Tysons, VA

(Updated 7 p.m.) Gov. Ralph Northam has been hosting live-streamed briefings during recent weeks to provide updates on the coronavirus. But today (Thursday), he answered questions on Twitter.

Using #AskGovNortham, people tweeted concerns about personal protective equipment (PPE), claiming unemployment benefits and if Virginians will need documentation for destinations when traveling.

Tysons Reporter has compiled some of the information from the governor’s thread:

On Monday, Northam issued a stay-at-home order for Virginia today as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state continues to climb.

The order, which went into effect immediately and will last until June 10, lets people leave their homes for essential services — including medical care, food, supplies, work and more — and social-distanced outdoor activities that do not involve gatherings larger than 10 people.

In mid-March, local public health officials said they found evidence of community spread of COVID-19 in Northern Virginia.

As of Thursday, there are 1,706 confirmed cases and 41 deaths statewide, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

Fairfax Health District, which includes Fairfax County, the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church and towns in the county, reported 328 COVID-19 cases on Thursday. Five people have died from the novel coronavirus in Fairfax County.

On Wednesday, Northam said that Virginia will likely see “a surge in the number of people who test positive between late April and late May.”

Image via Ralph Northam/Twitter

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An employee at the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board (CSB) has tested positive for COVID-19.

The CSB-Merrifield facility employee works in the youth court services and lives outside of Fairfax County, Lisa Flowers, CSB’s spokesperson, told Tysons Reporter.

More from Flowers:

A letter was sent to CSB staff to alert them to the situation on March 21st. A CSB employee in youth court services tested positive for COVID-19 and an email was sent to CSB staff on March 23rd…

A hospital-grade mister that kills bacteria and viruses was used throughout the CSB areas of the Merrifield Center as part of the industrial cleaning process. As a part of our standard procedure any person who may have encountered the affected person was contacted and advised to quarantine for fourteen days.

Wipe-downs of high-touch areas, such as hallways and elevators, doors and doorknobs, are taking place regularly with EPA-approved disinfectants. Staff are reminded to wash their hands often throughout the day. Commonly accessed areas at CSB locations are also cleaned often throughout the day.

Communication from CSB leadership to staff, which Flowers sent to Tysons Reporter, said that the employee “did not work while they were symptomatic.”

Daryl Washington, the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board’s executive director, and Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu, the director of the county’s health department, wrote a joint letter to CSB staff on March 21.

On March 20, the health department identified that the CSB-Merrifield employee tested positive for the virus, the letter said, adding that the health department, CSB staff and county officials investigated the case.

More from the letter:

The staff person did not have contact with the CSB adult or youth walk-in assessment units or emergency services. In our investigation, we have identified a small number of staff and clients who were at risk of exposure to COVID-19 while the infected person was ill. The Health Department has contacted those individuals.

If you have not received a call from the Health Department, it means you have not been identified as being at risk of exposure and you do not need to take any actions at this time. As an additional precaution, please observe yourself until April 2, the time during which COVID-19 illness might occur if a person is infected as a result of this exposure.

Symptoms to look for include fever, cough or shortness of breath. If symptoms develop, please contact your health care provider and describe the situation.

For CSB-Merrifield staff who have been called by the Health Department, please stay at home and away from others while the investigation is ongoing and during the time when illness could occur. Until April 2, staff in this group should stay at home or in the yard, avoid contact with others, and not go out in public. At home, contact with other family members also should be limited. These measures will reduce the chance that infection might spread in the community. During the call, additional recommendations may be provided.

“The Fairfax County Health Department has confirmed there are no public health recommendations or actions needed in the workplace because the staff person remained at home when they became ill,” Washington said in an email to staff.

On March 27, Fairfax County buildings closed to the public, but the emergency services on the Merrifield Center’s lower level stayed open, according to the county’s website.

“During this time, CSB has transitioned mainly to telehealth services via Zoom for Healthcare, by phone or video,” according to Fairfax County. “If possible, before coming to the Merrifield Center, please call ahead to Emergency Services to see if you are able to be seen via telehealth services — phone or video.”

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

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The coronavirus pandemic has put a damper on baseball season, but a Vienna family won’t let the virus strike their plans to launch a business selling baseball training equipment.

John Morabito, 53, and his two sons Nick, 27, and Dominic, 25, are the three founders behind Perfect Swings USA.

John, who grew up in McLean, told Tysons Reporter that he has been coaching baseball in McLean and Vienna since 1991. Nick and Dominic both grew up playing sports in Vienna, he added.

All three men have played at the collegiate level and have coached teams from little league to minor league players, according to the company’s website.

Now, they are looking to sell hitting tools — the Swing Path Trainer and the Tempo Trainer — to help players improve.

Turning Their Passion Into New Products

Nick told Tysons Reporter that his family came up with the idea for the tools about 10 years ago to help him and his brother get better at baseball.

“Before we ever became a business, bringing homemade Swing Path Trainers around got great feedback from baseball and softball coaches,” Nick said.

The family originally developed the trainers from PVC pipe and wood they got at Home Depot, he said.

“We had no aspirations of turning it into what it is today,” Nick said. But that changed after Dominic graduated and encouraged his family to turn their idea into the business.

“[Dominic] was either like, ‘I’m going to find a corporate job or let’s start this business,'” Nick said. “My dad was getting ready to retire… We took this on full time.”

In the last year, they’ve been working with an engineer and Boston-based Gamut Run Partners, LLC. Nick said that they have three patents for their products.

The family started to manufacture the products about a year ago, Nick said. Since then, they’ve showcased the trainers at conventions around the U.S. late last year and early 2020, according to the website.

The Swing Path Trainer ($349) helps the athlete to keep the bat in the hitting zone with the proper angle, while the Tempo Trainer (undecided price) helps the athlete’s tempo and rhythm during a swing, according to their product descriptions.

“It’s almost like a self coach for the kid or the trainer or the coach,” Nick said, adding that the products help improve players’ swing mechanics.

The products are geared towards little leaguers all the way through high school and college, Nick said, adding that “everybody” can use the products.

While they haven’t sold any of the products yet, Nick said that they have given four away — one to the UCLA softball team, another to a high school in California, a third to a man who runs a show in Texas and the fourth to “my little cousin.”

In the future, Nick said they are looking to release more products and features in the future once they finalize prototyping.

Challenges of Starting a Business During the COVID-19 Pandemic 

Trying to start up the business has been challenging at times for the family.

Production, which involves some parts that come from China, was delayed earlier this year due to a shutdown for Chinese New Year and then slow down several weeks later to add extra precautions for workers due to the coronavirus, he said.

“We’re supposed to go into production tomorrow to start shipping May 1,” he said.

While they are aiming to start selling the products in May, that date could change. “It’s been hard to finalize and put on a date on anything,” he said.

The pandemic affected their plans to travel to conventions and tournaments around the U.S., he added.

As for marketing, Nick said that he’s trying to get the word out in magazines and publications, but has faced some challenges with collegiate baseball publications now that the season is over.

The biggest challenge, though? Nick said that making changes to the products within certain timeframes has been hard.

“We’ve run through six to seven different prototypes,” he said. “This is new for us.”

Despite their obstacles, Nick is staying optimistic.

“We’ll get through this,” he said, adding that coaches might have more time now to watch product demos than if they were traveling with their teams during the season.

Working as a Team 

The whole family works together on the new business, Nick said, adding that most of the financial investments have come from him and his father.

“Dad kind of oversees everything,” he said. “He’s mentoring us along.”

While Nick focuses on the sales and marketing side, he said his brother takes care of the operations and engineering while his mom asks people for reviews and manages the product photo shoots.

“We’re a local family. We have a lot of great relationships with local little leagues,” Nick said. “We’re looking to give back.”

Photos courtesy Nick Morabito

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Fairfax County has now surpassed 300 confirmed COVID-19 cases.

As of today (Thursday), there are now 328 cases in the Fairfax Health District, which includes Fairfax County, the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church and towns in the county, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

Five people have died due to the novel coronavirus in the county.

The number of cases has continued to climb over the last several days — likely due to expanded testing capacity. In mid-March, local public health officials said they found evidence of community spread of COVID-19 in Northern Virginia.

Arlington has the second-most confirmed cases in the state with 128 cases. Statewide, there are 1,706 confirmed cases and 41 deaths, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

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Editor’s note: Tysons Reporter will temporarily have “Morning Notes” every weekday instead of twice a week to accommodate more news.

Prospective Buyers Back Away From Tegna — “Tysons television station operator Tegna Inc. said Sunday two parties interested in acquiring the company have backed out of talks as U.S. markets have been upended by the coronavirus pandemic.” [Washington Business Journal]

Little City’s Little Activity — “News-Press contributing photographer J. Michael Whalen took to the streets of Falls Church last week and captured just how empty and barren the normally-bustling centers of activity in the City have become in the wake of the global viral outbreak.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Used-Book Collection Cancelled in McLean — “The McLean area branch of the American Association of University Women has canceled its planned May 2 collection in preparation for its fall used-book sale, but plans on holding future collections as public-health conditions permit.” [Inside NoVa]

Northam Picks Extra Hospital Sites for COVID-19 Patients — “Virginia officials are making plans to increase hospital bed capacity with the expectation that a surge in positive cases of the new coronavirus, or COVID-19, will begin in late April and last through late May, Gov. Ralph Northam said Wednesday at a press briefing.” [Tysons Patch]

Photo courtesy Tejal Patel

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The Sheraton Tysons Hotel reportedly plans to close for good on Friday (April 3).

The hotel (8661 Leesburg Pike) is a part of the Tysons West development near the Spring Hill Metro station.

Tysons Reporter obtained an email from the Townhomes at Westwood Village Owners Association, which is located behind the Tysons West development, to residents about the hotel’s planned closure:

We received notice today that the Sheraton is closing this Friday, April 3rd and will not be reopening. This came as a complete surprise to us as well as the company that operates the hotel. We’ve been told the reason they are closing is financial due to COVID-19 and the ability for the hotel to recover. At this time there isn’t any information as to what JBG Smith will do with the property.

Although parking is not permitted in their back lot, they wanted to give us a heads up that the lot will be secured and any cars in the lot will be towed.

An employee who works for the hotel and an employee at the hotel’s Budget car rental location both said they heard that the hotel is set to permanently close on Friday.

“This hotel is currently closed,” according to the hotel’s website. “Please search this site for another hotel.”

The Sheraton in Tysons ranks as the largest venue for conferences and events in Fairfax County, Barry Biggar, the CEO and president of Visit Fairfax, told Tysons Reporter earlier this year.

A spokesperson for Marriott International, which owns the Sheraton brand, declined to comment on the hotel specifically, instead sharing this statement:

As travel restrictions and social distancing efforts around the world become more widespread, we are experiencing significant drops in demand at properties globally with an uncertain duration. We are adjusting global operations accordingly.

We are working quickly to mitigate the impact to our business while also focusing on assisting our associates, our guests and our owners. While the ultimate impact is difficult to predict at this time given the fluidity of the situation, we remain confident in our long-term prospects.

In addition to the challenges from the pandemic, Marriott International announced on Tuesday (March 31) that a data breach might have compromised 5.2 million customers’ information.

Ashley Hopko contributed to this report

Image via Google Maps

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As COVID-19 continues to cause major economic disturbances across the country, Visit Fairfax has a new program to support local businesses and people impacted by the pandemic.

Fairfax County is heavily reliant on tourism and visitors for conferences. While Visit Fairfax’s president Barry Biggar told Tysons Reporter that he uncertain how much the Tysons area economy will hurt, he said the organization is working to combat some of the economic downturn.

Biggar said restrictions on non-essential businesses coupled with the economic downturn have had “devastating” consequences for local businesses, services and eateries in the last three weeks.

While many restaurants are trying to pivot by offering delivery, curbside pickup and delivery, some have temporarily closed. Biggar said that he expects many won’t reopen.

Visit Fairfax staffers are trying to help coordinate tools for the community through the “Fairfax First” program, he said.

The program is a collection of tools, lists and opportunities that residents can take advantage of to support themselves and others during this turbulent time, according to the website. It includes fun things to do while at home, virtual tours of popular attractions, mental health resources and ways to support local businesses.

Visit Fairfax is also promoting “Virginia Is for Restaurant Lovers Takeout Week,” which runs from March 30-April 5.

“Virginians are encouraged to order takeout, delivery or curbside pickup from local restaurants and to use the hashtag #VirginiaEatsLocal to spread the word,” according to Visit Fairfax’s website.

Last year around this time, hotels in the area were at or above 70% capacity, according to Biggar, who added that now they are at or below 18%.

Around Virginia, he said more than 24,000 people in the service industry have lost their jobs permanently due to staffing cuts.

Along with other resources, Visit Fairfax coordinated with local hotels to help first responders find a list of steeply discounted rooms that will put them up if they are either self-isolating away from their families or need another place to rest, according to Biggar.

Around Tysons, these include The Ritz-Carlton at Tysons CornerHilton McLean and The Westin Tysons Corner, according to Visit Fairfax. Rates vary, but first responders can call the hotels directly to inquire.

As the pandemic continues in Fairfax County without any sign of slowing, Biggar said that he can’t make a judgment yet about how this will affect the economic well being of the area going forward, but does predict an eventual rise in domestic travel around the third and fourth quarters later this year.

Though things are “changing every day,” Biggar said he wants people to “start thinking and dreaming about what you want to do when this is over” in terms of vacations and getaways to boost the economy again.

Photo courtesy James B. Crusan III

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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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A recent stream restoration project in Tysons is supposed to help fix erosion but a few residents and environmental advocates in the area worry that it will be detrimental to local wildlife and foliage.

The Old Courthouse Spring Branch at Gosnell Road Stream Stream Restoration Project runs loosely along Route 7 and is currently under construction to restore roughly half a mile of the natural stream channel, replace old sewage lines and decommission an old stormwater pond, according to Fairfax County’s website.

In the months leading up to this project, several nearby residents and visitors to “Tysons Last Forest” have protested the project — not because they want to stop it, but because they want the wildlife and nature to be protected.

The area, which consists of more than 40 acres of open space, is home to birds, deer, owls, small mammals, foxes, hundred-year-old trees and even a bobcat or two, according to Fairfax County.

Local resident Jack Russell, who is a long-time visitor to the park, said he isn’t aware of either an ecological or environmental impact report for the project, which he said concerns him.

Tysons Reporter reached out to Shannon Bell and Charles Smith from the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services Department for comment but haven’t received a response yet.

Russell said he is already noticing the negative effects of the work done by crews, recounting how Fairfax County workers destroyed a fox’s den. “I watched the fox just walk around in shock,” he said.

Though the work on phase one began in November 2019, Russell and his wife retroactively organized a Facebook page and town hall in January to educate people on the project. The meeting attracted roughly 50 people from around the area, Russell said, noting that Fairfax County representatives attended the meeting, including a liaison from the office of the Hunter Mill District Supervisor.

During the January town hall, Russell was able to share his grievances with Bell and Smith.

“The people who are managing phase one and phase two of the Tysons Forest project couldn’t be nicer people and they’ve listened but they rolled in with bulldozers and backhoes and just clearcut 1,500 feet of old trees,” Russell said.

Fairfax County documentation already notes that ecosystems in the area are fragile. “The natural areas of the district are extremely fragmented, with significant portions of edge habitat and few large tracts remaining,” the report, which was published in 2011, said.

Ultimately, Russell said he and other local advocates have a few key demands.

Though they understand that stream restoration is important for the health of the area, he said they want to:

  • minimize the loss of trees and habitat in the area
  • delay work on the second phase until damage from the first phase is re-planted and healed
  • create “animal-friendly zones” including native plant species and hollow logs for dens
  • be a “shining” example nationally for how animal habitats can be enhanced

According to Fairfax County, the project will be completed in 2021.

Russell said he hopes the issue will receive more attention and that Fairfax County will reevaluate the environmental impact of its ongoing projects.

Photo courtesy Jack Russell

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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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