Tysons, VA

More than 40% of Fairfax County residents 16 and older are now in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine following Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s expansion of eligibility requirements.

People age 65 and above, and people between the ages of 16 and 64 with high-risk medical conditions can now register to receive the vaccine as part of phase 1b. Prior to Northam’s announcement yesterday, these groups were part of the next phase of the vaccine’s administration.

But county officials say it may take months to get through phase 1b, which prioritizes people age 75 and above and essential frontline workers like school staff, police, and grocery store workers.

The ability to schedule appointments will depend on the supply of vaccine available,the county wrote in a statement yesterday. The vaccine supply in the U.S. is still very limited and is expected to increase gradually over the next months.

Although it may take weeks before vaccines are formally administered, the Fairfax County Health Department will begin registering individuals in the newly-eligible group on Jan. 18.

Northam expects all Virginians to be vaccinated by the middle of the summer.

“This means about half of Virginia is now eligible to receive the vaccine. That’s a major logistical effort, and it’s not going to happen overnight,” he said.

So far, the state has received 943,000 doses of the vaccine and administered roughly 242,000 doses. On average, the state is administering 12,000 doses daily — far from the governor’s long-term goal of 50,000 doses. Overall, the state is receiving 110,000 doses of the vaccine per week.

Northam is also encouraging schools to reopen, noting that six months of data from schools around the state suggests that schools can reopen if appropriate safety protocols are in place. The newly-released guidance creates a five-step program to guide decision-making on reopening.

The county plans to launch an online form to register for the vaccine today via its vaccine webpage. Residents should be able to schedule a time themselves based on eligibility, availability of appointments, and vaccine interview, according to Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn.

The health department introduced a pre-screening form on Monday (Jan. 11) to allow people to pre-register for the vaccine. Residents can also call the county’s vaccine hotline at 703-324-7404 on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. and on weekends between 9;30 a.m. and 5 p.m. The department will contact individuals who complete the pre-screening form depending on vaccine supply and appointment availability.

Demand for the vaccine flooded the county’s call lines on Monday, prompting local elected officials to encourage the county to improve its communications strategy.

Meanwhile, Walgreens is offering rapid antigen testing across select locations in the state. The new partnership with the Virginia Department of Health, which was announced yesterday, allows adults and children age three and above to receive a test. Walgreen’s testing site is located in Centreville at 13926 Lee Highway.

Photo via Fairfax County Health Department

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Friday Morning Notes

Virginia Issues New Guidance to Support Schools Reopening — “A school division’s capacity to successfully implement mitigation strategies AND local community disease data should be factored into school operations plans…As local school and health leaders evaluate and adjust instructional offerings in 2021, they must carefully balance the risks associated with operating during a pandemic and the long-term effects of students not attending school in person.” [Virginia Department of Education]

Vienna Planning Commission Kicks Off Comprehensive Plan Review — Virginia law requires localities to review their comprehensive plan every five years. Planning commissioners don’t expect this new review to be as extensive as the Town of Vienna’s last update in 2016, but some sections, such as the chapter dealing with economic development, could be in need of revision. [Town of Vienna]

Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office Starts COVID-19 Vaccinations — “Today was the day! We are so very grateful to get the COVID-19 vaccine. @VDHgov @fairfaxhealth #FairfaxStrong” [Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office/Twitter]

Staff Photo by Jay Westcott

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Fairfax County workers whose jobs put them at high risk of exposure to COVID-19 could receive a one-time hazard pay bonus of $1,500 if county leaders approve a proposal put forward on Tuesday (Jan. 12).

Fairfax County Director of Human Resources Cathy Spage told the Board of Supervisors during its budget policy committee meeting that about 4,000 county employees would be eligible for the bonus, giving the proposal an overall estimated cost of $6.5 million.

If approved, the funds would come out of $10 million in CARES Act coronavirus relief money that the county had set aside earlier for hazard pay, according to Fairfax County Department of Management and Budget Director Christina Jackson.

“I think there’s a strong desire on the board to move forward with something,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “I know there’s still some lingering debate on some pieces of this, but I think the principle here is one that is strongly supported.”

Under the county’s proposal, the hazard pay bonus will be available to workers whose exposure risk level is rated high or very high based on Virginia Occupational Safety and Health (VOSH) standards established by the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry.

Adopted on July 15, the VOSH COVID-19 risk assessment puts workers in very high, high, medium, and lower risk categories based on their work environment, their proximity to people known or suspected to be infected, their ability to maintain social distancing, and other factors.

The bonus will only be open to merit employees, because the lack of standard schedules for non-merit employees would make it “problematic” to include them, according to Jackson.

Several board members raised concerns about employees being excluded from getting hazard pay despite risking infection by the novel coronavirus as part of their job. For instance, the VOSH standard classifies school settings, restaurants, and construction sites as medium risk.

“There have been outbreaks on construction sites. We know that it happens,” Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw said. “Based on what I’ve read of the VOSH medium-risk categories, some of them probably make sense. Some of them make me a little bit concerned in terms of how they’re categorizing folks.” Read More

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Fairfax County will receive an additional $34 million to provide emergency rental assistance to residents experiencing economic challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a budget policy committee meeting yesterday (Tuesday), Fairfax County Department of Management and Budget Director Christina Jackson told the county board of supervisors that the department has submitted a certification for the award, and the amount is expected to be confirmed today.

The money comes from a $25 billion emergency rental assistance program that the U.S. Treasury Department established using funds from the COVID-19 relief package that Congress passed at the end of December.

“This will be huge,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “I know we feel good about it, but obviously, there are a lot of folks out there struggling, and this will be a great opportunity to help those folks.”

Under the treasury program, renters may be eligible to receive assistance if at least one or more people in their household has experienced financial hardship due to the pandemic, are at risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability, or have a household income at or below 80% of the area median income.

Applicants can receive up to 12 months of assistance, with the possibility of an additional three months if needed to ensure housing stability and funds are still available.

The treasury is allocating the funds directly to states and local governments with more than 200,000 residents.

Jackson says the treasury is required to disperse all of the program funds by the end of January, so the county should have “dollars in hand” by the end of the month.

“We’re working with staff to try to incorporate this funding with other awards that we’ve received to make sure we’re using all the resources to our advantage,” Jackson said.

Because of the incoming grant, the Fairfax County Department of Management and Budget is recommending that the county increase its COVID-19 grants reserve by $50 million as part of its Fiscal Year 2021 mid-year budget review.

To offset anticipated revenue losses, the county plans to take $9.1 million out of a general fund reserve that the board of supervisors set up in May to support its coronavirus response efforts.

If the adjustment is approved, the COVID-19 reserve will have $16 million remaining, including roughly $12 million that the county mostly plans to use for Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursements.

As part of the mid-year review, Fairfax County staff are also recommending that the county create 13 new positions in the health department to boost its pandemic response, especially when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccination program. The positions would be initially covered by federal stimulus funds.

“We’re in constant contact with the health department relative to the continuous pivoting in response to COVID,” Fairfax County Chief Financial Officer Joe Mondoro said. “There are a number of other activities that they’re undertaking to respond to…whether that’s the need for additional contact tracers, whether that’s the escalation of the vaccination requirements.”

The board of supervisors will hold a public hearing and take action on the FY 2021 budget mid-year review when it meets on Jan. 26.

Photo via Fairfax County government/Facebook

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Wednesday Morning Notes

Fairfax County Sheriff’s Deputy Dies in Jail COVID-19 Outbreak — “A veteran Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office deputy has died of covid-19 amid an outbreak of the coronavirus at the county jail that has sickened more than 30 guards and inmates in recent days, authorities said.” [The Washington Post]

Northern Virginia Critical Incident Response Team Launches — 11 local law enforcement agencies, including the police departments of Vienna and Falls Church City, have agreed to assist each other on investigations where an officer could face criminal charges, such as a shooting or in-custody death. [City of Falls Church]

How Office Development Rules Limit Walkability in Tysons — “While new developments in Tysons are improving the area’s density and walkability, some of them retain characteristics of the county’s historically suburban character. In particular, regulatory barriers prevent office development in Tysons from having the features of the most walkable pedestrian environments.” [Greater Greater Washington]

Hundreds of Residents Donated to Tysons Corner Blood Drives in 2020 — “The blood drives were wildly successful ultimately yielding 1,757 total blood donations helping over 5,200 patients get the necessary blood, plasma, and platelet transfusions needed to heal.” [Tysons Partnership]

Louise Archer Students Earn Honors in Vocabulary Competition — “Several teams representing Louise Archer Elementary achieved highest honors in the recent WordMasters Challenge™, a national vocabulary competition involving nearly 125,000 students annually.” [FCPS]

Staff photo by Angela Woolsey

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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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With nearly. 2.1 million Virginians now eligible to receive vaccines, Fairfax County is experiencing challenges handling the overwhelming demand to schedule COVID-19 vaccinations.

The county received more than 10,000 calls in the first ten minutes the call system went live.

An online vaccine registration system that was supposed to be operational this morning is still not available, prompting Fairfax County residents to turn to a hotline for support. The number experienced such high demand that phone calls were being dropped.

“Our vaccine call center is experiencing a high call volume today and we are asking residents to be patient,” Fairfax County Health Department spokesperson Tina Dale said.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said just before noon that the phone line had been reset and is now back online.

The county health department’s online pre-screening form for confirming eligibility for the vaccine is now also available. The department will call or email those who are eligible to set up an appointment “within a few days,” according to its website.

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn says he understands concerns associated with the process for receiving a vaccination.

“I share every’s frustration with this situation and appreciate the enthusiasm this shows by so many to get the vaccine as soon as possible,” Alcorn wrote in a statement.

Alcorn, who chairs the board’s information technology committee, added that the county’s vaccine registration system will be the first agenda item for the committee meeting scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow (Tuesday).

Fairfax County is among several health districts in the state to begin phase 1b of vaccinations, which includes frontline essential workers, people age 75 and above, people in correctional facilities, homeless shelters, and migrant labor camps.

The state’s definition of frontline essential workers includes police, fire, teachers, food and agriculture, manufacturing, public transit, mail carriers, and other employees.

Adults above the age of 75 —  who will be vaccinated first as part of phase 1b —  can register by calling 703-324-7404.

The Virginia Department of Health has also developed an online tool that people can use to find out when they will be eligible to get vaccinated.

Photo via Fairfax County Health Department/Twitter

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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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As Virginia continues to roll out the COVID-19 vaccines to healthcare professionals and workers in long-term care facilities, Gov. Ralph Northam provided some clarity regarding the next phase of the state’s vaccination plan during a press conference yesterday (Wednesday).

Phase 1B, the next group to be prioritized for innoculations, will focus on essential workers, people who are at high risk of being exposed to the novel coronavirus, and people who are unable to do their jobs remotely, Northam said.

The largest segment of that group will be teachers, childcare workers, and other school employees. There are roughly 285,000 teachers and childcare workers in Virginia, according to Northam’s presentation.

“They’re high on the list of essential workers, because teachers are critical to getting schools back open, and that’s critical to people getting back to work and literally getting back to normal,” Northam said. “Opening schools doesn’t depend on vaccinating teachers, but that sure will make it a lot easier.”

Phase 1B will also include first responders; grocery, agriculture, and food processing plant workers; manufacturing workers; postal workers; and bus drivers and other transit workers as well as those who are 75 and older.

Virginia is currently in Phase 1A of its vaccination plan, which is limited to healthcare workers and workers in long-term care facilities.

Northam did not provide details on when to expect the state to advance to the next phase, but he hopes the Commonwealth will eventually have the supplies to deliver 25,000 doses per day. Right now, Virginia is getting about 110,000 doses a week, or roughly 14,000 doses per day.

With a population of 8.5 million people, Virginia needs to administer 17 million shots total since the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that have been authorized for distribution both require two doses. That means the state will need to double its distribution rate in order to vaccinate everyone by the end of this year, Northam says.

To ensure that no doses are wasted, Northam says healthcare providers, health departments, hospitals, and any other organizations responsible for administering the vaccine must utilize their entire supply, or else risk getting fewer doses in subsequent shipments.

“You use it or you lose it,” the governor said. “So, I want you to empty those freezers and get shots in arms. No one wants to see any supplies sitting unused.” Read More

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Fairfax County Public Schools students will not start returning to in-person learning next week as planned.

After getting an update on local COVID-19 trends last night (Tuesday), the Fairfax County School Board gave its support to FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand’s suggestion that the school system delay bringing students back into buildings until February at the earliest.

“We can take some of the feedback today…and take a pause right now and come back with some more information about vaccinations and a revised timeline with input from our principals and our teachers,” Brabrand said.

All students are currently learning virtually after a two-week winter break, but FCPS had hoped to restart in-person instruction for some students in special education and career and technical programs on Jan. 12.

Other students were scheduled to follow in phases over the next month, with the last group of middle and high school students starting hybrid in-person learning on Feb. 9.

However, with COVID-19 surging in Fairfax County and vaccines not yet rolling out to school employees, school board members, principals, and teachers’ unions expressed concern that it would be unsafe for both students and workers to restart in-person learning.

Virginia Department of Health data shows that Fairfax County has exceeded multiple thresholds established by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for determining the risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools.

As of today, the county is averaging 520.6 new cases per 100,000 people over the past 14 days, and the 14-day testing positivity rate is at 13%. The number of new cases per 100,000 people in the past week is up 26.2% compared with the previous week.

In addition, FCPS has recorded 649 COVID-19 cases among employees, students, and visitors since Sept. 8. Brabrand told the school board that there have been 20 outbreaks in school facilities, even though only 11,810 students and staff have participated in in-person instruction this school year.

The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, which represents FCPS educators and staff, has pointed to those case rates as evidence that the school system has not adequately implemented mitigation measures like social distancing and face masks that would reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

“We are deeply concerned that FCPS is rushing to reopen schools while COVID-19 cases are surging like never before,” FCFT President Tina Williams said in a statement issued prior to last night’s school board meeting. “We all want nothing more than for students and staff to return to school for face-to-face instruction, but right now, it just is not safe.”

Brabrand told the school board that he will bring a presentation reevaluating how FCPS should proceed with its Return to School plan on Feb. 2.

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