Tysons, VA

Following a flood of demand yesterday, Fairfax County plans to launch a new online COVID-19 vaccine registration system as early as tomorrow that will allow residents to schedule an appointment, the county’s information technology department told the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors during an information technology committee meeting today.

Virignia Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Friday (Jan. 8) that the Fairfax Health District is one of several districts in the state to jumpstart the next phase of vaccinations. Priority groups in this phase include adults age 75 and older and frontline essential workers like police and grocery store workers.

Fairfax County introduced a pre-registration tool yesterday (Monday) after overwhelming demand from people looking to schedule an appointment to get vaccinated jammed county phone lines and flooded the overall system.

The pre-registration form determines whether an individual is eligible to get a vaccine dose at this time, but applicants need to wait to be contacted by the Fairfax County Health Department — likely by email — to set up an appointment. The form launched earlier than originally anticipated in order to shift demand from the county’s phone line to the online system.

During the IT committee meeting, some members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors expressed dismay at the initial rollout of the registration system and phone line, which received nearly 1.2 million calls and more than 286,000 voicemails yesterday. The system was jammed within an hour of the phone line going up.

Jeff McKay, the board’s chairman, said that he was concerned the board did not receive information about the issues facing the county until around 6 p.m. yesterday.

“I know it is disappointing that we weren’t better prepared for this,” McKay said. “I will say that we need to be a lot quicker.”

He also noted that residents should be aware that phase 1b is not a first-come, first-serve system. Frontline essential workers will be vaccinated in a pre-determined order, with police, fire, and hazmat workers at the top of the list.

The county is testing out the new system today in cooperation with the Fairfax County Health Department, according to Gregory Scott, director of the county’s department of information technology.

The IT department also plans to implement a virtual system with automated chatbots and work with external vendors to help manage call volume. The county also routed some calls to a voice message that said to call back later due to busy phone lines.

“Everybody was in this predicament yesterday morning,” Scott said.

Staff noted that additional manpower may be needed to manage call volume and respond to registration forms to sort out missing or conflicting information.

Fairfax County hopes to automate as much of the registration process as much as possible. For instance, the county health department says residents who are ready to get a second dose of the vaccine will likely receive an email about registering.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn, who chairs the IT committee, encouraged the county to ensure the registration form is friendly for seniors. The first version of the preregistration form that went online yesterday required providing a cell phone, for example.

The new registration form is expected to be available as early as tomorrow, pending final testing and revisions.

Photo via Fairfax County Health Department

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Fairfax County set a new record today by averaging 534.9 new COVID-19 cases over the past seven days, a sobering sign even as the county starts making vaccines available to more segments of the population.

The number of new daily COVID-19 cases continues to follow an upward trajectory. Fairfax County reported 741 new cases today — the second-highest number of daily reported cases since the county recorded a single-day record of 897 cases on Dec. 21.

The Fairfax Health District has now recorded 50,379 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began, along with 723 deaths and 3,115 hospitalizations.

The new weekly average record comes as the Fairfax Health District expands COVID-19 vaccinations to the phase 1b population. Starting today, the Fairfax County Health Department is scheduling appointments for the following individuals:

  • Frontline essential workers
  • People age 75 and older
  • People in correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and migrant labor camps
  • Police, fire, and hazmat
  • Corrections and homeless shelter workers
  • Childcare/pre-kindergarten-12 teachers and staff
  • Food and agricultural personnel including veterinarians
  • Manufacturing
  • Grocery store workers
  • Public transit workers
  • Mail carriers
  • Officials needed to maintain continuity of government like judges

Fairfax County Public Schools has partnered with Inova to administer the vaccine to 40,000 teachers and staff of public and private schools and childcare programs beginning Saturday, Jan. 16. The county’s health department is currently finalizing logistics with Inova and hopes to complete the endeavor over the next three weeks.

“The availability of this vaccine for our staff, coupled with the implementation of the five key mitigation strategies, strengthens our ability to gradually return to in-person instruction. Hope and help are now truly on the way,” FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand wrote in a letter to the community last night.

The first phase of the vaccine program, which began in December, involved vaccinating health-care workers and long-term care facility residents and staff. Vaccinations for those individuals are continuing.

State officials say it could take months to vaccinate the roughly 1.2 million Virginians in phase 1b. So far, the federal government has allocated roughly 110,000 doses for the state on a weekly basis. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines both require two doses taken between 21 and 28 days apart respectively.

As of today, 20,794 people in Fairfax County have received at least the first dose of the vaccination.

Closed vaccination clinics are planned for police, fire and hazmat, corrections, and homeless shelter workers today through the county’s health department. These individuals are not required to contact the department to schedule appointments.

Vaccination dates for other frontline essential workers will be announced in the future.

The next phase of vaccinations — 1c — will include 2.5 million people who are essential workers in transportation, food service, utilities, adults above the age of 65, and people between the age of 16 and 64 with high-risk medical conditions.

“Getting Virginians vaccinated against COVID-19 is the best way to end this pandemic, rebuild our economy, and move our Commonwealth forward,” Gov. Ralph Northam said. 

Image via CDC on Unsplash, Virginia Department of Health

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10,565 Fairfax County residents have now received a dose of one of the COVID-19 vaccines authorized for distribution as of Sunday (Jan. 3).

That is by far the most vaccine doses that have been administered in a single locality in Virginia, according to a Virginia Department of Health dashboard, which shows that no other locality has administered more than 5,000 doses.

Like the rest of the country, Fairfax County is in the 1A phase of the vaccine distribution process, meaning that vaccinations are limited to health care personnel and long-term care facility residents. Some emergency responders with the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department have also gotten vaccinated.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that were granted emergency use authorizations by the federal government both require two doses that are administered three or four weeks apart. No Virginia residents have gotten a second dose of either vaccine yet.

The vaccine rollout has been slower than anticipated. Virginia has distributed 404,675 doses to healthcare providers, but only 87,618 doses have been administered so far, according to the state health department.

Meanwhile, the Fairfax Health District reported 353 new COVID-19 cases today (Monday) for a total of 46,595 cases since the pandemic began. The disease caused by the novel coronavirus has killed 703 people in the district, which includes the Cities of Falls Church and Fairfax as well as the county, and put 3,032 people in the hospital.

Today’s caseload breaks Fairfax County’s streak of four consecutive days with more than 500 new cases that started on New Year’s Eve. The county’s current seven-day average is 472.9 cases.

Virginia recorded more than 5,000 new cases in a single day for the first time on Dec. 31 and has now exceeded that number three times within the past week.

Worse may be to come as the Commonwealth and the U.S. as a whole starts to see the impact of holiday gatherings and travel.

The Transportation Security Administration reported this morning that it screened 1.3 million people at airport checkpoints nationwide on Sunday, the highest volume since the COVID-19 pandemic hit early last year. TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein said that yesterday marked the eighth time in the past 12 days that airports recorded more than 1 million travelers.

Photo via Fairfax County Health Department

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The number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb in Fairfax County as the statewide rollout of vaccines continues.

So far, 4,181 people have been vaccinated in Fairfax County, with a total of 41,709 vaccines administered nationwide. The Virginia Department of Health began releasing vaccine data on Dec. 23. No second doses in the two-round vaccine have been administered yet.

Since a record-high count of 897 new daily cases was reported on Dec. 21, the moving weekly average of cases has hovered in the 460s. The third highest peak was reported on Dec. 27, when cases stood at 690. Today, the county reported 330 cases.

The number of hospitalizations in the county has increased steadily over the last few weeks, with a moving seven-day average of 16 hospitalizations. In June, hospitalizations peaked when that average stood in the low 30s. Since the pandemic began, 687 residents in the county have died to the pandemic and nearly 3,000 have been hospitalized.

The current positivity test rate for the state is 12.3 percent, roughly two percentage points below the countywide average.

Last week, the Fairfax County Health Department received 5,000 of the Moderna vaccine, which will be administered to healthcare workers who are not affiliated with hospitals. Fairfax County Fire Chief John Butler and Fire and Rescue Department personnel started getting vaccinated yesterday (Sunday).

Earlier this month, staff in the Inova Health System and Reston Hospital Center received vaccine shipments and began vaccinating staff and affiliated providers. Nursing home residents and staff are also covered in the first phase of the vaccination program.

Image via CDC on Unsplash

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More people in Fairfax County are facing food insecurity this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as illustrated by increased requests to the county and local pantries for groceries.

Fairfax County received 5,980 requests for emergency food from Mar. 1 to Dec. 21 of this year, a 56% increase from the same timeframe in 2019, according to Shweta Adyanthaya, a public information officer for the county’s Health and Human Services Department.

“The height of the requests came in the early months of the response — April to September — and then leveled off to average levels of requests since then,” Adyanthaya said. “Those households in need of food resources are referred to nonprofit and faith-based community partners, as well as other county resources.”

She encourages residents in need to use the county’s map application to locate food distribution groups near them.

One nonprofit in the Tysons area is Food for Others, which operates out of a warehouse in Merrifield.

Food for Others spokesperson Bridge Snydstrup told Tysons Reporter that the nonprofit is distributing food to an average of 4,000 families weekly, double the number of families it served pre-pandemic.

“The majority of people we are serving right now are unemployed due to COVID-19,” Snydstrup said. “Many of our clients work in the service industry and have either lost their jobs or had their hours significantly reduced due to the pandemic.”

She said that donations are also ticking up, helping the nonprofit meet the additional need.

“The Northern Virginia community has been extremely generous in helping FFO respond to the COVID-19 crisis,” Snydstrup said. “So many people have reached out asking what they can do to help and have either donated food or made monetary donations.”

However, volunteer rates are down overall, even though many in the community are interested in helping out.

“We have to limit the number of people in our warehouse to allow for social distancing and to ensure that our staff, volunteers, and clients are safe,” Snydstrup said. “We do have limited volunteer slots in our warehouse on weekdays, [and] those interested can sign up on our website.”

The best thing to do for those who want to help but are unable to volunteer is to host a food drive and drop off the donations.

Students in the area are also stepping up, Dranesville District School Board representative Elaine Tholen said in her newsletter on Monday (Dec. 21).

Last week, Cooper Middle School and Langley High School held a joint food drive for SHARE of McLean that brought in more than 6,500 non-perishable items. More than 40 students volunteered.

“We are thrilled to share it was an overwhelming success,” Tholen said. “We continue to be amazed by the generosity displayed by our school community and pyramid at large.”

The increase in demand for food assistance and drop in available volunteers are trends playing out nationally too.

Feeding America’s network of food banks have distributed nearly 57% more food in the third quarter of this year compared with 2019, according to an Associated Press analysis.

Meanwhile, NPR reported that food banks are seeing fewer volunteers, in part because the usual volunteers include older people, who are staying home to protect themselves from the coronavirus.

Food donation photo via Dranesville School Board Representative Elaine Tholen.

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With COVID-19 vaccines expected to take months to roll out to the general public, one Tysons-based company has developed software that it believes will enable schools, businesses, and other facilities to open their doors with an added layer of security against the novel coronavirus.

Senseware (8603 Westwood Center Dr.) has adapted its air quality monitoring platform to detect the presence of COVID-19 particles or conditions that facilitate their spread.

The Fairfax County Economic Development Authority announced on Dec. 18 that it will host a webinar with FCEDA President and CEO Victor Hoskins and Senseware CEO and co-founder Serene Almomen on Jan. 7.

Presented in conjunction with the Northern Virginia Economic Development Alliance, the webinar is the latest segment in a 10-part series called “Catalyst for Change: How Companies Turn Disruption into Success.”

“Safety is the critical component of bringing employees back into working on-site at offices during this unprecedented time,” Hoskins said. “This webinar will focus on how Senseware…has developed a platform for detecting COVID-19 particles in order to enable a safer environment for employees returning to the workplace.”

Since COVID-19 primarily spreads through respiratory droplets and other particles carried in the air, Senseware says that its platform can determine the effectiveness of ventilation systems in mitigating the coronavirus’ transmission by monitoring the air supply flow rate, particle sizes, relative humidity, and carbon dioxide and ozone levels.

The company says it has integrated bio-sensors into its system that can detect the existence of viruses, including the novel coronavirus, and other harmful microbes.

Using the data collected by its sensors, Senseware sends reports to customers and automatically issues an alert if air quality conditions become unhealthy or unsafe.

“Knowing if [the] COVID-19 pathogen is in the air we breathe in real time will play a major role in safely repopulating spaces,” Almomen said. “We are excited to share how we introduced this new innovation to help promote people safety and wellbeing during this critical time.”

The FCEDA webinar will take place virtually on Zoom. Registration is free and can be done through this link.

Image via CDC on Unsplash

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The Fairfax Health District reported 914 new COVID-19 cases today (Monday), a new single-day record for the district, which encompasses the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church as well as Fairfax County.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, Fairfax County reported 897 cases within the past 24 hours, while Fairfax City added 11 cases, and Falls Church added six.

With that flood of new cases, which Fairfax County attributes partly to a data reporting backlog, the Fairfax Health District has now recorded 40,551 cases since the pandemic first arrived in the area in March. 670 people in the district have died from the disease transmitted by the novel coronavirus, and 2,820 people have been hospitalized.

Today’s caseload easily surpasses the previous single-day record of 725 daily cases from Dec. 8, though the weekly average of 437.7 cases remains lower than Dec. 12, when the district averaged 505.1 cases over seven days.

The Fairfax Health District’s COVID-19 testing positivity rate is slightly up from last week, with a seven-day moving average of 11% as of Dec. 17. The 548,789 total testing encounters recorded in Fairfax is by far the most seen in any of Virginia’s health districts.

Fairfax County’s new COVID-19 daily case record comes on the same day that shipments of a vaccine from Moderna are expected to arrive in Virginia. The state had ordered 146,400 doses of the vaccine even before it was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Dec. 18.

Pfizer has dispersed a total of 72,125 doses of its own vaccine to frontline healthcare workers in Virginia since it started distributing to hospitals in the state last week. A nurse at Inova became the first person in Fairfax County to be vaccinated against the novel coronavirus on Dec. 15.

The VDH reported on Dec. 18 that the state will receive an estimated 370,650 vaccine doses from Pfizer and Moderna this month, a smaller allocation than the 480,000 doses that Virginia previously expected to get.

Even with the distribution of vaccines bringing hope of an end to the pandemic in the foreseeable future, local elected officials and health experts have emphasized the need to continue adhering to guidelines for limiting COVID-19’s spread, including wearing face coverings, avoiding travel, and following social distancing protocols.

“I understand everyone would like to see family and friends for Christmas,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisor Jeff McKay said. “Our COVID-19 cases are rising quickly, however, and we need residents to avoid gatherings with those outside of your household and travel.”

For lower-risk alternatives to typical holiday celebrations, the Fairfax County Health Department has recommended gathering with family virtually, shopping online, and watching concerts or other festivities on TV.

Image via CDC on Unsplash, Virginia Department of Health

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Fairfax Connector is enhancing its service for two routes between the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station and Tysons Corner.

The Fairfax County bus system announced today (Friday) that the anticipated Dec. 23 opening of a new Cedar Lane bridge over Interstate 66 gives it the ability to restore Routes 462 and 467 to their previous routing and scheduling, effective Jan. 4.

Route 467 will also have Sunday service “due to increased passenger demand,” Fairfax Connector says.

The enhanced Dunn Loring-Tysons routes are one of several service changes that Connector passengers can expect starting on Jan. 4.

On that day, Fairfax Connector will begin resuming fare collection following a months-long hiatus that began in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Riders must also return to boarding from the front door after entry shifted to the rear doors in an effort to limit close contact between passengers and drivers and mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The move comes as doses of two vaccines produced by Moderna and Pfizer are delivered in Virginia and throughout the country to front-line health care workers and individuals in long-term care facilities.

Metro will also begin resuming the collection of bus fares on Jan. 3.

In order to protect passengers and bus operators, the county has installed polycarbonate driver shields on buses. Face coverings continue to be mandatory inside buses.

Connector staff have distributed 66,000 face coverings to passengers without masks since May. Riders are encouraged to practice social distancing when possible, stay at home if they are sick, and wash hands often with soap and water.

Transdev, the bus systems operations continue, continues to step up cleaning and disinfecting of bus interiors and commonly used areas like door handles and handrails, according to the county.

Angela Woolsey contributed to this report

Staff photo by Jay Westcott, photo courtesy Fairfax County Department of Transportation

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The trajectory of COVID-19 cases in Fairfax County continues its upward climb this week.

As of today (Monday), the trailing weekly average of new cases hit 471, with an all-time high reported on Saturday when cases hit a weekly average of 505.

While the county’s caseload continues to break all local records, the acceleration of new cases reported daily seems to have slowed slightly.

Nonetheless, the county reported the highest number of daily cases — 725 — last week on Dec. 7. Overall, the case trajectory continues to be exponential over the last month, suggesting that community transmission is occurring.

Another measure to determine community spread — the test rate positivity — remained high this week. The county’s rate is 10.6 percent, slightly down from last week’s rate of 11.5 percent. The state’s rate is 10.9 percent.

New statewide restrictions went into effect today, including a curfew from midnight to 5 a.m., a 10-person cap on social gatherings, and an expanded mandatory mask requirement.

An initial shipment of the Pfizer vaccine was cleared by the Food and Drug Administration last week. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam stated that the Commonwealth would receive its first shipment within the following 24 to 48 hours with initial distribution targeted toward healthcare workers and long-term care facilities.

Meanwhile, the county is urging residents to celebrate the holidays with the people in their immediate household.

“We must find a way to recognize our traditions without putting ourselves and others at risk,” said Fairfax County Health Director Gloria Addo-Ayensu.

https://twitter.com/fairfaxhealth/status/1338204579100495875?s=20

Image via CDC on Unsplash

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Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced a series of new guidelines today (Thursday) aimed at getting the COVID-19 pandemic under control as case numbers soar in Fairfax County and throughout the state.

Starting at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 14, all Virginians will be expected to stay at home between 12 and 5 a.m. unless they are traveling to and from work, obtaining food and goods, or seeking medical attention.

While the modified stay-at-home order only applies to those early morning hours, Northam urged people to stay home whenever possible during other hours of the day as well, stating that he “strongly” encourages people to telework if they can.

“We already have strong public health measures in place, and with these additional steps, we can turn this around,” Northam said. “Virginians, if you don’t have to be out, stay at home. Whenever we are around other people, we all need to wear a mask, indoors and out.”

The new COVID-19 mitigation measures that take effect on Monday also include an expansion of the state’s existing requirement that all Virginians 5 and older wear a mask in indoor public settings.

Now, all individuals 5 and older will be required to wear face coverings in all indoor settings other than their own home and in all outdoor public settings when within six feet of another person.

The limit on indoor and outdoor social gatherings has been reduced from 25 to 10 individuals. Like before, this rule applies primarily to parties, celebrations, and other social events, but not religious services, workplaces, and schools.

The prohibition on alcohol service in dining establishments after 10 p.m. remains in place, and all restaurant workers are required to wear a mask, even if they don’t interact with customers face-to-face.

Northam said that state agencies will step up their enforcement of social distancing, cleaning, and mask-wearing requirements for businesses. Virginia has issued 181 letters for COVID-19 rule violations so far.

However, the governor declined to follow the lead of some neighboring jurisdictions in shutting down indoor dining, stating that social distancing requirements already significantly reduce the capacity of restaurants.

Despite calls for a statewide return to virtual learning from teachers’ unions in Northern Virginia, Northam also did not introduce any new guidelines for educational institutions, leaving decisions regarding school operations up to the discretion of local officials.

“Local leaders know what’s right for their community,” Northam said. “We’re going to keep working with local leaders to make sure they have the information they need to make the right decisions.”

Virginia is now averaging 3,700 new COVID-19 cases per day, three times higher than the peak of 1,200 daily cases in May. The statewide testing positivity rate is 11%, and more than 2,000 Virginians are currently hospitalized, an 80% increase over the last four weeks.

The Fairfax Health District recorded 440 new cases today, and its seven-day average hit a new high of 501.9 cases after reporting a single-day record of 725 new cases on Dec. 8.

During his announcement, Northam played a video from a healthcare worker named Emily who has been working in a COVID-19 intensive care unit over the past month. She described holding patients’ hands as they died and putting an “ungodly” number of people in body bags.

“I cry a lot. This is real,” Emily said. “…If you could stop just one case by wearing a mask or staying home when you didn’t have to go out, it would help us so much.”

Images via Governor of Virginia/Facebook, Virginia Department of Health

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