Newsletter

Morning Notes

NoVA to Expand COVID-19 Vaccine Appointments — Virginia Vaccine Program Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula says that COVID-19 vaccine appointments will become more readily available in Northern Virginia “in the next couple of weeks.” Loudoun County and the City of Alexandria have already entered Phase 2, but appointments may initially become harder to schedule when localities like Fairfax County expand eligibility. [WTOP]

NVTC Requests Congress Support for Tysons Bus Service — The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission sent a letter to Northern Virginia’s Congressional delegation seeking financial support for the Envision Route 7 Bus Rapid Transit project, which aims to establish bus service between Tysons and Alexandria. [NVTC/Twitter]

Inova Officially Takes Over Surgical Partner — “Inova Health System has taken over Fairfax’s Virginia Surgery Associates, in moments of expansion for the Falls Church-based nonprofit and increasing consolidation in the industry. The deal, effective Tuesday, puts VSA’s 47 employees under the growing health system’s umbrella…It also adds four office locations in Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church and Lansdowne, to Inova’s footprint — bringing its total to six general surgery sites in Northern Virginia.” [Washington Business Journal]

Police Make Hire to Support Officer Wellness — “Interim Police Chief David M. Rohrer of the Fairfax County Police Department is pleased to announce, the hiring of Cindy I. Guerra as Director of the Incident Support Services Bureau, following a national search.  Ms. Guerra has formal training in police psychology and extensive experience in police operations, communications and officer wellness and support.” [Fairfax County Police Department]

McLean Art Classes and Summer Camps Begin Registration — Registration is now open for the McLean Project for the Arts’ spring art classes and summer art camps. Classes will take place online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the summer camps are filling up fast and will include in-person and online options. [McLean Community Center]

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Morning Notes

Fairfax County Records Third Pedestrian Death of 2021 — Police reported on Friday (April 9) that Falls Church resident Ramakant Bhusal, 36, was struck by a car while crossing Arlington Boulevard near the Graham Road intersection. Speed and alcohol do not appear to be factors for the driver. [Fairfax County Police Department]

Construction to Begin on Marco Polo Development — Starting today (April 12), the sidewalk in front of 245 Maple Avenue W. in Vienna will be closed for approximately five months “to allow for safety and proper right-of-way during construction.” The mixed-use Vienna Market development was approved to take over the former Marco Polo site in 2019. [Town of Vienna/Twitter]

Inova Seeks Volunteers for COVID-19 Vaccine Site — “Fairfax County has received a request to recruit volunteers to help provide assistance to the Inova Stonebridge COVID-19 Vaccination Center in Alexandria, which provides COVID-19 vaccines predominately for individuals who reside and/or work in Fairfax County.” [Fairfax County Government]

Fairfax County Holds Virtual Budget Public Hearings This Week — Community members can weigh in on the county’s proposed FY 2022 budget and capital improvement program on Tuesday through Thursday (April 13-15). The Town of Vienna and City of Falls Church are also holding budget meetings this week. [Fairfax County Government]

Ramadan Begins Today — Agora Tysons (7911 Westpark Dr.) is one of several restaurants in the D.C. area offering halal-friendly options for carry-out and delivery in lieu of extended holiday hours during the Muslim holy month. [Dine After Dark]

Mosaic District Displays COVID-19 PSA — “Many thanks to @mosaicdistrict for showing our #COVID19 Spanish language PSA on the big screen reminding folks on the importance of wearing a mask, washing your hands & employing physical distancing.” [Northern Virginia Regional Commission/Twitter]

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Morning Notes

Virginia Becomes First Southern State to Abolish the Death Penalty — Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation yesterday (Wednesday) that made Virginia the 23rd state to eliminate the death penalty. The move reflected a “dramatic shift” for a state that has recorded the second-most executions in the U.S. Del. Mark Keam (D-Vienna) celebrated the new law as “one of the most consequential votes” he’s cast in his 12 General Assembly sessions. [Associated Press]

Inova Mass COVID-19 Vaccination Site to Open Next Week — The mass vaccination facility that Inova Health Systems is setting up in Alexandria will open next Monday (March 29), Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay says. The site has the capacity to vaccinate about 12,000 people per day and “will be particularly helpful to those in South County.” [Chairman Jeff McKay]

Judge Sets Hearing for Park Police Shooting of McLean Resident — U.S. District Court Judge Claude M. Hilton has scheduled a status hearing for April 23 to determine whether the two Park Police officers charged in the 2017 fatal shooting of Bijan Ghaisar “can be criminally prosecuted by the state of Virginia…or whether they fall under amnesty for federal officers from state criminal laws.” [The Washington Post]

Virginia Senator Discusses Experience with COVID-19 — “During a Senate health committee hearing earlier this month, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine made a surprising admission: Long after contracting COVID-19, the Virginia Democrat is still experiencing strange symptoms. Kaine revealed last May that he and his wife had tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies following an onset of symptoms in March.” [U.S. News]

Falls Church Native Develops Website to Help Navigate Vaccine Registration — 20-year-old Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology graduate Eric Lin worked with a classmate at Harvard University to design a website called COVID Vaccines Info Guide that “would act as a one-stop-shop that provides comprehensive information for all 50 states.” [Falls Church News-Press]

McLean Resident Opposes Proposed Comprehensive Plan Changes — A Dominion Woods resident argues that Fairfax County’s proposals for revitalizing downtown McLean would overburden schools and create longer commutes by inviting an influx of new residents with “little upside” for existing residents. He says residential construction should be capped at 960 units over the next 10 years, high rises should be prohibited on properties next to Franklin Sherman Elementary School, and additional traffic studies should be conducted. [Connection Newspapers]

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Fairfax County’s COVID-19 inoculation efforts are about to get a major boost in the form of a new mass vaccination site that’s expected to open by the end of March.

The county is collaborating with the City of Alexandria and Inova Health Systems to convert Alexandria’s Victory Center (5001 Eisenhower Avenue) into a mass vaccination center that could accommodate thousands of people looking to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

At a press conference yesterday (Tuesday), Inova President and CEO Dr. Stephen Jones said that, depending on the availability of supplies, the planned facility could enable the healthcare system to dispense 6,000 vaccine doses per day, doubling its current rate of roughly 3,000 doses a day.

“I feel a responsibility to get as many people vaccinated as possible,” Jones said.

Once it opens, the vaccination center will serve residents of Alexandria and Fairfax County. Eligible individuals must pre-register to get in line for an appointment either through the Fairfax County Health Department or, for non-county residents, the state registration system.

According to its website, Inova is currently assisting Fairfax County with eligible adults between the ages of 65 and 74, but it has also served essential workers, including Fairfax County Public Schools teachers.

While the pace of vaccinations continues to be limited by supply availability, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay says the addition of the Victory Center as a vaccination site will ensure the county and Inova can keep up as more vaccines start to come in.

According to the county’s vaccine data dashboard, Fairfax County’s latest shipment from the Virginia Department of Health included 19,220 doses for the week of March 1-7, a step up from the 13,000 doses that the county was typically getting just a few weeks ago.

As of 5:30 p.m. yesterday, there were more than 106,000 people on the FCHD waitlist. 298,332 people have registered to get a COVID-19 vaccine through the county health department, which has allocated 217,476 doses either by administering them itself or distributing them to partners like Inova.

“We were told by the [state] to expect a major increase in doses in the coming weeks,” McKay said. “We want to have the infrastructure to take care of those doses. We can’t control the dosage, but what is in our control is capacity.”

Inova chose the Victory Center in Alexandria for its mass vaccine clinic because of the building’s size and proximity to local transit facilities, including the Van Dorn Street Metro station.

The accessibility of the COVID-19 vaccine has been a top concern for Fairfax County in recent weeks, as health officials say the populations most affected by the pandemic have faced more challenges in getting vaccinated, often due to vaccine hesitancy or limited access to transportation, internet, and other services.

The county has been working to expand its partnerships with other localities, healthcare providers, and community organizations to reach different communities, though the process has not been entirely conflict-free.

McKay encourages everyone who is eligible to get the vaccine to take advantage of any chance to do so.

“This is an act of necessary charity,” McKay said. “It’s not about us, but about every person we interact with, like grocery store workers, transit workers, your children and their teachers…This gives us a convenient opportunity to do the right thing.”

Vernon Miles contributed to this report.

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Monday Morning Notes

Public Hearings on Metro Budget Begin Today — The Metro Board of Directors is holding virtual public hearings this week on the transit agency’s proposed FY 2022 budget, which could significantly reduce rail service and close 22 stations, including the McLean station. The first meeting starts at 11 a.m. today, and the hearing scheduled for 6 p.m. on Wednesday (March 10) will focus on changes in Virginia. [WMATA]

Police Report More Commercial Burglaries in Tysons Area — Between Feb. 27 and March 4, Fairfax County police responded to burglaries at Sunoco (8030 Lee Highway), Grand Mart (6326 Arlington Blvd.), Ba Le Bakery (2822 Graham Rd.), Exxon (2081 Chain Bridge Rd.), and Macy’s (8000 Tysons Corner Center). [Fairfax County Police Department]

Inova and UVA Open New Medical Campus in Fairfax — The University of Virginia School of Medicine welcomed its first class of 36 medical students to a new campus developed in partnership with Inova Health Systems. Students will primarily train on the Inova Fairfax Medical Campus in Falls Church, but they will have opportunities to work across the nonprofit healthcare system’s facilities. [Inside NoVA]

School Board Votes to Advance Solar Panel Program — The Fairfax County School Board voted unanimously to move forward with a program to install solar panels on school buildings in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and electricity costs. Discussions are currently underway for projects at three schools, but Fairfax County’s original request for proposals included 87 sites. [Fairfax County Public Schools]

Deadline Approaching for McLean Community Center Governing Board Candidates — Petitions to become a candidate for a seat on MCC’s governing board must be submitted by 5 p.m. this Friday (March 12). There are three open seats on the board for adults and two for youth. [McLean Community Center/Twitter]

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Updated at 5:25 p.m. — Inova Health Systems does not conduct credit checks when people looking to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine appointment create an account on its MyChart patient portal, a spokesperson told Tysons Reporter.

The spokesperson clarified that Inova does an identity verfication check to ensure that patient information is accurate since the healthcare system is working off of the Fairfax County Health Department’s registration queue.

Inova also says that people have the option to upload a photo of their health insurance card, but it is not required to create a MyChart account.

“There’s nothing more important to us than vaccinating as many people as possible, but we need to make sure we’re doing so in a safe, reliable, and secure way,” Inova Chief Communications Officer Tracey Schroeder said, noting that Inova has administered a total of over 186,000 COVID-19 vaccine shots.

Inova says MyChart gives it a way to confirm patient identities and report data on COVID-19 vaccinations to the Virginia Department of Health as required by the state.

Earlier: While Fairfax County has smoothed out many of the issues that plagued the early rollout of its COVID-19 vaccine registration system, frustrations have now emerged around a key partner in the county’s vaccination efforts: the Inova Health System.

Eligible Fairfax County residents can get in line for a vaccine appointment with Inova by pre-registering through the county’s health department, but to actually schedule the appointment, the healthcare system requires that individuals create an account for its MyChart patient portal, a process that county leaders say is overly demanding in the type of information people are expected to provide.

During a health and human services committee meeting on Tuesday (Mar. 2), the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors urged county staff to work with Inova to address concerns about its scheduling process, which Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said seems to be “a bit more intrusive in their questions.”

“If you go through the county, it’s a beautiful process at this point. If you go through Inova, it is very troubling,” Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust said. “Some people are refusing to go through that process, and that just puts it back on our health department to try to figure out what to do with those people, so something needs to be done.”

To create a MyChart account, users must undergo a credit check and upload a photo of their health insurance card, which could be challenging for people who don’t have a smartphone or are inexperienced with using that technology. (Correction: Inova says that it conducts a patient identity check, not a credit check, and that the option to upload a photo of a health insurance card is not mandatory)

The sign-up form also asks for the last four digits of the applicant’s social security number, though an astrisked note clarifies that it is not required.

According to Inova, this information is requested to verify patients’ identities, and it has no impact on a person’s insurance or credit score.

“MyChart provides for a more reliable registration system and a more consistent patient/user experience,” Inova said in a statement to Tysons Reporter. “Use of MyChart helps us to better manage appointments, vaccine supply, and to provide more accurate data to the [Virginia] Health Department. It also enables same day scheduling — which the health department’s system does not — so if there are cancellations, someone can fill that vacant slot.”

Inova says it has been modifying the registration and scheduling process based on user feedback.

“Maintaining a positive patient experience is important to us,” Inova said. “We’ve been listening to feedback and making changes to streamline the registration process while also balancing the imperative to verify patient identify and protect personal medical information.”

The Fairfax County Health Department confirmed that it is working with Inova to resolve these concerns.

Inova is currently assisting the county in vaccinating residents between the ages of 65 and 74. The healthcare system has also hosted clinics for eligible essential workers, including public school teachers and staff, and emergency first responders.

The county health department has emphasized that people should not let questions about health insurance deter them from getting vaccinated, stating that the COVID-19 vaccines are free but some providers will ask for the information in order to collect administrative fees from the insurance company.

Fairfax County leaders fear that confusion stemming from differences in the registration and scheduling process used by various providers could make administering the COVID-19 vaccine more difficult.

“We are already hearing from people that proof of medical insurance or proof of residency or citizenship are being required,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said at Tuesday’s committee meeting. “Frankly, my opinion is we shouldn’t be partnering with folks who have to do that deep of a probe or else we’re building even more hesitancy problems in the future.”

Photo via Google Maps

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Just a few days before Valentine’s Day, about 650 volunteers in the Tysons area and Fairfax County made medical workers at Inova Hospital their valentine.

The nonprofit organization Volunteer Fairfax distributed about 7,000 handmade pink and red cards yesterday (Tuesday) to Inova nurses outside the Inova Heart and Vascular Institute and throughout the Inova Children’s Hospital in Falls Church.

“This many cards, from this many people, shows that the community acknowledges what we’re going through,” nurse Sabeena Jamali said.

Volunteer Fairfax has been delivering handmade Valentine’s Day cards for 10 years now, but this year, volunteers crafted 10,000 cards — more than ever before, according to Volunteer Fairfax Communications Director Lorna Clarke.

3,000 cards are earmarked for children who are in or graduating from the foster care system.

Before the novel coronavirus, the organization would take over a fire station during Martin Luther King Jr. weekend — as an homage to his legacy of service — and people would come to make cards in person, Clarke said. This typically yielded 3,000 to 5,000 cards.

She attributed the huge influx of cards this year to a practical reason — volunteers were able to do this from home — as well as a sentimental one, as appreciation has deepened in the community for healthcare workers and the sacrifices they make.

Inova is one of the largest employers in the region, but it is easy to take it for granted when driving past the campus on the way to work, Volunteer Fairfax CEO Stephen Mutty said.

“We wanted to raise awareness and say thank you,” he said, crediting Tysons for its “demographic of caring, socially engaged people.”

For Inova President Steve Narang, Valentine’s Day is a special holiday because it gives people a chance to reflect on what it means to have a connection to another person. The cards establish and reinforce a connection between a hospital worker and someone in the community.

“You could see it in their eyes, the recognition that ‘I’m still being seen,'” Narang said.

Case manager Ruth Mahat said she is going to put her Valentine up in the break room to cheer her up whenever she rushes in to grab something or has to step away because she feels overwhelmed.

“Seeing the card brings your morale up,” Mahat said. “Someone in the community is thinking about you and appreciates what you do.”

Image via Volunteer Fairfax

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Thursday Morning Notes

Broad and Washington Project Unanimously Approved — “A major mixed use development project at the City of Falls Church’s central intersection of Washington and Broad Streets (Rts. 29 and 7) to feature a huge new Whole Foods grocery was approved unanimously by the F.C. City Council Monday night.” [Falls Church News-Press]

Bloomingdale’s to Experiment with Downsized Store at Mosaic District — “The retailer’s small-format concept, dubbed Bloomie’s, is set to open this fall in Virginia’s Mosaic District shopping complex, reported FN’s sister publication WWD. It’s expected to span roughly 22,000 square feet — a departure from the chain’s average department store size, which measures about 200,000 square feet.” [Footwear News, Mosaic District/Twitter]

Virginia Extends COVID-19 Restrictions Through February — Gov. Ralph Northam has extended mask requirements and restrictions on social gatherings through the end of February. He also announced that the state will get a greater supply of vaccine and addressed questions about a gap between doses distributed and doses administered in a news conference on Wednesday. [Patch]

First Responders Flash Lights for Kids at Inova Children’s Hospital — “Tonight, we were honored to participate in a “flashlight salute” at @InovaHealth Children’s Hospital along with @DLVFRD and @FairfaxCountyPD. We turned on our emergency lights and shined our flashlights at the kids and they returned the favor!” [Vienna Volunteer Fire Department/Twitter]

Virginia Makes COVID-19 Workplace Safety Standards Permanent — “The new regulations, approved last week by Gov. Ralph Northam, require all employers in the state to provide personal protective equipment when workers can’t physically distance, close or control access to common areas like lunchrooms, develop safe “return to work” plans for workers recovering from COVID-19, and regularly clean areas with heavy foot traffic, among other measures. Employees who interact with the public must wear masks.” [DCist]

Photo via Vienna Volunteer Fire Department/Twitter

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(Updated at 10:15 a.m.) Inova Health Systems has cancelled all appointments for people looking to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Starting today (Tuesday), the nonprofit healthcare provider will cease administering first doses of the Pfizer-BioTech vaccine for the foreseeable future due to a change to the Virginia Department of Health’s distribution process that has “severely diminished” supplies for Inova.

According to Inova, vaccine doses are now being sent directly to local health districts, which are responsible for allocating supplies.

“We understand and share the frustration that this news brings to our patients,” Inova said. “When we receive more supply inventory, we will first prioritize patients who had an appointment scheduled and then focus on opening further appointments up to eligible groups.”

Anyone whose appointment has been canceled will be contacted by Inova to reschedule once the needed supplies are available.

People who have already received a first dose and need a second one will be prioritized, and their appointments have not been affected, Inova says.

Inova says it has administered more than 70,000 vaccine doses to healthcare workers and select groups in phase 1b of Virginia’s COVID-19 vaccination plan, including patients aged 75 and older, emergency first responders, public safety personnel, and school employees.

Fairfax County Public Schools formed a partnership with Inova that enabled about 40,000 teachers and staff to start receiving the vaccine on Jan. 16. FCPS spokesperson Lucy Caldwell said then that all workers who wanted the vaccine should be able to get the two required doses through Inova’s clinics, which were expected to last three weeks.

“This is very disappointing news but we will continue to work with our partners from Inova and the Fairfax County Health Dept to secure vaccine for our staff as soon as we can,” FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand said in a statement. “We must keep the faith.”

With vaccinations stalled, the union that represents FCPS educators and staff called on Brabrand to hold off on plans to resume in-person learning for students.

“Educators want more than anyone to be back in schools, but COVID-19 continues to surge in our community,” Fairfax County Federation of Teachers President Tina Williams said in a statement. “We urge Fairfax County Public Schools to alter the return to school timeline given the current health metrics and this unfortunate shift in vaccine availability for school staff.”

The changes in vaccine distribution methods will also reduce the already insufficient supply available to the Fairfax County Health Department, according to Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay.

McKay explained the changes in a newsletter released last night:

The Virginia Department of Health has announced that they will only receive 105,000 vaccine doses per week from the federal government. For context, last week the Fairfax County Health Department alone received over 22,000 doses from VDH for the 168,000 residents eligible for a vaccine. This is in part due to two changes at the federal and state levels, not the County level. At the federal level, there is a nationwide shortage of COVID-19 vaccine. At the state level, unfortunately they have decided to change distribution to per capita, as opposed to the amounts County’s and hospital’s have ordered.

McKay says the county will prioritize the more than 50,000 people 75 and older who had registered to get vaccinated before Virginia expanded eligibility for phase 1b. Public safety personnel and people living in correctional facilities and homeless shelters will continue to get the vaccine through special clinics.

“It is profoundly unfortunate that despite all of our efforts at the local level that we must again ask for patience, which is frustrating for all of us,” McKay said. “I hate to have to share this news, but I also want to be transparent about the situation we are in.”

Photo by Karen Bolt/Fairfax County Public Schools

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In recognition of National Blood Donor Month, which occurs every January, volunteer fire departments throughout Fairfax County will partner with Inova Blood Donor Services to host blood drives this month.

While the need for blood donations is constant, it has become especially urgent in recent months after the COVID-19 pandemic made volunteers wary and prompted many blood drive cancellations last year.

“Due to current events, blood supplies in Fairfax County and the nation are at dangerously low levels and dropping,” the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department said in a press release.

Inova Blood Donor Services says it must collect 200 units of blood per day in order to adequately support the community. The supply also needs to be continually renewed, because donated blood has a limited shelf life of 42 days.

Inova’s red blood cell inventory indicates that, as of Jan. 4, it is low on supplies for all blood types except for A negative.

The organization has implemented a number of precautionary measures to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19 at blood donation events, including requiring staff to wear masks and suspending walk-ins to ensure social distancing can be maintained.

Here is the schedule for this month’s Fairfax County volunteer fire department blood drives:

  • Jan. 13, 1-7 p.m. — Burke Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department, Fairfax County Fire Station 14. 9501 Old Burke Lake Rd., Burke, VA 22015. NOTE: One appointment left.
  • Jan. 19, 1-7 p.m. — McLean Volunteer Fire Department, Fairfax County Fire Station 1. 1455 Laughlin Ave McLean, VA 22101.
  • Jan. 25, 12:30-6:30 p.m. — Greater Springfield Volunteer Fire Department, Fairfax County Fire Station 22. 7011 Backlick Rd., Springfield, VA 22150.
  • Jan. 30, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. — Vienna Volunteer Fire Department, Fairfax County Fire Station 2. 400 Center Street South Vienna, VA 22180.

The drives will all take place in the individual station parking lots. Access to the fire stations will be prohibited “to help protect our firefighters and paramedics,” FCFRD says.

People interested in signing up to donate at any of the drives can register through the Inova Blood Donor Services website.

Images via Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, Inova Blood Donor Services

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