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The number of COVID-19 cases in Fairfax County has remained relatively stable, mimicking case rates first reported in May of last year.

The stabilization of cases comes as Fairfax County picks up the pace of vaccinations. The county reported 119 new cases today (Monday) — a number that has remained relatively constant over the last week. Last May, daily case rates hovered in the 100s, similar to case rates that have occurred this March.

The county has said it can meet a deadline of May 1 for expanding eligibility for vaccine appointments to all adults, but officials remains noncommittal on whether or not every Fairfax County resident will receive a vaccine by May 31.

But the push for more vaccines continues. In a March 19 letter to Gov. Ralph Northam, the Northern Virginia Regional Commission urged the state health department to provide more vaccines.

“With additional doses allocated to our health districts immediately, we can put that capacity to work to quickly assist the Commonwealth in achieving its vaccination and equity goals,” the commission wrote.

Right now, the county is making appointments for people who registered on Feb. 18. 28 percent of the total people registered in the county still remain on a waiting list. That’s nearly 98,000 people of the 354,889 people registered.

132,307 people in Fairfax County are fully vaccinated and 248,323 people have received one dose. The county recently began administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which only requires one dose.

The county has also begun community vaccine clinics — which are not widely publicized — in order to target vulnerable populations.

The number of vaccinations has also picked up statewide. More than two million Virginians have received their first dose, and 1.1 million people are fully vaccinated.

The county also recently expanded eligibility criteria for vaccinations to include workers in manufacturing, grocery stores, and the food and agriculture industry.

As the pace of vaccinations picks up, the Centers for Disease Control has updated its policies on social distancing. Although the CDC still recommends universal masking, it now says students should maintain a distance of at least three feet in classroom settings, rather than the six-feet standard previously suggested.

Photo via Fairfax County Health Department/Twitter

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In a divisive decision, the Fairfax County School Board voted late last week to recognize some religious holidays in the next school year, but fell short of giving students a day off on those days.

Next year’s academic year will not give students a day off on 15 religious observances, including Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Eid, and Diwali. In what proponents described as a middle-ground option, the holidays would be recognized as special days during which tests, quizzes, field trips, and other events would not be scheduled.

Overall, students would receive an allowance of 16 hours to make up for any religious or cultural reasons.

The following religious and cultural observance will be observed; Eid al-Adha, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Día de los Muertos, Diwali, Bodhi Day, Three Kings Day/Epiphany, Orthodox Christmas, Orthodox Epiphany, Lunar New Year, Ramadan, Good Friday, Theravada, Orthodox Good Friday/Last Night of Passover and Eid al-Fitr. The days were selected based on absentee rates over the last five years.

Employees will also be given up to 16 hours of any time missed for religious and cultural observances.

School board chair Ricardy Anderson touted the move as one that favors “equity and inclusivity.”

“It aims to center equity by elevating our systems’ respect for religious and cultural observances,” Anderson wrote in a statement. “While this final calendar for 2021-22 may not align with the goals of everyone in Fairfax County, it recognizes all religious and cultural observances where Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) has seen above-average absences over the last five years.”

In a letter to the FCPS community, Superintendent Scott Brabrand recognized that the discussion surrounding this issue was divisive and riled by faith organizations and parents.

“We acknowledge that while this has been a challenging discussion, FCPS is committed to equity for all of its students and staff,” Brabrand said. “Moving forward, FCPS will establish a calendar development process that allows the School Board to identify clear criteria and priorities for the calendar; defines the roles of staff, Board, and community members; and creates a robust community engagement process that outlines how and where feedback will be solicited and shared with the Board.”

But the decision drew concern from many local and area religious groups. In a joint statement, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Association of United Hindu and Jain Temples of Metropolitan Washington, Durga Temple of Virginia, Hindu American Foundation, Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, McLean Islamic Center, Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation, and Temple Rodef Shalom wrote that the school board’s attempt to divide religious groups backfired.

“While the school board has sought to divide us further, we have coalesced around this issue, strengthening our commitment to one another and to the equity of religious minority groups in Fairfax County,” the statement reads. “We will continue to hold the FCPS School Board and Administration accountable to ensure that our communities are not disadvantaged by the decisions taken today.”

The new rules will go into effect when the school year begins on July 1. The board also voted to decouple Good Friday from Spring Break.

Photo via FCPS

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This year’s graduating classes may get to celebrate their achievements with socially-distanced graduation ceremonies.

Earlier this week, Gov. Ralph Northam released preliminary guidance for graduation ceremonies at high schools and universities this spring and summer.

“We are releasing this guidance early to allow schools to begin planning for this year’s events,” Northam said Wednesday (March 17) in a statement. “While graduation and commencement ceremonies will still be different than they were in the past, this is a tremendous step forward for all of our schools, our graduates, and their families.”

Northam wants all outdoor ceremonies to be capped at 5,000 people or 30 percent of venue capacity.

Indoors events are limited to 500 people or 30 percent of the venue capacity. All attendees must wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines to the extent possible.

Seating areas should be reconfigured to accommodate social distancing, among other recommendations pitched by Northam.

Updated guidance is expected to be released as part of a forthcoming executive order.

The guidance comes as Fairfax County Public Schools prepares for a return to five days of in-person classes in the fall. Since Feb. 16, more than 98,000 students and staff members have resumed in-person classes.

More than two-thirds of the state’s public school teachers and staff have received at least one dose of the vaccine. The statewide positivity rate for COVID-19 also continues to fall, currently standing at 5.4 percent.

Last year, some Fairfax County students celebrated with car parades, while other schools returned to virtual celebrations or graduate photo opportunities. FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand told the school board on Tuesday (March 16) that he was “confident” there will be in-person ceremonies for the senior Class of 2021.

With this in mind, we’d love to know what you think about how and if in-person graduation ceremonies should resume this year. Let us know in the poll below.

Photo via Andre Hunter on Unsplash

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Beginning March 22, Fairfax County Public Library branches will reopen for indoor services.

But library patrons will only be able to visit FCPL branches for up to 30 minutes. Branches will open on Monday and Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and from Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The changes come after the system offered curbside and online services since mid-January.

Each branch will have capacity limits of up to 30 people for community branches and 60 people for regional branches. Customers over five must wear masks at all times.

The system will also institute a number of social distancing measures, including plexiglass shields, social distancing floor stickers, and limited furniture.

Book donations are still not being accepted, and returned library materials will be quarantined for 24 hours. Meeting rooms remain unavailable.

Even as express services resume, curbside services will continue from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day except Sunday.

Photo via Fairfax County

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A year ago yesterday (Sunday), Virginia’s first COVID-19 case was reported in Fort Belvoir when a U.S. Marine tested positive for the virus.

Since then, the Fairfax Health District has recorded 68,680 COVID-19 cases. The death toll now sits at 1,036 people, and 3,617 people have been hospitalized due to the novel coronavirus.

Still, in a hopeful trend, the case rate in Fairfax County has continued to fall after peaking on Jan. 17. Just today, the county reported 127 new cases today — a substantial dip from the all-time high of new cases — 1,485 in a single day — in January.

The weekly case average of reported cases has fallen to the lowest levels since Nov. 8 last year, when the weekly case average was 153. As of today, the weekly case average rested at 159.6.

The decrease comes as the Fairfax County Department of Health picks up its vaccination pace. After several weeks of scheduling for people who pre-registered on Jan. 18, the county has begun scheduling appointments for people who registered on Jan. 19.

Last week, the county vaccinated 21,791 people, a pace that has remained relatively stable since vaccinations began earlier this year.

Still, 108,883 people — 37 percent of the total number of people registered — remain on the county’s waitlist. Overall, the county has received 193,742 doses from the Virginia Department of Health and administered or distributed 193,878 doses. 93,560 people in Fairfax County have been fully vaccinated, according to VDH data.

The county has currently only deployed the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Local health officials are evaluating how many Johnson & Johnson doses it will receive, how many doses will be allocated in clinics, and how much will be allocated to the county’s health partners. Last week, the state health department announced that it expects to receive 69,000 doses on a weekly basis.

Images via CDC on Unsplash, Virginia Department of Health

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The Fairfax County Park Authority is one step closer to planning for more dog parks in the county due to an increase in demand and the authority’s currently limited offerings.

The county recently completed a draft report of a dog park study that was initiated in 2019 and conducted by the FCPA and Fairfax County Park Foundation. A survey soliciting feedback for the study attracted more than 4,600 respondents.

“The purpose of the study was to assess needs and priorities for dog parks throughout the county, and to adopt strategies for long-term planning, development and management of dog parks,” FCPA wrote in a statement.

The report calls on FCPA to construct at least one dog park by 2025 to meet service needs in the area and to implement revised guidelines and standards for future dog parks. Survey respondents most sought a new dog park in the planning districts of Upper Potomac and Bull Run.

The county currently has 13 public dog parks, 11 of which are owned and operated by FCPA.

The study recommends creating future parks based on geographic distribution and the overall goal of 20-minute drive access throughout the county and 10-minute walking access in densely populated areas. The density of licensed dogs in a given area would also be considered.

The study does not recommend any changes to existing dog park rules or operating hours.

Volunteering could also become a stronger component of managing dog parks. The report suggests using volunteers to manage existing and future programs more efficiently.

A virtual meeting on the draft report is set for Tuesday, March 23 at 7 p.m. A staff presentation on the findings and recommendations of the report will be followed by a public comment period.

Other recommendations related to operations and maintenance. While the county found that maintenance standards and practices are consistent with other jurisdictions, there is a need for more regular maintenance, particularly waste management.

The report also cites a need for more water sources, rule enforcement, and shade.

Comments will be accepted through April 23. They can be submitted by email to [email protected] or through the dog park study website.

Photo via DC Bulldog Meetup/Facebook, map via Fairfax County Park Authority

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(Updated at 2:35 p.m.) Following statewide trends, the number of daily COVID-19 cases continues to dip in Fairfax County.

As of today (Monday), the number of new cases stood at 113 with a rolling weekly average of 193 cases — the second-lowest number of daily reported cases this year. Only 89 new cases were reported in Fairfax County on Feb. 8.

The number of new cases has continued to fall since cases peaked with an all-time high of 1,485 on Jan. 17, according to data released by the Virginia Department of Health.

So far, 134,359 people have been vaccinated by Fairfax County, a number that includes first and second doses, according to the county’s data dashboard.

The county’s health department is currently scheduling appointments for people who registered on Monday, Jan. 18. A little over 96,900 people remain on the county’s waitlist.

While county officials have touted progress with the vaccination system, the jurisdiction’s decision to opt-out of the state’s new COVID-19 vaccine pre-registration caused confusion late last week.

Since then, the county’s health department has addressed common concerns and questions in a recent blog post. The county is still encouraging residents to use the county’s online form to register for vaccines.

Across the state, 1.1 million have received at least one dose and 481,297 people have been fully vaccinated.

Image via Virginia Department of Health

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More snow is expected later this week.

The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Watch for most of the region from late Wednesday night through late Thursday night.

Snow accumulations of five or more inches and total ice accumulations of more are possible.

More from the alert is below.

IMPACTS…Power outages and tree damage are likely due to the ice. Travel could be nearly impossible. The hazardous conditions could impact the morning or evening commute.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS… Monitor the latest forecasts for updates on this situation.

Photo by Jessica Fadel on Unsplash

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More than 180,000 people are on the county’s waiting list for the COVID-19 vaccine.

In order to improve transparency, Fairfax County plans to launch a new queuing system tomorrow that will provide information about vaccine registration status.

At a Fairfax County Board of Supervisors meeting earlier this week, County Executive Bryan Hill said the system will be followed by a dashboard with real-time information about vaccine distribution.

The promise of improvements comes after Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust and Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn called on the county to move forward with the dashboard and queuing system through a formal board matter.

They know that the county has information about where they are in the queue and that the county currently is not sharing that information with them,” Foust said during the board meeting on Feb. 9. “They believe the county should be more transparent. They want to know, and I believe they deserve to know, how many people are ahead of them to be called to be vaccinated.”

While the registration process is relatively smooth, Foust said that residents should stay informed about where they are in the line for an appointment to get vaccinated. The Fairfax County Health Department currently only sends a notification confirming that an individual has registered.

As of Wednesday (Feb. 10), 131,479 people in Fairfax County have received the first dose of the vaccine, and 31,421 people have been fully vaccinated. Officials continue to caution that vaccine supply is extremely limited. Roughly 11% of Virginia’s total population has gotten at least one dose.

The queuing system will confirm if registrants are in the queue, describe progress made so far, and inform registrants of where they are in the line.

The county also plans to launch a self-cancellation form if people receive a vaccine from another health care provider, as well as an online form for residents to confirm their registration and see where they fall in the queue.

Hill said that his staff and the county’s health and IT departments began working on improving the process in early January, but the process was stalled by challenges in coordinating with the Virginia Department of Health.

“A lot of our delay is predicated on working and talking with the state’s systems,” Hill said, adding that the state’s protocol is the “Bible for COVID vaccinations.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay also noted that coordination with the state has been “frustrating” to the county’s efforts.

“It is not acceptable for someone to register for a vaccination and go an entire month without hearing potentially anything from the county,” he said.

While upgrading its system, the county found roughly 25,000 duplicate registrants on the waiting list. The county was able to trim the list down to around 180,000 registrants by weeding out the duplicates.

Still, other board members lauded the county for its system to administer the vaccines. Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross noted that some residents who were frustrated with the registration process said the actual administration of the vaccine was easy and well-done.

The county’s vaccine dashboard will likely go live on Friday, but it could take up to Tuesday (Feb. 16) to iron out any issues, Hill said.

Photo via Fairfax County Health Department

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Prepare for more snow in the region later tonight and into tomorrow.

The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Weather Advisory for most of the region. The advisory is in effect from 7 p.m. today through 10 a.m. tomorrow.

NWS expects snow accumulations of between one to three inches. More from the alert is below.

IMPACTS…Plan on slippery road conditions. The hazardous conditions could impact the morning or evening commute.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS… Slow down and use caution while traveling.

When venturing outside, watch your first few steps taken on steps, sidewalks, and driveways, which could be icy and slippery increasing your risk of a fall and injury.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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