Tysons, VA

Although the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to drop, local health officials are encouraging residents to maintain social distancing as the county enters phase three of Gov. Ralph Northam’s reopening plan today.

The number of COVID-19 cases has dramatically declined from a peak of around 300 cases per day to an average of 60 to 70 cases per day, according to Benjamin Schwartz, the Fairfax County Health Department’s medical epidemiologist.

“We have not seen a rebound of disease associated with our community moving into phase one and two. However, the time has been limited,” Schwartz told the county’s health committee at a meeting yesterday, adding that cases are expected to increase as health restrictions relax.

The county is using a “box it in” suppression strategy to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. Efforts include intensive contact tracing in order to isolate the spread of the virus. Hiring and training for case investigators to lead contact tracing efforts are underway.

Gloria Addo-Ayensu, the health department’s director, said that COVID-19 surges in other states following reopening should “serve as a reminder that the virus has not gone away.”

“Until we develop a vaccine, we cannot return to the way things used to be,” she said, adding that residents need to “stay the course” on social distancing, wearing facial masks, and quarantining if exposed to COVID-19.

The health department launched several community testing clinics — which were targeted for specific hotspots. Herndon, which has been identified as a hotspot, had a nine percent positive test rate. Other hotspots include the Mount Vernon District and Springfield.

“We are far from over, but I do want to at least acknowledge that we have come a long way,” said Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay.

Schwartz noted that the overwhelming impact of COVID-19 on the local Hispanic community has lessened somewhat, although significant disproportionality remains.

The county is recruiting Hispanic community health tracers and contact tracers. The department is also working with nongovernmental and county agencies to help families and individuals in quarantine.

Photo via Fairfax County 

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GNC will close its location in Vienna as part of the company’s plans to shutter between 800 and 1,200 stores across the country.

The vitamins and supplements retailer filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection early last week.

The store at the Maple Avenue Shopping Center is a part of several ones closing in Virginia, including locations in Sterling, Franklin and Charlottesville, according to GNC’s website. “Please note that even closing stores may remain open for a period of time,” the website says.

In a June 23 letter to its customers, the company stated that the COVID-19 pandemic “created a situation where we are unable to accomplish our refinancing and the abrupt change in the operating environment has had a negative impact on our business.”

Here’s more from the letter:

As a result, we felt the best opportunity for us to continue to improve our capital structure and address certain operational issues was to restructure through a Chapter 11 reorganization. This gives us the opportunity to improve our balance sheet while continuing to advance our business strategy, right-size our corporate store portfolio, and strengthen our brands to protect the long-term sustainability of our company.

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Black residents are involved in 46% of all use-of-force incidents by Fairfax County Police Department, even though they make up less than 10% of the county’s total population, according to report released today (Tuesday).

The Fairfax County Police Department’s latest report sheds new light on the disproportionate impact of use of force on the local Black community. Data are based on closed cases between 2019 and June 1 of this year.

In the backdrop of the national uproar over the killing of George Floyd, calls for more police data and major reforms have echoed in Fairfax County.

It’s not the first time the department’s use of force culture has been under scrutiny. Researchers at the University of Texas at San Antonio are studying the department’s culture after a study released in 2017 found that roughly 40%  of all use-of-force incidents involve a Black individual.

The county’s Board of Supervisors directed Police Auditor Richard Schott to find an academic team to review the data. That study is expected to be released by January 2021.

Nearly 82% of all officers involved in use-of-force incidents are white — which is consistent with the fact that nearly 81% of all FCPD officers are white. Similarly, Black officers are involved in nearly 6.8% of all cases and make up roughly 7.6% of the county’s police force.

The disparity is less pronounced but still apparent for cases responded to by officers from the Reston District Station.

Black residents were involved in roughly 31% of use-of-force incidents, even though they make up a little over 8% of the total population. Roughly 48% of all use-of-force incidents involved whites, who make up 67% of the total population.

The number of use of force incidents jumped by 20% between 2018 and 2019, according to the report.

Overall, common use-of-force tactics include forcing to cuff, forcing to hold, pointing a firearm and takedowns. The complete report is available online.

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The growth rate of COVID-19 in Fairfax County and statewide continues to fall as public health restrictions ease across Virginia.

But local and state officials are still cautioning residents to be wary of a possible second wave in the fall.

The number of positive tests has dipped significantly. In the Fairfax Health District, the positivity rate stands at 5.2 percent. In mid-May, that number inched near 27 percent of all cases.

Additionally, the daily count of cases and hospitalizations also continues to drop.

On Tuesday, the Virginia Department of Health reported 25 new deaths statewide, the largest number since May 28.

Since COVID-19 tracking began, 459 deaths and 13,705 cases have been reported in Fairfax County.

Recently, county officials stepped up testing efforts throughout the county, including targeted testing locations that are not widely publicized. A breakdown of testing sites is available online.

Data via Fairfax County Health Department

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Fairfax County officials representing Tysons, Reston and Vienna want a list of the places around the county linked to the Confederacy.

At the Board of Supervisors meeting later this afternoon, Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik and Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn plan to request a full inventory of Confederate names in public places in Fairfax County.

“Fairfax County residents stand together with fellow Americans in support of the recent movement for racial justice, brought on by the horrific deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and others,” the board matter reads. “This powerful call for equity has brought attention to Confederate monuments and place names throughout the County, and the painful history they symbolize.”

The upcoming board matter follows a push by a local community advocacy group in Reston.

Reston Strong offered a direct message when residents covered a Confederate monument in front of the old Fairfax County courthouse with a tarp and white duck tape over the weekend, prompting the request for a complete report of Confederate street names, monuments and public places in the county.

Reston Strong issued the following response to today’s board matter:

We would like to Thank Supervisor Palchik for her response however we are saddened to note her motion while timely, fails to directly address our ask. We understand this topic is more polarizing than most and sincerely hope the below sentiments from our members will give our leaders the strength needed to take immediate action.

REMOVE — “It’s literally trauma!! The statue doesn’t erase the history! But the statue does remind my people each time they are disposed, mishandled in the judicial system where this statue resides that things will always be unjust and unfair, we’ve gotta take it, swallow it and keep hoping one day we will be free for real #free-ishsince1865″ – Candace Wiredu-Adams

RELOCATE — “Move it to a museum. We can’t just throw our past away. People wouldn’t believe the holocaust existed without seeing certain artifacts. We need to have these tangible items to provoke the emotion. We can’t just have pages in a textbook saying a statue was taken down.” – Rebecca Johnson

REPLACE — “I think markers at the places of important events is great. Nothing like standing right where it happened and reflecting. However, I don’t think we need monuments to people. So to me, two different things. I think the markers are a good reminder of history and where it happened (in some cases in our own backyard!). Glorifying people, not so much.”  – Colleen Montgomery

Located at 4000 Chain Bridge Road in Palchik’s district, the monument is dedicated to Marr, the first Confederate officer killed in the Civil War. “Union cavalry attached the city at 3:00 a.m. on June 1, 1861. The Warrenton rifles commanded by Marr defended the city,” according to information recently taken down by Fairfax County’s tourism board.

Although the black tarp and tape that smothered the statue was removed within an hour after installation on Sunday, the group says that it is time for the county to remove the 1904 granite monument that honors Confederate Capt. John Quincy Marr, who died roughly 800 feet from this marker in 1861.

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Government offices in Fairfax County and the City of Falls Church will be closed tomorrow (Friday) due to Juneteenth.

The move comes after Gov. Ralph Northam declared Juneteenth a state holiday earlier this week.

Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 when Texas, the last of the former Confederate states, finally heard the Civil War ended and that the Emancipation Proclamation had made slaves free nearly two years earlier. It is formally considered the official commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States.

Although the state has marked Juneteenth via proclamation, the date has not been previously declared a state holiday.

“Fairfax County is moving forward and our holidays must reflect that. I am committed to our values that include a diverse, inclusive and equitable society,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay. “I asked that the County Executive commemorate Juneteenth because that commitment requires listening to diverse voices and acknowledging the shared history of all Americans.”

All government offices will be closed. But employees who staff essential around-the-clock county operations will work as scheduled, including public safety and trash collection.

Here’s more from Northam’s statement:

“Since 1619, when representative democracy and enslaved African people arrived in Virginia within a month of each other, we have said one thing, but done another. It’s time we elevate Juneteenth not just as a celebration by and for some Virginians, but one acknowledged and commemorated by all of us. It mattered then because it marked the end of slavery in this country, and it matters now because it says to Black communities, this is not just your history–this is everyone’s shared history, and we will celebrate it together. This is a step toward the Commonwealth we want to be as we go forward.”

Fairfax County Executive Bryan Hill also encouraged residents to reflect on this day and take actions to “promote the unity we embrace here in Fairfax County.”

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Fairfax County Police Chief Edwin Roessler Jr. defended his department’s longstanding use of force policies and commitment to the sanctity of human life as national protests call for dramatic police reforms.

At a meeting with county officials today (Tuesday), Roessler stated that FCPD’s policies surrounding use of force, the use of chokeholds, and de-escalation are well ahead of many reforms requested by protestors across the country.

Currently, chokeholds are not allowed as a use of force options. De-escalation is required when possible and officers are trained two times per year in order to reinforce the use of force continuum and training. Shooting at moving vehicles is prohibited unless there is a “threat of death or serious injury” to the officer or another person, according to police documents.

“These reform endeavors have not ended as we continue told ourselves accountable,” he said.

FCPD’s use of force policy aims to gain voluntary compliance from the other person using seven core pillars, which include principles like self-control, empathy, balance, realism, and a commitment to lack of humiliation.

study on FCPD’s use of force culture is underway. The report, which is conducted by the University of Texas at San Antonio researchers, was prompted by another study that found roughly 40 percent of all use-of-force incidents involved Black individuals.

Earlier the month, FCPD officer Tyler Timberlake was charged on three counts of assault and battery in what FCPD said was an “unacceptable” use of force.

When prompted by Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay, Roessler noted that FCPD’s training requirements “typically exceed state mandates.”

The county is currently working on implementing a county-wide body-worn camera program. Although the Reston District Station and three other stations have body-worn cameras, the full implementation of the program was delayed due to budgetary concerns.

Recent events, including the killing of George Floyd, have prompted the board to expedite funding for the program. An updated plan will be developed by the end of the month, according to FCPD.

FCPD is also testing a new technology that would automatically turn on the body-worn camera when an officer takes a gun out of the holster.

Major Paul Cleveland noted that the department follows a co-produced policing model, which relies on community support and input to develop policing practices in line with community expectations.

Currently, the police department is taking a look at ensuring its internal culture emphasizes the well-being of officers and de-escalatory practices.

He says FCPD will continue to monitor ways to improve its practices.

“Reform is the right way to go,” he said.

Image via Fairfax County

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Fairfax County’s Hispanic community is bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although Hispanic individuals comprise just under 17% of the total population, they account for nearly 66% of all confirmed cases in the county.

The gap has raised alarms about equity issues between different racial groups in the county. County health officials say that higher infection rates may be caused by the need to go to work, lack of sick leave, the inability to socially distance while on the job and lack of unemployment insurance.

Cases have grown over the last three months in the Hispanic community, while the effort to flatten the curve in the black and white communities has been more successful, county data show.

“This risk reflects a group’s niche in society rather than a particular racial effect,” said Benjamin Schwartz, a medical epidemiologist with the Fairfax County Health Department.

Many local Hispanic residents work in jobs where the risk of transmission is especially high.

Roughly 25% of Hispanic men in the county work in natural resources, construction or maintenance, according to the 2018 American Community Survey. That’s compared to just 5% of blacks in the same industry.

Similarly, 45% of Hispanic women work in the service industry, more than double the percent of black women in the same industry, according to the survey.

Additionally, roughly 12% of Hispanic households are defined as overcrowded based on county metrics, compared to 4% of the black community and less than 1% of the white community.

But the same racial disparity is not prevalent in other parts of the county. In Richmond, for example, blacks are being hit hard by the pandemic while poor whites are disproportionately impacted in southwestern Virginia.

On a national level, blacks account for a higher share of confirmed cases and deaths compared to the rest of the population, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Roughly 20% of the COVID-19 cases in the Fairfax Health District, which includes the county, do not contain race and ethnicity information.

Exacerbating the Divide

At Cornerstones, a nonprofit organization based in Reston, the pandemic has exacerbated the daily struggle with housing, poverty, quality education, and living-wage jobs.

Already, 33% of families in Cornerstones’ affordable rental housing have lost all or some of their income due to mass layoffs. Some have limited access to daycare and the internet, complicating long-distance learning, even if the school system provides a laptop for students.

Parking lots may offer free wifi access, but a car and time are needed to park there. Others turn to families and friends to watch their children, increasing the risk of exposure for all.

Public health officials are also seeking ways to improve community communication and increase testing in local hotspots, including the Town of Herndon.

In April, 385 new households came to Cornerstones’ pantry in need of food. That’s more than six times the number of new households in fiscal year 2019.

For low-income members of the immigrant community in the time of COVID, it’s never one thing. The pandemic only exacerbates their daily struggling with housing, poverty, quality education, and living-wage jobs,” said Sara Newman, the division director of community change partnerships at Cornerstones.

For these residents, the financial burden of COVID-19 is “inescapable,” Newman said.

Unpaid rents are continuing to accumulate. People keep working or look for employment regardless of the viral spread so they can keep a roof over their family and food on the table.”

Photo by Morgan Von Gunten/Unplash

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As the sixth day of protests following George Floyd’s death at hands of a Minneapolis police officer continue, local law enforcement officials say they have faith the justice system will produce a just outcome for Floyd and his family.

Peaceful protests were marred by violence over the weekend — including looting and fires in D.C. last night.

Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin was arrested and fired after a viral video shows the officer holding his knee to Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes on Memorial Day. Three other officers involved in the incident were also fired.

The incident prompted Fairfax County Police Department Police Chief Edwin Roessler Jr. to reflect on ongoing challenges that erode the public’s trust in law enforcement.

We shall have faith the local and federal justice systems will navigate toward justice for the Floyd family, the communities impacted, and our entire nation. However, we must be mindful there is a healing process where righteous anger needs to be constructively exercised through the right to free speech,” Roessler wrote.

Roessler noted that FCPD’s community policing efforts and collaborations with locals have helped the department operate in a transparent and accountable manner.

“Fairfax County is blessed to have a highly engaged community which helps our Police Department transparently use a co-production of policing philosophy to ensure our hiring processes, training, policies, and internal and external accountability systems are meeting the expectations of the highest levels of standards by our community served and the law enforcement profession,” he said.

Here’s more from the chief on FCPD’s community engagement efforts:

During the last few trying days and today, I’ve personally networked with our community advocates to ensure they have access to their Chief and the senior law enforcement leaders of the Department to create robust dialogue to understand the awful events that have unfolded recently throughout our country as we need to increase our conversations about the erosion of the public’s trust for law enforcement as we continue to observe the disproportionately of the deaths of our African American community members. 

As a reminder, we have updated our use of force policies over the years using the co-production of policing model, vetted our policies and training through the Public Safety Committee, and we continue to leverage the partnerships created with community members who were part of the Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission.

Additionally, we are grateful for the external accountability measures from the Police Civilian Review Panel, the Independent Police Auditor, the voluntary submission to both state and national accreditation agencies, and the periodic independent reviews of our lines of business by academic institutions.

We continue to pray for Mr. Floyd’s family as individuals, a Police Department, and as a community who all collectively value the sanctity of all human life,” he added.

Photo by LOGAN WEAVER on Unsplash

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Book lovers can check out books and pick up holds at Fairfax County Public Libraries beginning next week — albeit under different circumstances.

On Monday, June 1, FCPL will kick off a curbside pickup and grab bag program. Although libraries remained closed, patrons can park in designated areas, call the bank number and pick up any items on holds. Patrons must provide their library card over the phone. Once the items have been deposited on a designated pickup table and library staff has returned to the building, items may be picked up.

Over the phone, residents can also request a specific book or a grab-and-go bag prepared by staff based on reading levels and preferences.

All returned library materials, however, should be deposited in the library’s book drop. Returns will be accepted based on a staggered system since more than 500,000 items are currently are in the queue to be returned:

On Mondays we will accept returns from borrowers with last names beginning with letters A-H (Anderson, Daqqa, Howard, etc.). On Wednesdays we will accept returns from borrowers with last names beginning with letters I-Q (Jefferson, Nguyen, Park, etc.), and on Fridays we will accept returns from borrowers with last names beginning with letters R-Z (Rodriquez, Shen, Williams, etc.).

Staff will wear cloth face masks and all books will be packaged in a plastic bag in order to “streamline handling.”

More information about changes to services is available online.

Image via Fairfax County

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