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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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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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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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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