Coronavirus illustration (via CDC on Unsplash)

COVID-19 cases are still on the upswing, but for the first time in 16 months, the Fairfax Health District did not lose a single person in the past week to the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The last reported death occurred on July 23, according to the Virginia Department of Health. A total of 1,152 people in the district, which includes Fairfax County and the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, have died from COVID-19 since the first case was identified in early March 2020.

However, 14 more people have been hospitalized by the virus since last Monday (July 26), bringing the total up to 4,185 people, and 616 additional COVID-19 cases have come in, including 112 cases on Saturday (July 31) and 124 cases yesterday (Sunday). The last time Fairfax County reported single-day caseloads in the triple digits on consecutive days was on April 22 and 23.

With 81 new cases today (Monday), the Fairfax Health District has recorded a total of 79,640 COVID-19 cases, and the weekly average has climbed to 86.7 cases, its highest point since the district was averaging 88.3 new cases for the past seven days on May 1.

Fairfax County COVID-19 cases over the past 90 days as of Aug. 2, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)
Fairfax County COVID-19 deaths as of Aug. 2, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)

Unlike the rest of Northern Virginia, Fairfax County still has just a moderate level of community transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which calculates community spread based on the total number of new cases per 100,000 persons and testing positivity rates over the last seven days.

Over the past week, the level of community transmission has been raised to “substantial” in all of Fairfax County’s neighboring jurisdictions, including Loudoun, Prince William, and Arlington counties and the City of Alexandria, suggesting Fairfax might not be far behind.

While the increasing prevalence of the delta variant has brought up case levels over the past month, Fairfax County’s relatively high vaccination rates mean infections have been less severe and less likely to lead to hospitalization and death compared to previous surges in the pandemic.

The CDC shared data last week indicating that even fully vaccinated individuals can spread COVID-19 if they’re infected by the delta variant, prompting a revision to its guidance recommending that people wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status in areas with substantial or high community transmission.

However, studies also suggest that the available vaccines remain highly effective against the delta variant, and even the Provincetown, Massachusetts, outbreak that formed the basis of the CDC’s report saw mostly mild cases with only seven hospitalizations and no deaths.

Since the beginning of this year, Northern Virginia has reported 235 breakthrough cases, where a fully vaccinated person contracts COVID-19, with 15 hospitalizations and six deaths. In comparison, there have been 53,326 cases, 1,332 hospitalizations, and 510 deaths among unvaccinated individuals.

According to the Fairfax County Health Department, 760,458 Fairfax Health District residents have now gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot. That is 76.4% of people 18 and older and 64.3% of the district’s total population.

688,992 residents — 69.7% of adults and 58.2% of the total population — are fully vaccinated.

With vaccine demand continuing to level out, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is exploring the possibility of requiring all county government employees to be vaccinated. Some prominent local employers, including Google and Inova Health System, have already established vaccine mandates.

Vaccinations are still available at a variety of sites throughout the county. Appointments can be scheduled through the CDC’s Vaccine Administration Management System or directly with a provider through vaccines.gov.

Photo via CDC on Unsplash

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Face masks (via Mika Baumeister on Unsplash)

(Updated at 4:10 p.m.) Virginia recommends that even vaccinated individuals wear masks indoors in certain circumstances, but with different locations experiencing different levels of COVID-19 transmission, the state has stopped short of issuing a mandate.

While some states revised their mask rules shortly after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s announcement on Tuesday (July 27), Virginia had not indicated how it will approach mask-wearing amid rising COVID-19 case levels, with officials saying only that they were reviewing the new guidance.

Gov. Ralph Northam issued the first official statement on the issue via social media on Thursday (July 29), writing that “all Virginians should consider wearing a mask in public indoor settings where there is increased risk of COVD-19  transmission, as the new CDC guidance recommends.”

“This is not a requirement, but a recommendation,” he said.

These situations include masking indoors at K-12 schools and in areas of the Commonwealth that have “substantial” community transmission of the virus.

Northam noted in further tweets that there has been a dramatic rise in COVID cases in Virginia over the last month due to the delta variant and that “over 98%” of hospitalizations and deaths are residents who are unvaccinated.

When asked why the state is recommending but not requiring indoor mask-wearing, a Virginia Department of Health spokesperson said the department “doesn’t have anything to add at this moment” beyond Northam’s statement.

When explaining the decision to revise its guidelines, the CDC cited new scientific evidence showing that vaccinated people infected with the delta variant could potentially spread the virus to others. While the available vaccines effectively protect against severe illness and hospitalizations, the findings concerned officials enough to prompt a reversal of sorts after mask requirements were eased in May.

“This new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update to our recommendations,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky said.

With case numbers climbing locally, as they have elsewhere around the country, Fairfax County has moved to put new rules in place in the hopes of slowing the virus’ spread without jeopardizing plans to reopen workplaces and schools.

Fairfax County Public Schools announced yesterday (Wednesday) that it will require universal masking in school buildings regardless of an individual’s vaccination status, and the Board of Supervisors approved a motion on Tuesday (July 27) to evaluate whether to implement a vaccine mandate for 12,000 county employees.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said in a statement that he supports a shift back to wearing masks indoors for places with high COVID-19 transmission and around people who are unable to get vaccinated:

With the delta variant surging in unvaccinated communities, I support masking in areas with more people vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 who aren’t able to be vaccinated (such as schools) and areas with a high risk of transmission. In Fairfax County we will continue to follow state guidelines on masking and sharing the effectiveness of masking to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Currently, 76% of Fairfax Health District residents over the age of 18 have received at least one dose of the vaccine and 69.4% are fully vaccinated, according to the Fairfax County Health Department’s vaccine dashboard.

While that’s above Virginia and national rates, those numbers have barely budged over the last several weeks as the county looks for ways to get more residents immunized.

Health experts and public officials continue to reiterate that vaccines are the best tools in the fight against the pandemic.

“The vaccine is the strongest tool we have to fight this pandemic,” McKay wrote. “For the sake of our economic recovery, sending students back to school, and returning to normal, we need even more people to get vaccinated. If you aren’t vaccinated, go to vaccine.gov to get scheduled, there are appointments available near you!”

In terms of transmission rates, Fairfax County is currently doing better than many other Virginia counties.

While the CDC’s COVID tracker shows that a large swath of the Commonwealth has “substantial community transmission,” Fairfax County currently has “moderate” transmission like Arlington County. A number of nearby localities like the City of Alexandria, Stafford, and Spotsylvania counties have “substantial” or even “high” transmission.

D.C., which has substantial spread, announced today that it will require everyone 2 and older to wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status starting Saturday (July 31).

Photo via Mika Baumeister/Unsplash

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Fairfax County Government Center (via Fairfax County/Facebook)

Fairfax County will use an estimated $10 million in COVID-19 relief money for another major grant program aimed at helping community partners keep their doors open.

The Board of Supervisors approved the Active and Thriving Community Grants Program at its meeting yesterday (Tuesday), where grants will range from $2,000 to $18,000 depending on the size of the business or nonprofit.

While businesses have pushed to reopen, many continue to struggle, and COVID-19 concerns persist. The grants target child care providers, community-based safety net providers, youth recreational or educational programs, youth athletic groups, and pools.

“As someone who visits a child care center everyday, they’re still operating under COVID restrictions that other businesses aren’t,” Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw said during the board meeting. “So, they’re still dealing with that in terms of capacity and PPE [personal protective equipment] and masking.”

County staff reported that many community-based organizations “continue to struggle economically” due to COVID-19 and most have had to cancel or significantly alter major fundraising events.

“For many, giving levels have not returned to prior levels,” county staff wrote in the meeting agenda. “For many donors, giving patterns have changed. Even where giving has increased, it has not made up for lost revenue or increased expenses.”

Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services Deputy Director Sarah Allen told the board that the application period for the new grant program will launch by the end of August.

To be eligible, recipients will be required to show that they had a 15% decline in gross revenue in 2020 compared to 2019 or a 15% increase in expenditures directly tied to costs due to the pandemic.

The new grants are projected to allocate:

  • $4.3 million for child care providers
  • $1.9 million for community-based safety net providers
  • $1.8 million for youth recreational or educational programs
  • $1.5 million for youth athletic organizations
  • $500,000 for pools

“A lot of these organizations survived through the pandemic because the…volunteer board members or the parents or community members involved dipped into their own pockets to keep things going so they didn’t have to go out of business,” Walkinshaw said.

The money comes as the county is finalizing awards for its PIVOT program, which will provide over $24.4 million in grants from the American Rescue Plan Act to businesses in the retail, food, and lodging sectors and other organizations financially affected by the pandemic.

When the county created the PIVOT program on June 8, staff were also looking for ways to provide additional assistance. A county survey of child care programs conducted in March found that over half of respondents did not know how long they would be able to stay open without financial support.

“The potential closure of child care programs could come at a time when more parents are returning to work, impacting working parents and their children, employers, and the child care workforce and their families,” the staff report said.

In awarding the grants, the county expects to use a priority measure related to vulnerable populations to pick recipients in the child care and pool categories. The remaining awards would be determined by a lottery system.

It wasn’t immediately clear how exactly the priority measure would work, but the county said staff will look at the social and economic conditions that made populations more vulnerable to COVID-19 as well as recent economic, health, and other data relevant to the pandemic’s impact.

Similar to the PIVOT grants, the county will use a third-party vendor — the Latino Economic Development Corp. — for the online grant administration portal and awards. Advertising and outreach in multiple languages will begin before the August launch.

“This grant program will prioritize disproportionately impacted populations and communities wherever possible,” county staff said.

Photo via Fairfax County/Facebook

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FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand with face mask (via FCPS)

(Updated at 11:30 a.m.) Face masks are now required when students are inside Fairfax County Public School buildings, regardless of an individual’s vaccination status, the school district announced this morning (Wednesday).

FCPS shared its plans for mask-wearing and other health protocols in an email to families and staff and on its Return to School webpage.

“Masks are an essential tool in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and protecting those unable to be vaccinated,” the message says. “To ensure a safe start to the school year, masks will be required for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, inside FCPS buildings.”

The announcement comes a week after Virginia’s health and education departments released new guidance giving local school systems discretion to determine their own mask rules, though the state recommended that elementary schools at least adopt universal masking with children younger than 12 still not eligible to get vaccinated.

A statewide mandate requiring all children 5 and older to wear masks while in school expired on Sunday (July 25).

According to a graphic on the FCPS website, fully vaccinated staff will not be required to wear masks when no students are present in a school building, and masks will not be required for either vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals outdoors.

New Fairfax County Public Schools face mask wearing guidelines (via FCPS)

Masks will be required on school buses in keeping with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s federal mask mandate for public transportation.

FCPS says its COVID-19 health guidelines for the upcoming school year, which will begin on Aug. 23, are consistent with federal, state, and county guidance. The rules also apply to the expanded summer school programs that are continuing into mid-August.

“Universal masking is the most effective way to keep our staff and students safe and feeling confident — and also to keep our school buildings open for five days a week of in-person instruction for all students this fall,” an FCPS spokesperson said in a statement. “The universal mask policy is in line with local, state and national guidance and takes into account the fact that many of our students are not eligible for the vaccine or who have not yet been vaccinated for other reasons.”

In addition to sharing its plans for face masks, FCPS announced that it will not regularly test staff and students for COVID-19, instead asking anyone who enters a school building to “self-assess and stay home if they are feeling ill or experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19.”

Unlike last year, students will not be required to go into quarantine if they are exposed to someone who tests positive for COVID-19. The CDC updated its contact tracing guidelines earlier this month with an exemption for kindergarten through 12th grade students in a classroom setting.

After several weeks of loosening restrictions, a surge in COVID-19 cases nationwide has prompted a return of health protocols that many had hoped the availability of vaccines would relegate to the past.

The CDC officially amended its mask guidelines yesterday (Tuesday) to state that even fully vaccinated individuals should wear masks indoors in areas with high or substantial transmission, citing evidence that the delta variant can be spread by vaccinated people.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has directed County Executive Bryan Hill to evaluate the possibility of adopting a vaccine mandate for county government employees when they fully return to workplaces this fall.

FCPS did not comment when asked whether a similar approach is being considered for school staff, but it said in this morning’s announcement that “the most important thing we can all do to keep our schools safe and open all year is to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as we are eligible.”

FCPS has partnered with the Fairfax County Health Department to bring vaccination clinics to schools, including three scheduled for August:

  • Wednesday, Aug. 4: 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., Herndon Elementary School, 630 Dranesville Rd., Herndon
  • Thursday, Aug. 5: 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., Justice High School, 3301 Peace Valley ln., Falls Church
  • Friday, Aug. 6: 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., Liberty Middle School, 6801 Union Mill Rd., Clifton

According to the county health department, more than 63% of all Fairfax Health District residents have received at least one vaccine dose, including 72.8% of residents aged 12 to 17.

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(Updated at 11:30 a.m.) Fairfax County could require all of its employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 when they return to offices this fall.

During their meeting today (Tuesday), the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion brought by Chairman Jeff McKay directing County Executive Bryan Hill to evaluate whether to implement a vaccine mandate for the county’s 12,000 government employees, who range from library staff to police and solid waste workers.

While the county has reported relatively high vaccination rates, with almost 80% of adults having gotten at least one dose, some people who are eligible for the vaccine are choosing not to get it because of “false information,” according to McKay.

“Getting vaccinated is an act of public charity,” McKay said. “It’s not just about protecting you, but protecting everyone that you work with, every county resident that seeks our services, and everyone that works in our community.”

McKay confirmed that Hill is currently developing a plan for county government employees to return to offices in September.

The board directed Hill to consider providing some exemptions from the vaccine mandate for “religious and medical purposes” as well as requiring face masks and weekly COVID-19 testing for employees who do not qualify for an exemption and continue to refuse to get vaccinated.

In introducing the motion, McKay cited the growing prevalence of the delta variant, which now makes up more than 80% of all new cases in the U.S. and an estimated 69.4% of cases in the mid-Atlantic region, including Virginia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Like elsewhere in the country, Fairfax County has seen a rise in cases throughout July.

McKay noted that the need to bring COVID-19 case levels back down is especially urgent as Fairfax County Public Schools hopes to reintroduce five days of in-person learning when the new school year starts in August.

“What is happening right now with the delta variant in our community is scary for so many people, and I know it’s scary for our public school system,” McKay said. “Keep in mind that there are thousands of kids in elementary school that don’t have the luxury of getting vaccinated, and we need to do it for them. We need to make sure that our schools can reopen fully and safely, and we all need to get vaccinated to ensure that that happens.”

The board’s move comes as the CDC is expected to announce this afternoon a reversal of its policy allowing unvaccinated people to go maskless indoors, as reported by The Washington Post and other national outlets.

David Taube contributed to this report.

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Coronavirus illustration (via CDC on Unsplash)

Fairfax County’s COVID-19 case levels remain well below the worst days of the pandemic, but their rapid rise over the past month is enough to set off alarm bells, threatening to bring a summer heralded as a return to normalcy to a more sobering end.

The Fairfax Health District, which encompasses the county and the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, has added 457 new cases since this time last week, including 64 cases just today (Monday) and 84 cases on Friday (July 23) — the biggest single-day influx since 127 cases were reported on May 7. The district has now reported a total of 79,024 cases.

10 more people in the Fairfax Health District were hospitalized by the novel coronavirus over the past week, and one person died, bringing the respective totals up to 4,171 hospitalizations and 1,152 deaths.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, Fairfax County’s current seven-day average of 65.3 new cases is the highest it has been since May 9, when it was 67.7 cases. In comparison, the weekly average was hovering around zero as recently as June 20.

In addition, the district’s testing positivity rate has jumped from 0.8% on July 3 to 2.4% as of July 22.

Fairfax County COVID-19 cases over the past 90 days as of July 26, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)
All Fairfax County COVID-19 cases as of July 26, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)

The increased transmission of COVID-19 over the past month has been attributed to the growing presence of the delta variant — the most contagious version of the virus yet.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 83.2% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. now stem from the delta variant. While the Fairfax Health District has officially recorded just 20 delta cases, the CDC predicts that variant has made up an increasing share of cases in the mid-Atlantic region, from 45.3% during the two weeks ending on July 3 to 69.4% by July 17.

With more cases occurring overall, Virginia has seen more breakthrough infections over the past couple of weeks. On July 9, when VDH started reporting this data, 0.004% of fully vaccinated people had contracted COVID-19 in 2021. As of July 23, when the dashboard was last updated, there have 1,377 breakthrough cases in the state — 0.032% of fully vaccinated individuals.

However, unvaccinated individuals still make up 99.54% of COVID-19 cases and nearly all hospitalizations and deaths. 7,757 unvaccinated people have been hospitalized this year, compared to 114 people who were fully vaccinated, and 3,846 of the 3,884 people who have died were not fully vaccinated.

While some parts of the country have reinstated mask mandates in response to rising cases, Virginia has kept its focus on getting people vaccinated even as demand has slowed. The Commonwealth let its public health order requiring masks in schools expire yesterday (Sunday), instead leaving mask rules up to local school districts.

The Fairfax Health District has adminstered 1.4 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, delivering at least one shot to 752,842 residents, including 75.8% of people 18 and older. 63.6% of the district’s population has gotten at least one dose, outpacing Virginia as a whole, which has given at least one dose to just under 60% of the population.

683,428 Fairfax Health District residents are now fully vaccinated, which amounts to 69.2% of adults and 57.7% of the total population, according to the Fairfax County Health Department’s dashboard.

Fairfax Health District COVID-19 vaccinations by age group as of July 26, 2021 (via Fairfax County Health Department)

Interestingly, young adults between the ages of 25 and 34 are lagging behind in vaccinations. 67.3% of them have received at least one dose, whereas every other age group, including 12 to 17-year-olds, has a vaccination rate of at least 70%.

Photo via CDC on Unsplash

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Falls Church City Hall Harry E. Wells Building sign (via City of Falls Church Government/Facebook)

When it comes to municipal spending, $18 million in two years seems like pocket change, but for a smaller locality like the City of Falls Church, it represents a rare opportunity to address critical needs outside the constraints of a limited budget.

That’s how much money Falls Church has been allocated from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the COVID-19 relief package signed into law on March 11. The city received a first installment of $9 million in June and anticipates getting the other $9 million around this time next year.

Now, the Falls Church City Council must decide how to use the federal funding, which must be allotted by December 2024 and spent by December 2026, city staff told the council during a work session last Monday (July 19).

“Just in terms of engaging the public, this is a really important process for the city,” Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields said. “One of our goals is to act quickly on some immediate things that we need to put funding for, but also take a reasonable amount of time to think about the big picture and make sure we’ve considered all options before we start allocating big chunks of the dollars.”

The U.S. Treasury allows Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund dollars from ARPA to be spent in four ways:

  • To address the COVID-19 public health emergency and related economic fallout
  • To give eligible public workers additional pay
  • To replace lost revenue needed to provide government services
  • To support water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure

In preliminary discussions before the work session, Falls Church City staff identified sewer infrastructure projects and public space improvements as top priorities based on their anticipated long-term impact and social equity considerations, according to a memo to the council.

Financing existing stormwater and sanitary sewer projects was easily the highest-scored option on staff’s list of funding priorities, followed by increasing broadband access for underserved populations and rebuilding the city’s property yard to accommodate an emergency operations center.

The proposed improvements to public spaces include upgrades at Berman Park, which is on the Fiscal Year 2022-2027 Capital Improvements Program for new play equipment, and a permanent stage for the barn in Cherry Hill Park. The list also suggests creating large outdoor classrooms with roofs and supporting dog parks, citing their mental health benefits.

Councilmember Letty Hardi suggested that the city consider how to add more public space in addition to improving existing spaces.

“If nothing else, we’ve learned from the public health crisis that being outdoors is good for everybody’s health, so it’s not just improving it, but how do we add spaces?” she said. “How do we add more green space to the city, and how do we use ARPA dollars to do that?”

She also expressed support for using federal relief money to help schools open full-time this fall, provide more one-on-one COVID-19 vaccination outreach, enhance childcare services, and enable businesses to operate permanent outdoor spaces. Read More

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Tysons-headquartered Cvent, which provides business tools for customers to plan, market, and organize meetings and events, is headed back to the stock market.

The event-management tech company announced today (Friday) that it will merge with a blank check company for investors in a deal that’s set to close in the fourth quarter of 2021.

“We are thrilled to go public again because it provides significant financial resources to further strengthen our business and accelerate investments across our platform and related services,” CEO and founder Reggie Aggarwal said in a letter posted on Cvent’s website.

Unlike its initial public offering on the New York State Exchange in 2013, Cvent will make use of the less rigorous and in-vogue process of a special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC) called Dragoneer Growth Opportunities Corp. II, affiliated with a San Francisco-based investment firm.

The deal values Cvent at $5.3 billion and could give the company over $800 million in cash, which can be used to reduce debt.

Cvent’s plans to go public were first reported on Wednesday (July 21) by the Wall Street Journal, though a spokesperson then described the news as “WSJ speculation” when asked for comment by Tysons Reporter.

After Cvent initially went public, Vista Equity Partner, an investment firm based in Austin, Texas, acquired it for $1.65 billion in 2016.

The decision comes after a difficult year for Cvent and the event management industry as a whole.

Schools, governments, and businesses largely moved to virtual environments when COVID-19 swept the U.S. in March 2020. At the time, Cvent didn’t have a virtual event platform, but it developed one in five months as it assisted customers in managing tens of thousands of virtual events.

“The meetings and events industry has experienced rapid digital transformation over the last 18 months, with the pandemic creating a new paradigm for the events industry,” Aggarwal said in a statement. “Events became digitized through virtual and online experiences, and we invested heavily in expanding our virtual event capabilities.”

Dragoneer founder and managing partner Marc Stad said in a statement that with much of the U.S. reopening, they expect to move into a “hybrid world that combines elements of in-person and virtual events.”

Aggarwal founded Cvent in 1999 after organizing dozens of events each year with a nonprofit he started while working fulltime as a corporate lawyer. He found difficulties with only having Microsoft Outlook for email, Excel, and yellow sticky notes as tools, so he created the company to ease the event process with technology.

The company has its headquarters in Boro Station at 1765 Greensboro Station Place.

According to a presentation, Cvent currently has roughly 23,000 customers and is forecasting over half a billion dollars in revenue for 2021.

“Now, we are engaging in a hybrid world, as in-person events resume, and virtual events remain prominent,” Aggarwal said. “With the increased digitization of our industry, events are ‘always on’ and have fewer boundaries.”

The tech company has around 4,000 employees across U.S. locations and around the globe. It also provides hotels with software and marketing services for making the most of their meetings and events business.

The Cvent and Dragoneer boards of directors have both approved the proposed business combination, but it’s subject to approval by Dragoneer’s shareholders too, among other factors.

Cvent said that upon closing of the deal, the combined company will operate as Cvent Holding Corp. and is expected to trade under its old ticker symbol “CVT.”

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Encampment set up by people experiencing homelessness (via MWCOG)

Thanks to federal relief funding, Fairfax County is getting an infusion of emergency housing voucher money to help people who are at risk of homelessness or fleeing from domestic violence and others in need.

The American Rescue Plan Act signed into law in March is providing $10 billion to address homelessness, including 70,000 vouchers to local housing authorities, including Fairfax County.

The county will partner with community groups to provide the housing assistance, which could last 10 years — the length of the program — for each recipient.

“We are very grateful to receive these Emergency Housing Vouchers to serve many of our most vulnerable residents and neighbors and help them achieve safe and stable housing,” Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority Chair C. Melissa McKenna, who serves as the Dranesville District commissioner, said in a statement.

The Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority approved a county framework last Thursday (July 15) to receive the money, which involves 169 vouchers that will be made available in coming weeks.

Recipients will need to be referred to the program by county case managers or other service points, such as homeless services, Coordinated Services Planning (703-222-0880), or the Domestic and Sexual Violence 24-Hour Hotline (703-360-7273).

Money will go to landlords, and recipients will be required to pay 30% of their income toward rent and utilities.

The emergency housing vouchers can cover a variety of costs, including security deposits, moving expenses, and essential household items such as bedding and tableware.

Even outside the vouchers, ARPA has dedicated billions of dollars to addressing housing issues, as people have struggled to pay rent amid statewide shutdowns last year and uncertain employment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The need to provide housing assistance is expected to become especially urgent in the coming months after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium expires on July 31.

“The [assistance is] designed to prevent and respond to [the] coronavirus by facilitation the leasing of the [emergency housing vouchers], which will provide vulnerable individuals and families a much safer housing environment to minimize the risk of coronavirus exposure or spread,” Dominique Blom, a general deputy assistant secretary with the Housing and Urban Development Department, said in a May memo describing the funding.

Vaccinations have helped bring the virus under control, but cases have been rising in Virginia and the U.S. amid the spread of the highly contagious delta variant, which is now the source of 83% of all new COVID-19 cases, according to CDC estimates.

“Individuals and families who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness are often living in conditions that significantly increase the risk of exposure to coronavirus in addition to other health risks,” Blom said in the memo.

Eligibility for the vouchers is limited to individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness, at risk of homelessness, or were recently homeless and “for whom providing rental assistance will prevent the family’s homelessness or having high risk of housing instability.”

People fleeing — or attempting to flee — domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, or human trafficking are also eligible for the vouchers.

“These vouchers — in addition to the existing programs and services offered through a robust partnership — offer yet another valuable resource to help position individuals and families on a reliable foundation from which they can achieve their fullest potential,” McKenna said in her statement.

During the first year of the pandemic, homelessness decreased throughout the D.C. region except in Fairfax County, which saw a 17% increase from 1,041 people in 2020 to 1,222 in 2021, and Prince George’s County, which had a 19% increase, according to a Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments report.

Fairfax County has attributed the increase to expanded services supported by COVID-19 relief funding.

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Months after Virginia started lifting its mask restrictions, the once-ubiquitous face masks that were a defining symbol of the COVID-19 pandemic have started becoming more scarce. But with the delta variant starting to cause a COVID-19 resurgence, some are saying masks in public should make a comeback, even for people who have been fully vaccinated.

The delta variant now accounts for 83% of new COVID-19 cases reported in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated earlier this week. The delta variant is more contagious than other strands of COVID-19 and could potentially have more severe symptoms.

In official channels, mask requirements have continued to ease up. The Commonwealth is set to let a statewide mandate on indoor mask wearing in schools expire on Sunday (July 25), though the state guidance remains that teachers, students and staff should still wear their masks indoors.

While the virus now appears to be almost exclusively spreading among unvaccinated people, some fully vaccinated people have continued wearing masks for a variety of reasons, from a desire to fend off other illnesses or to protect young children and other people unable to get a vaccine to concern about being judged.

Have you stayed in the habit of wearing a face mask, or does it depend on the setting?

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