Tysons, VA

Over the past week, Fairfax County recorded its highest seven-day average for COVID-19 cases since mid-June, a potentially worrying development as the weather turns colder and forces more activities indoors.

Fairfax County’s weekly average for new COVID-19 cases hit 118 on Oct. 14, its highest since the county averaged 126 cases over seven days on June 13, according to the latest data from the Virginia Department of Health.

While the seven-day average has dipped back down in subsequent days to 85 cases on average as of Sunday (Oct. 18), Fairfax County joins the rest of Virginia in seeing an upward trend in cases in October, even if its numbers remain significantly lower than those seen in other parts of the state.

On top of reporting two new deaths, both of them on Oct. 17, Fairfax County added 598 COVID-19 cases during the week of Oct. 13-19. The Fairfax Health District has a cumulative total of 22,916 cases, 617 deaths, and 2,239 hospitalizations.

The zip code 22042, which contains West Falls Church south of Route 29, remains the most heavily affected part of the Tysons area, adding 28 cases over the past week for 1,173 cases overall and 3,497 cases per 100,000 persons in a population of 33,537 people.

Though COVID-19 cases in Fairfax County have ticked up in October compared to late September, the county has not yet seen another surge in transmissions like the one that hit this spring, which peaked with a weekly average of 303 cases on May 31.

Since that spring surge, Northern Virginia in general has been reporting lower case rates than the rest of the state, with a moving seven-day average of 238 cases as of Oct. 19 compared to 799 cases on average for all other regions.

As a whole, Virginia recorded a seven-day moving average of 1,037 on Oct. 19, and the state has added 7,258 COVID-19 cases over the past week for a statewide total of 166,828 cases. Virginia has reported 11,882 hospitalizations and 3,457 deaths.

With public health experts predicting that the COVID-19 pandemic will worsen this winter as the weather gets colder, Fairfax County officials are discouraging people from engaging in trick-or-treating, indoor costume parties, and other traditional celebrations for Halloween this year.

“In general, the more closely you interact with others and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread,” Fairfax Health Director Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu said. “For people who are more likely to experience severe illness from COVID-19, celebrating virtually or with members of your own household may be the safest way to enjoy the holiday.”

Image via CDC on Unsplash, Virginia Department of Health

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The Fairfax County Health Department and Neighborhood and Community Services (NCS) have joined forces to offer a series of free flu vaccination clinics at senior centers across the county.

The clinics were originally intended to exclusively serve people 50 and older, because older people tend to be more at risk for flu-related complications. However, the county has decided to expand the criteria to allow all adults 18 and older to utilize the service.

“With the COVID-19 pandemic still in full force and flu season starting, it is more important than ever that older adults get vaccinated for influenza,” NCS communications director Amanda Rogers said. “…While the initial scope of the partnership was to provide older adults a safe environment to get their annual flu vaccine, we have expanded the criteria to include all adults 18 and older for the remaining events.”

After launching on Oct. 6 at the Herndon Senior Center, four additional clinics are scheduled to take place from 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m., three days per week, for the next four weeks:

  • Oct. 19, 21 and 22: Lincolnia Senior Center (4710 N. Chambliss Street, Alexandria)
  • Oct. 26, 28 and 29: Original Mount Vernon High School (8333 Richmond Highway, Alexandria)
  • Nov. 2, 4 and 5: Little River Glen Senior Center (4001 Barker Court, Fairfax)
  • Nov. 9, 10 and 12: Lewinsville Senior Center (1613 Great Falls Street, McLean)

Fairfax County is also holding flu vaccine clinics for adults and children 6 months or older at the Herndon Reston District Health Office on Oct. 24 and the Mount Vernon District Health Office on Nov. 7.

While health officials recommend that everyone 6 months or older get vaccinated for influenza annually, the need for people to get flu shots is especially urgent this year, as flu season arrives while the U.S. continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Flu season typically starts in late fall and lasts throughout the winter in the U.S., hospitalizing more than 200,000 people and killing about 36,000 people every year, according to the Fairfax County Health Department.

Caused by viruses that infect the respiratory system, influenza produces symptoms similar to the ones now associated with the novel coronavirus, including fever, coughing, a sore throat, body aches, fatigue, and headaches.

“It’s very important that we take advantage of the flu vaccine to protect ourselves against the flu so we don’t overburden the healthcare system with individuals who have serious complications of the flu, because they’re already taxed right now responding to COVID-19,” Fairfax County Health Department director of health services Shauna Severo said in a video about the senior center flu vaccine clinics.

In accordance with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for reducing the potential transmission of COVID-19, Fairfax County is requiring all clinic visitors to wear face masks, undergo temperature checks, and adhere to social distancing protocols.

Visits are by appointment only, and all individuals are screened for COVID-19 symptoms both before their appointment and on the day they arrive.

All healthcare providers and other workers staffing the clinics are also wearing masks and other personal protective equipment.

“We are taking every precaution at our clinics to create a safe environment for individuals to come get their vaccine,” Severo said.

Community members can schedule an appointment at one of Fairfax County’s flu vaccine clinics by calling 703-246-6010.

Other locations for getting a flu shot can be found through the website vaccinefinder.org. Tysons Reporter also compiled a list of medical providers and pharmacies in the Tysons area that were offering vaccinations as of Sept. 1.

Photo via Channel 16 Around Fairfax

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After conditions stabilized in July and early August, the sliding average of COVID-19 cases in Fairfax County is slowly on the rise.

Although the increase is best described as an uptick, the weekly average of new cases hit a count of 105 yesterday (Monday). Following a dip in July, the rolling weekly average of new cases hovered in the 90s.

In October, the health district also hit the highest number of new daily cases since June 7 when 399 cases were reported. State data show 185 new cases were reported on Oct. 8. 

Overall, there have been 22,089 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Fairfax County, 2,195 hospitalizations, and 599 deaths.  After a slowdown in the rate of new cases per week in June and July, the number of weekly cases grew slightly in August and September. The weekly average for both months hovered around 424 cases. In June and July, that number hovered in the low 300s.

The West Falls Church area south of Route 29 has seen the highest case count in the Tysons area, with that zip code (22042) recording 1,145 COVID-19 cases to date. At 3,414.1 cases per 100,000 people, it has the sixth-highest case rate in Fairfax County, according to county data.

With four additional cases since early September, Dunn Loring remains disproportionately affected by COVID-19 with the 10th highest case rate in the county. Despite having a population of just 2,362 people, the 22027 zip code has reported 75 cases, or 3,175.3 per 100,000 people.

Despite these numbers and the size of the jurisdictions, Fairfax County’s case rate is somewhat low compared to other jurisdictions and health districts. As of today (Tuesday), the case rate is 1,919. Alexandria’s case rate is 2,512 while Arlington’s is 1,772.

Statewide, the number of COVID-19 cases is nearly 160,000, with 3,361 deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus.

County health officials continue to urge residents to get tested if symptoms develop or if exposure is possible.

Image via CDC on Unsplash, Virginia Department of Health

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Clinics and medical facilities are beginning to offer yearly vaccines as flu season approaches.

People who received their annual flu shot in a 2018 study were 82% less likely to be admitted to the ICU for potentially life-threatening symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.

Most people six months and older can receive a dose of the flu shot, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said, adding that people can either choose the shot or the nasal spray.

The CDC suggests that those eligible should receive their yearly flu vaccine before the end of October.

Tysons Reporter previously did a round-up of clinics and medical facilities locally offering the vaccine on a walk-up basis.

 Photo via Hyttalo Souza on Unsplash

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Fairfax County officials warn that vaping may be linked to a higher rate of COVID-19-associated side effects.

Today (Monday), the county’s Office of Emergency Preparedness and Response shared information on the possible associations between vaping and the novel coronavirus, noting that vaping and e-cigarettes have grown in popularity among teens and young adults in the last few years.

As schools reopen virtually and in-person in the Tysons area, county officials want people who vape to know that initial research shows that vaping, which has been linked to lung damage, could be tied to more severe complications of COVID-19.

“According to the 2018-2019 Fairfax County Youth Survey, 20% of Fairfax County Public School students ages 13 to 18 vape, similar to the national average of 20.8%,” the message said.

The “significant shift” of people in their 20s or younger getting COVID-19 that Gov. Ralph Northam pointed out in late July is continuing both statewide and in Fairfax County.

As of today, data from the state health department shows that people in their 20s represent roughly 17.7% of the total COVID-19 cases in the Fairfax Health District — the third-highest age group behind people in their 30s (19.3%) and 40s (17.9%). Statewide, people in their 20s account for the highest percentage (20.1%) of all of the age groups for COVID-19 cases.

The county’s health department now plans to launch a text to quit program with the Truth Initiative aimed at kids and young adults, the county said.

The county, which noted that research on vaping and COVID-19 is limited and still ongoing, spotlighted work done by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the Stanford University School of Medicine.

“Young people who had used both cigarettes and e-cigarettes in the previous 30 days were almost five times as likely to experience COVID-19 symptoms, such as coughing, fever, tiredness and difficulty breathing as those who never smoked or vaped,” Stanford found.

While researchers in France earlier this year claimed that nicotine may prevent the virus from attaching to cells, the Centers for Disease Control says that smokers may be at an increased risk for worse COVID-19 complications than non-smokers.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

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As restaurants look to serve diners indoors safely during the pandemic, Silver Diner has started using a new system to keep the interiors of its restaurants sanitized.

The regional chain says that it is the first U.S. restaurant to install an air purification system that uses three technologies — ultraviolet light, bipolar ionization technology and HEPA filtration, according to a press release.

The systems were installed at all of Silver Diner’s locations by last Wednesday (Aug. 12), according to co-founder and head chef Ype Von Hengst.

“I think that in this world you’ve got to adapt and change to fit what’s needed,” Hengst said. “It’s our responsibility as restaurateurs to create a new norm.”

Already, Hengst said that both the Reston and Tysons locations have seen a substantial jump in customers who feel safe about eating inside.

Silver Diner spent roughly $500,000 on the system for the restaurants, according to Hengst, who added that the cost was worth it to protect staff and customers. The air purification system was designed by Veteran LED, a veteran-owned lighting and energy management firm.

The technology has been used before in hospitals, schools and medical care facilities but never a restaurant, according to a press release.

Depending on size, each location has a large air purifier filer that covers roughly 1,000 cubic feet of air and then smaller purifiers that support roughly 250 feet of additional cubic footage, according to Hengst.

“Germicidal UV-C lights installed throughout the HVAC system work to disinfect air and surfaces inside the system. Heavy-duty handheld UV-C light sterilizers are being used on high touch areas as part of the closing duties of the staff,” the press release said. “At night, when the restaurant is closed, the interior is bathed in germicidal UV-C light to help kill pathogens in the air and sterilize surfaces.”

Hengst said that the UV-C ceiling fixture runs for one hour each night. The restaurant claims that the system gets rid of 99.9% of the encountered pathogens.

While UV-C lights have been used as a disinfectant for decades and researchers found it can deactivate coronaviruses, the dosage, time duration and distance from the source can all impact how effective the lights are, Discover Magazine reported.

It’s unclear how effective UV treatment is against COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Environmental Protection Agency cannot confirm whether it may be effective.

Additionally, Silver Diner locations are going to continue using personal protective equipment, printing menus on anti-microbial paper, requiring temperature checks, social distancing and following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to Hengst.

Before the pandemic hit the NoVA area, Hengst said that he was beginning to notice a roughly 10% profit increase at both the Reston and Tysons locations, which he attributed to population growth in the areas.

Since Silver Diner installed the new technology last week, Hengst said that more and more people are requesting to sit inside, though it is too early to see if sales are increasing again.

In the months to come, Hengst said he hopes more restaurants can use the technology to “help open up the world again.”

Photos courtesy Silver Diner

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Fairfax County confirmed it is still mandatory for all students enrolling in Fairfax County Public Schools to receive their required immunizations, despite the school year starting virtually. 

The county’s health department is providing nine additional community childhood vaccination clinics and encouraging families to take advantage of free vaccination opportunities before the start of the school year, according to the Fairfax County Emergency Information website

Required vaccinations protect against life-threatening illnesses such as polio, measles, whooping cough and chickenpox, according to the website. Additionally, incoming seventh-graders need a booster dose of the Tdap vaccine, and preteens need vaccines to protect against diseases such as HPV. 

Only a select number of appointments will be available at community vaccination clinics to ensure safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

To schedule an appointment, call 703-246-6010, TTY 711. Clinics encourage families to send a picture of their child’s vaccination records to decrease face-to-face time at the clinic.

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

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Although the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to drop, local health officials are encouraging residents to maintain social distancing as the county enters phase three of Gov. Ralph Northam’s reopening plan today.

The number of COVID-19 cases has dramatically declined from a peak of around 300 cases per day to an average of 60 to 70 cases per day, according to Benjamin Schwartz, the Fairfax County Health Department’s medical epidemiologist.

“We have not seen a rebound of disease associated with our community moving into phase one and two. However, the time has been limited,” Schwartz told the county’s health committee at a meeting yesterday, adding that cases are expected to increase as health restrictions relax.

The county is using a “box it in” suppression strategy to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. Efforts include intensive contact tracing in order to isolate the spread of the virus. Hiring and training for case investigators to lead contact tracing efforts are underway.

Gloria Addo-Ayensu, the health department’s director, said that COVID-19 surges in other states following reopening should “serve as a reminder that the virus has not gone away.”

“Until we develop a vaccine, we cannot return to the way things used to be,” she said, adding that residents need to “stay the course” on social distancing, wearing facial masks, and quarantining if exposed to COVID-19.

The health department launched several community testing clinics — which were targeted for specific hotspots. Herndon, which has been identified as a hotspot, had a nine percent positive test rate. Other hotspots include the Mount Vernon District and Springfield.

“We are far from over, but I do want to at least acknowledge that we have come a long way,” said Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay.

Schwartz noted that the overwhelming impact of COVID-19 on the local Hispanic community has lessened somewhat, although significant disproportionality remains.

The county is recruiting Hispanic community health tracers and contact tracers. The department is also working with nongovernmental and county agencies to help families and individuals in quarantine.

Photo via Fairfax County 

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The growth rate of COVID-19 in Fairfax County and statewide continues to fall as public health restrictions ease across Virginia.

But local and state officials are still cautioning residents to be wary of a possible second wave in the fall.

The number of positive tests has dipped significantly. In the Fairfax Health District, the positivity rate stands at 5.2 percent. In mid-May, that number inched near 27 percent of all cases.

Additionally, the daily count of cases and hospitalizations also continues to drop.

On Tuesday, the Virginia Department of Health reported 25 new deaths statewide, the largest number since May 28.

Since COVID-19 tracking began, 459 deaths and 13,705 cases have been reported in Fairfax County.

Recently, county officials stepped up testing efforts throughout the county, including targeted testing locations that are not widely publicized. A breakdown of testing sites is available online.

Data via Fairfax County Health Department

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After her graduation from McLean High School in 2018, Isabel Romov received a prestigious scholarship that allows her to study a rare heart disease that can cause sudden death in young adults.

Romov is an upcoming junior studying biotechnology at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. As the inaugural Beckman Scholar, Romov will assist JMU Chemistry Professor Nathan Wright with research over the course of a roughly 15-month period, according to a press release.

Romov will focus on arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy. The disorder is transferred genetically from someone’s family and causes arrhythmias and thickens the walls of the ventricles in the lower chambers of the heart, the press release said. It affects roughly one in 5,000 people, according to Boston Childen’s Hospital and can cause sudden death, cardiac arrest or the sudden loss of consciousness.

Though Romov hasn’t worked with Wright before, she first expressed interest in his work after viewing one of his guest lectures.

For the research, the team is looking at the DNA, learning how to block the disease mutation and creating a “molecular Band-Aid” to cover it up, Romov said.

The scholarship includes $18,600 to funnel into her research.

Romov said the scholarship is competitive, and she thinks she was chosen because of her dedication to perfection, high grades and drive to help people after her mother passed away from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) almost two years ago.

“It has given me a motivation I don’t think anyone else has unless they’ve been in that situation,” she said. “I want to help people and the fact that science works for me and I love it is secondary.”

Growing up, Romov said she struggled during high school because many of her teachers didn’t realize what was going on in her family life, but she said she was thankful for the competitive curriculum that helped her prepare for college.

Now at JMU, Romov serves on the board for Delta Gamma, a social sorority she said strives towards high grades, and is also a member of TriBeta, an honor society for biology students.

After college, she hopes to work with a biotech company or another institution that will help her pursue a graduate degree. Since Romov said she has been working since she was 14 years old, one of her main goals in life is to become financially independent.

“Going to a job is very exciting for me and I’m excited to learn and work in the science field.”

Photo via JMU/Facebook

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