Tysons, VA

Fairfax County is changing up its Stuff the Bus food drive this winter to support increased demand for food while accommodating challenges presented by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Typically held twice a year, Stuff the Bus will kick off its 10th year of existence with buses parked at select locations throughout the county from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Jan. 30 and Feb. 6.

During the two-day food drive, community members can stop by the buses to donate nonperishable food that will help restock local food pantries, which have reported an uptick in the need for food and drops in volunteer rates during the pandemic.

To prevent the potential transmission of the novel coronavirus, donors should wear a mask or other face covering when at a Stuff the Bus site, and Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services (NCS) is directing people to place their donations directly inside the buses through their rear doors, rather than approaching the front door or the bus drivers.

Fairfax County is also encouraging people to make online monetary donations to the participating nonprofits in lieu of donating food in person.

According to the county, virtual donations give food pantries more flexibility, allowing them to purchase in bulk, stock up on fresh food, and obtain “culturally appropriate foods, which better meet the needs of the diverse communities they serve.” It is also less labor-intensive.

“Nonprofits often rely on the work of volunteers to sort and shelve donations,” NCS says. “The COVID-19 virus has greatly impacted volunteers’ ability to serve, especially older adults or those with pre-existing conditions.”

Fastran buses will be located at the following sites in the Tysons area for the upcoming Stuff the Bus food drives:

  • McLean Government Center (1437 Balls Hill Road)
  • Patrick Henry Library (101 Maple Avenue East)
  • Providence District Supervisor’s Office (3001 Vaden Drive)
  • James Lee Community Center (2855 Annandale Road)

Donations at the McLean Government Center will benefit LINK, which provides emergency food to people in the Herndon, Sterling, and Ashburn communities. The Patrick Henry Library drive will support Western Fairfax Christian Ministries on Jan. 30 and Cornerstones on Feb. 6.

The two Providence District locations — the supervisor’s office and James Lee Community Center — will support the Annandale Christian Community for Action on Jan. 30 and the Falls Church Community Service Council on Feb. 6.

A list of the most frequently requested food items can be found on the Stuff the Bus website.

Based on unemployment and poverty data, the Capital Area Food Bank estimates in its October 2020 Hunger Report that there has been a 48% to 60% increase in food insecurity in the D.C. region since the pandemic began.

Image via Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services

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The first day of pre-screening and COVID-19 vaccine registration for Fairfax County residents between the ages of 65 and 74 and those with high-risk medical conditions began with a bumpy start after the county’s system went down for most of the morning on Monday (Jan. 18).

Now, as the system returns to normal and vaccine registration resumes, county officials are urging residents to remain patient. Instead of contacting the county through the health department’s vaccine hotline, officials encourage residents to complete an online pre-screening form and appointment questionnaire.

At the same time, some residents — including frontline healthcare workers who received the first dose of the vaccine in December — say they’re still receiving uncertain answers about when to schedule their second dose.

A local healthcare worker told Tysons Reporter’s sister site, Reston Now, that she and several others she knows have had trouble receiving any information from the health department on when the second dose will take be administered. All residents receive a vaccination card and are required to receive a second dose of the two-course vaccine roughly four weeks after the first dose.

But some say they haven’t received any information on when the second dose will be available.

“I have called the department hundreds of times to attempt to schedule the second required vaccine,” a healthcare worker told Reston Now. “A week ago, I literally called 50 times and was unable to get through to speak to someone.”

When residents were able to get someone on the line, the information provided was scant, the source told Reston Now.

“A system that is already overloaded is becoming even more overwhelmed,” she said.

Tina Dale, a spokesperson for the Fairfax County Health Department, told Reston Now that residents do not need to call the health department to schedule the second dose of the vaccine. The health department will provide residents with a link to schedule their next appointment by email.

The earliest the second dose can be administered by the health department is late this week, but it may be weeks before registered residents receive information from the health department to set an appointment.

Within the first few hours of pre-registration expanding on Monday, the county received more than 33,000 new registrations. Gov. Ralph Northam recently expanded the number of eligible Virginians who can register for the vaccine.

Now, more than 40 percent of the county’s total population is eligible to register. The Fairfax County Public Schools System began vaccinating employees on Jan. 16. Vaccinations for FCPS are offered through the Inova Center for Personalized Health in Fairfax.

Once residents complete the pre-screening process through the online form or by phone, they will be contacted by the health department to schedule an appointment. The county has also launched a webpage with commonly asked questions about the vaccine.

The technical difficulties that plagued the vaccine registration system on Monday were the result of “a cloud-based problem” with the vendor that Fairfax County uses for the sign-up form, according to Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust.

“While we want to encourage everyone who is eligible to register, our ability to vaccinate is entirely dependent on vaccine being sent to us from the state,” Foust said in a newsletter. “Your patience will be critical both in registering and understanding that we have a very limited supply of vaccines coming from the state and we are constantly working to get more.”

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Alcorn said that while he understands the issues were unforeseen, the challenges so far are “still not acceptable.”

“We need to do better.”

Photo by Karen Bolt/Fairfax County Public Schools

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The next week promises to be an unusual one, with Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Inauguration Day prompting government buildings and services in the Tysons area to close or change their operations.

With the Washington, D.C., region bracing for potential violence before President-elect Joe Biden gets sworn into office, the City of Falls Church is taking the most aggressive approach, closing public facilities from MLK Day (Monday, Jan. 18) through Inauguration Day (Wednesday, Jan. 20) Jan. 18-20.

The Mary Riley Styles Public Library will not provide curbside pick-up services starting on Sunday through Wednesday, but the community center will still hold scheduled activities and programs on Tuesday.

“Closing City facilities to the public on Tuesday and Wednesday is out of an abundance of caution for the Inauguration Day activities,” Falls Church City Police Chief Mary Gavin said. “Doing so allows our officers to prepare and react to events within the City and the region, if a response is needed.”

Fairfax County and the Town of Vienna will both close government offices, including the Vienna Community Center, on Monday and Wednesday, but operations will be normal on Tuesday. Waste collection services will also continue as usual for both county and town residents.

Fairfax County Public Schools is observing MLK Day and Inauguration Day as holidays with no classes or meal service for students who get food through the school system. Bus routes and Grab and Go locations will provide three days of meals today and two days’ worth on Tuesday, when meal kit sites will also be open.

While the McLean Community Center will be closed on MLK Day as well as Inauguration Day, MCC has been commemorating the civil rights leader with its annual MLK Day Celebration, which is taking place online this year with a book talk, podcast discussion series, and storytelling community service project.

People looking for more active ways to mark the MLK Day holiday can visit a Fairfax County RECenter or park, which will be open with the exception of historic sites, the Frying Pan Farm Park visitor center, and the Green Spring Gardens historic house.

The National Park Service is also holding its first fee-free day of the year on Jan. 18, providing free admission to all of its venues, including Great Falls Park in McLean.

The two occasions will affect transit service as well.

Fairfax Connector will operate according to a holiday weekday schedule on Jan. 18. The county bus system announced on Wednesday that it is temporarily suspending service for two routes that go into downtown D.C. through Jan. 20 due to road closures related to the presidential inauguration.

For MLK Day, Metro will operate rail and buses on a Saturday schedule. Trains will run every 15-20 minutes on all lines except for the Red Line, which will have trains every 12-15 minutes. Stations will be open from 5 a.m.-11 p.m. Off-peak fares will be in effect all day, and parking will be free at all facilities.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority announced on Jan. 13 that it will close several stations and detour bus routes in downtown D.C. starting today through Jan. 21 to accommodate a security perimeter for the inauguration.

Photo via René DeAnda on Unsplash

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Tysons Partnership leaders touted the success of Fairfax County’s initial investment in the nonprofit stakeholder group while making the case for a new round of funding to county leaders on Tuesday (Jan. 12).

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors nominated the Tysons Partnership, which was formed in 2011 to help implement the Tysons Comprehensive Plan, for a $1 million award from the county’s Economic Opportunity Reserve fund on Dec. 1.

The organization previously received $1 million in economic opportunity funds from the county in December 2019.

“The Tysons Partnership has been a prudent investor of those initial funds and are here today to request an additional investment to further advance a community-led vision in conjunction with the county,” Tysons Partnership Chairman Josh White said.

According to White, the partnership raised $630,000 in private funds to match Fairfax County’s contribution between the third quarter of 2019 and the second quarter of 2020, resulting in a total investment of $1.26 million.

The partnership has allocated about $1 million so far, primarily to develop materials that define Tysons as a brand. It has also organized focus groups, community surveys, and virtual events, highlighted by the State of Tysons panel on Dec. 10.

White told the Board of Supervisors during its budget committee meeting that the Tysons Partnership has deferred spending about $250,000 intended to support community events and place activation initiatives that have been put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The partnership is returning approximately $370,000 in unmatched funds to Fairfax County. That money will go back into the county’s economic opportunity reserve fund to be redistributed.

If the board approves a new $1 million investment, the funds will go toward marketing, research and data analysis, transportation and mobility projects, and community events, like holiday markets or craft fairs, Tysons Partnership President and CEO Sol Glasner says.

The organization is also collaborating with Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik on a working group focused on finding ways to make the partnership more effective and sustainable.

Glasner says the working group, which held its kick-off meeting yesterday (Wednesday), will deliver its recommendations to the county board and the Tysons Partnership board of directors by the end of this year, with the goal of implementing all of the proposals by January 2023.

The Board of Supervisors will vote on whether to approve the $1 million in economic opportunity reserve funds for the Tysons Partnership when it meets on Feb. 23.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay says investing in the partnership will be critical for the future growth of the Tysons area.

“The activities that the Tysons Partnership will need to be engaged in, while they may not be ideal in this pandemic environment, they will be necessary as a part of our economic recovery when we get to that point,” McKay said. “So, I would make the case that this has never been more important than now.”

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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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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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The McLean Citizens Association approved an extensive resolution on Wednesday (Jan. 6) laying out its views on Fairfax County’s proposed zoning ordinance overhaul.

The Zoning Ordinance Modernization Project, or zMOD, represents Fairfax County’s first major zoning code update since the original document was adopted 40 years ago. A draft was released on Nov. 24, and the planning commission is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposal on Jan. 28.

MCA expressed general support for the goals of the zMOD initiative but takes issue with several provisions that ease limitations in residential districts and enable more uses through administrative permits instead of the special exceptions process, which requires public hearings and neighbor notifications.

“The administrative permit is pervasive in the county’s proposal as a way to eliminate the need to notify neighbors and for the county staff to solicit neighbors for granting the permit,” MCA board member Steve DelBianco said.

In its resolution, MCA states that it supports the draft ordinance’s framework for allowing newer commercial, public, institutional, and community uses — such as solar power facilities, electric vehicle charging stations, and data centers — that didn’t exist when the zoning code was created.

The organization, which serves as an unofficial town council for McLean residents, is also glad that the ordinance will not supplant or negate agreements between homeowners’ associations and other private parties.

The resolution also notes that the draft ordinance includes a proposal put forward by MCA that will require residences on corner lots to have rear setbacks of at least 25 feet.

However, MCA opposes provisions in the zMOD proposal that would allow property owners to obtain an administrative permit for home-based businesses, accessory living units (ALUs), food trucks, and special for-profit events hosted by home businesses in residential districts.

The organization argues that those uses should need to be approved through a public process, though it could potentially withdraw its objection regarding food trucks if Fairfax County establishes clear standards regulating their operations in residential neighborhoods.

Fairfax County currently only permits ALUs if an occupant of the unit or the main dwelling is at least 55 years old or has a disability. MCA opposes removing that requirement.

Under the draft ordinance, the size limitations for ALUs would expand from 35% of the main structure area to either 800 square feet or 40% of the principal structure. Those restrictions could be exceeded if the ALU fully utilizes the floor area of a basement or cellar.

MCA believes exceptions should only be allowed for ALUs in cellars or basements if they are occupied by a family member who is 55 or older, or who has a disability.

MCA Planning and Zoning Committee Chair Scott Spitzer emphasized that the committee is aware that home-based businesses are becoming more common, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic pushing more people to work from home.

However, MCA does not think the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors should consider allowing home-based businesses to get up to four customers at a time or up to eight customers on-site in a given day, arguing that businesses should be limited to two customers at a time and six customers in one day.

The zMOD draft ordinance proposes that home-based businesses have one designated parking space available per customer.

“The idea here is to not permit large groups that would exceed that designated parking place,” DelBianco said. “…We are trying to balance here the expectations of the neighbors who bought homes in a residential district versus trying to be supportive of those who want to earn money out of a home-based business.”

Video of MCA’s discussion of the zMOD resolution is currently on its Facebook page and will be posted to its website.

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Local elected officials from the county to the state level expressed horror and sadness at yesterday’s assault on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., as Congress worked to certify the results of the 2019 presidential and Congressional elections.

Thousands of supporters of President Donald Trump — some of them associated with right-wing extremist groups like the Proud Boys — broke into the Capitol, disrupting the certification process and forcing federal lawmakers to shelter in place as the building went into lockdown.

D.C. police reported last night that four people died in the chaos, and 52 people had been arrested, mostly in relation to violations of a curfew instituted by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.

While Fairfax County was not as directly affected as nearby Arlington County and the City of Alexandria, which were both put under a curfew, the county joined the emergency response by deploying officers with its police department’s civil disturbance unit and opening its emergency operations center to the Virginia State Police.

The Fairfax County Police Department also stepped up its presence in the county as officials monitored areas they suspected “may see increased activity,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said shortly before 6 p.m. yesterday.

McKay described the events in D.C. as “nothing short of a coup” and a “dark day for American democracy,” sentiments that Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik says she shares.

“I am appalled at the situation in our nation’s capital, and know that our region and country deserve better,” Palchik said in a Facebook post. “Thank you to the Fairfax teams stepping up to ensure safety across our community.”

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn urged residents to “stay home, stay safe and reach out to neighbors and friends who may be feeling frightened or isolated.”

Del. Marcus Simon (D-53rd), State Sen. Richard Saslaw (D-35th), and Falls Church City Mayor David Tarter commented on the riot in D.C. during a virtual town hall  hosted by the City of Falls Church. The meeting was intended to give community members a chance to learn about the upcoming Virginia General Assembly session.

Their thoughts, along with a statement from Del. Mark Keam (D-35th), can be found below: Read More

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Officers with the Fairfax County Police Department have been deployed to Washington, D.C., as part of a region-wide emergency response to far-right extremists who have stormed the U.S. Capitol, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay’s office confirmed to Tysons Reporter.

Fairfax County has also opened its emergency operations center to Virginia State Police.

Earlier this week, McKay advised county residents to avoid visiting downtown D.C. as several right-wing groups planned to hold demonstrations to protest Congress’ scheduled certification of the November 2019 general election results.

Fairfax County police previously said they did not anticipate needing to assist D.C. authorities in managing the demonstrations. Like other law enforcement agencies in the D.C. region, the county has a mutual aid agreement in place for situations where additional help may be needed.

McKay’s full statement is below:

What is happening in Washington D.C. right now is nothing short of a coup. This is a dark day in American democracy and I am personally sad and angry. I’m hopeful residents of the county heeded our advice to stay home today.

We have deployed members of our police department and opened our emergency oerpations center ot Virginia State Police. Let us pray for their safety as well as the safety of the innocent people impacted. Our democracy will not be destroyed by violent, lawless mobs.

I’m in constant communication with County officials to ensure we provide as much help as possible and also protect our communities in Fairfax.

Photo via Sherry Xu on Unsplash

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