lessens the chances of catching COVID-19.

In roughly 10 days, the number of presumptive county cases has jumped from two to 16.

Data via Virginia Department of Health

This story also appeared on our sister site Reston Now

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County officials are evaluating if the Fairfax Connector bus service should continue normal operations. For now, Fairfax Connector is operating on a normal schedule.

A spokesperson for the Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) said that changes in service levels are possible in the future, but no plans have been finalized yet.

Overall, ridership has taken a hit, but it’s too soon to tell by how much, according to Robin Geiger, an FCDOT spokeswoman.

The Fairfax Connector’s operations contractor has implemented a more rigorous vehicle cleaning cycle with “a special focus on bus interiors and critical touchpoints such as door handles, handrails, and other surfaces,” according to FCDOT.

The contractor is also working with its workforce to ensure employees are informed about coronavirus and measures to slow its spread.

Passengers should continue to practice ways to prevent spreading COVID-19 by washing hands often with soap and water, avoiding touching your eyes nose or mouth, and avoiding contact with people who are sick.

As of Thursday morning, the Virginia Department of Health says there are 77 presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 in the commonwealth, with 14 in Fairfax County.

This story also appeared on our sister site Reston Now

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Fairfax County Public Schools is expanding the number of grab-and-go sites and adding several pop-up options throughout the county.

Students can pick up breakfast from 8-10:30 a.m. and lunch from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at one of the 39 sites in the county. The service is intended for students under the age of 18 who rely on free and reduced-price school meals. Adults can also purchase meals for $2.

On Wednesday (March 18), the county announced that its food truck will travel to nine pop-up sites in the county. The truck is expected to swing by South Lakes High School between 11-11:30 a.m.

Beginning today (Thursday), school buses will also deliver meals along some bus routes by stopping at designated intersections. The schedule is available online.

Local grab-and-go sites are below:

The complete list is available online. An online map created by the county also allows users to search for food distribution sites in the area.

Photo via FCPS

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Sitting several feet apart, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted today (Tuesday) to declare a local state of emergency due to the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The declaration activates the county’s emergency plan and allows the county to expeditiously mobilize its resources. A number of local jurisdictions have adopted similar declarations, including Arlington County.

At the emergency meeting, board members sat roughly six feet apart in order to practice safe social distancing, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Chairman Jeff McKay noted that the spread of coronavirus poses a “public health threat,” but that the county is well-positioned to manage concerns.

“This is not something this is going to be resolved tomorrow,” McKay said, giving a nod to county staff that is working their “tails off” in this “unprecedented” public health crisis.

The declaration allows the county to pursue “coordinated local government to prevent or alleviate damage, loss hardship, or suffering” caused by the respiratory disease, according to the declaration.

Like similar declarations for snow emergency response, the motion also allows the county to apply for federal and state disaster planning funds and increased flexibility in operations.

The county executive will now have the authority to act on behalf of the board, but won’t be able to do anything inconsistent with state orders, McKay said.

“We don’t have as much authority as people think we do,” Vice Chair Penny Gross said, noting that D.C.’s mayor imposed new restrictions on businesses in the city.

“We’re also at the mercy of the governor,” Gross said.

Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency last Thursday. So far, the Fairfax Health District has 10 presumptive cases of coronavirus.

“We will make it through this,” McKay said. “We will have battle scars without a doubt.”

This story also appeared on our sister site Reston Now

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