Joint Statement Released on Settlement of FCPS Disability Lawsuit — As first reported by The Washington Post in late November, Fairfax County Public Schools has settled a lawsuit over its use of restraint and seclusion on students with disabilities. The students and disability advocacy organizations that filed the case say they hope “this resolution will ensure that no other student will ever have to experience such trauma.” [FCPS]
Thousands Donate Child Face Masks to County — “Thank you to the community for coming together to donate child face masks! We have collected 12,065 masks! Thank you to @FairfaxCountyPD for hosting the donations bin and @VolunteerFFX for all your help putting together donations!” [Ready Fairfax/Twitter]
Metro to Testify on Safety Issues in Congress — Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11th) says he will call on Metro’s top leaders to testify at a congressional hearing about the safety issues spotlighted by October’s train derailment, which have kept more than half the transit agency’s fleet out of commission for almost two months now. Connolly, who represents Fairfax County, calls Metro’s failure to report the issues when they were discovered years ago “a mortal sin.” [NBC4]
Fairfax Stands Alone With Court Records Paywall — “While all other Northern Virginia jurisdictions provide free, remote public access to basic docket information for individual criminal and civil cases in circuit court, Fairfax County’s CPAN system costs $150 per quarter, or $600 per year.” [WTOP]
I-495 Lane Closures in Tysons Continue — “Lane closures and ramp closures on I-495 North and I-66 East will be implemented during the overnight hours again this week, December 13-17, as bridge beam installation for a new flyover ramp from I-495 North to I-66 West continues at the I-66/I-495 Interchange as part of the Transform 66 Outside the Beltway Project.” [VDOT]
Man Arrested in Vienna Shooting — A 25-year-old Manassas man has been charged with malicious wounding and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon after a shooting in the Navy Federal Credit Union parking lot at 801 Follin Lane SE. Police found a male victim who had been shot in the upper torso around 12:36 a.m. yesterday (Thursday) in what investigators believe was a personal dispute with no greater threat to the community. [Vienna Police Department]
Fairfax County Pushes to Vaccinate Unhoused Residents — “Hutson is one of roughly 1,200 unhoused residents in Fairfax County, according to the county’s January 2021 point-in-time count…Getting COVID-19 vaccines to this transient — and highly vulnerable — population is a major challenge for public health staff like Vukadinovich.” [DCist]
County Seeks Kid-Sized Mask Donations — The Fairfax County Health Department hopes to collect 10,000 new, unused face masks that can fit children who are too young to get vaccinated, particularly toddlers and school-aged kids. Masks can be dropped off at all local police stations and will help the county fill requests from nonprofit partners. [FCHD]
Falls Church Cuts Ribbon on New High School Campus — “It was the major ceremony that officials here have been working toward for more than a decade. At Homecoming Week at Meridian High School, the brand-spanking new $120 million high school facility was formally dedicated with a ribbon cutting last Saturday morning.” [Falls Church News-Press]
Latter-Day Saints Opens New Wolf Trap Church — “A new meetinghouse for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been completed in the Wolf Trap area and will offer public tours during an open house. The new meetinghouse at 1632 Crowell Road, Vienna will serve residents of Vienna, McLean, Reston, and other nearby communities. The estimated membership is 600 Latter-day Saints.” [Patch]
Capital One Delays Office Reopening Again — “The McLean-based financial giant has opted not to reopen its offices in a hybrid format Nov. 2. It first announced in June it would reopen in September, then in August delayed that until November. Hybrid remains the plan, but the company will no longer attempt to forecast a date as to when that might be implemented.” [Washington Business Journal]
(Updated at 10:15 a.m.) Exactly one month before it opens to the public for the first time, Capital One Hall has announced that all patrons will be required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test in order to attend an event.
Attendees will also be required to wear face masks while inside Tysons’ new performing arts venue except when they’re actively eating or drinking.
According to an email sharing the new policies, either a hard-copy vaccine card or a photo can be used as proof of vaccination, but the last dose must have been administered at least 14 days prior to the event. Individuals must also have a form of photo identification with a name that matches the one on their card.
For those who choose to present proof of a negative COVID-19 test instead, the test must be one approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it must have been taken within 48 hours of entering Capital One Hall.
A spokesperson for Capital One Center, the mixed-use development that’s emerging around the financial giant’s headquarters in Tysons, says the mask and vaccination policies were determined by ASM Global, the company that operates Capital One Hall.
“Their decision and rationale is fact-based, on guidance from experts, feedback from their network of venues around best-practices, input from shows/tours/acts, and the like,” the spokesperson wrote in an email, adding that the requirements will also be in place for both full and part-time employees.
According to the spokesperson, Capital One Hall is expected to soon have its protocols and health risk mitigation best practices certified by the Global Biorisk Advisory Council, an international network that evaluates facilities for their preparedness and response to infectious disease and biohazard situations.
“The policy at Capital One Hall is continuously reviewed as conditions and circumstances change, and any changes will be communicated directly to ticket holders and the policy updated on the Capital One Hall website,” the Capital One Center spokesperson said.
Capital One Hall will kick off its inaugural season on Oct. 2 with an 8 p.m. show by the country band Little Big Town.
Since confirming a performer for the first time in early June, the performing arts center has filled out its initial season with musical, comedy, theater, orchestral, and family-oriented acts. The full schedule can be found on the Capital One Hall website.
The venue consists of a 1,600-seat main theater as well as a 225-seat black box theater called The Vault. Other amenities include a terrace, an atrium for weddings and other events, a conference board room, and meeting rooms that can also function as classrooms.
The 11th floor of the building features The Perch, a 2.5-acre park that includes an amphitheater, a dog park, and the Starr Hill Biergarten, which opened to the public on Aug. 21. The Perch is scheduled to have a three-day grand opening event on Sept. 17-19.
The Watermark Hotel, a 25-floor, 300-suite luxury hotel that sits above Capital One Hall, is set to open on Sept. 21.
Petersen Says School Reopening Bill Doesn’t Support Mask Mandate — State Sens. Siobhan S. Dunnavant (R-12th) and Chap Petersen (D-34th), whose district includes Vienna, sent a letter to local superintendents and school boards on Aug. 18 that suggested they aren’t obligated to comply with Virginia’s mask mandate for schools. The senators took issue with Gov. Ralph Northam citing their bill that required schools to provide in-person learning this fall to justify the mask requirement. [The Washington Post]
Bird Feeding Can Resume — The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources says people can start putting out bird feeders again with some precautionary measures in place after reports of a mysterious illness sickening and sometimes killing birds have declined. The state agency started documenting the issue in late May and later released a map that shows Fairfax and Arlington counties were most affected. [Patch]
Disabled McLean Artist Dies — “Wendi ‘Paige’ Crouch, a McLean resident who overcame a devastating car crash and became an accomplished artist by learning how to paint with a brush in her mouth, died Aug. 19 at age 61…Crouch prided herself on brush control and tried to achieve photo-realism in her works. She worked at a drafting table with sufficient room below to accommodate her motorized wheelchair.” [Sun Gazette]
Credit Union CEO Reflects on Choice of Tysons for HQ — “In 2016, PenFed announced that it selected Tysons — the largest commercial district in Fairfax County — for its new headquarters after a regional search. [James] Schenck said he could not be happier with the location decision for managing PenFed’s worldwide credit union operations and for engaging in charitable initiatives to help veterans through the PenFed Foundation.” [Fairfax County Economic Development Authority]
An online petition calling for Fairfax County Public Schools to provide a virtual learning option when the new school year starts on Aug. 23 has garnered some support.
Citing concerns about kids returning in person amid increases in COVID-19 cases, the Change.org petition asks FCPS to shift to a hybrid model to let families choose between in-person and virtual instruction, a setup that the district adopted for the 2020-2021 academic year due to the pandemic.
“While we understand that in-person school is the best option for our kids to learn and grow, safeguarding our kids during a pandemic is equally important to their wellbeing,” the petition says.
As of yesterday afternoon (Wednesday), the petition had garnered more than 2,000 signatures, with people continuing to sign it and post comments.
Parents voiced numerous concerns through the petition. One mother noted she’s concerned about her unvaccinated sons with asthma, while another parent shared that their family would send their children to school if they’re fully vaccinated.
Though some community members have been vocally opposed to virtual learning, including a group that has been campaigning to recall Fairfax County School Board members, some petition signers said there’s no reason why virtual schooling must be discontinued.
FCPS will have a limited virtual program for this upcoming school year for some students. Families had to complete an eligibility form that required a health or medical certification of need from a licensed physician, nurse practitioner, psychiatrist, or a licensed psychologist.
The application window for the program closed May 28.
FCPS says 99.5% of its students will attend school in person five days a week this upcoming school year.
“We believe that in-person learning is the best approach to instruction, and are focused on providing a safe and positive learning experience for all students,” FCPS spokesperson Jennifer Sellers said in a statement.
State legislators passed a law this spring requiring public schools to provide in-person instruction for the 2021-2022 school year, though school boards can shift to entirely remote or hybrid learning “only for as long as it is necessary to address and ameliorate the level of transmission of COVID-19 in the school building.”
With the Delta variant fueling a resurgence in COVID-19 transmission in Virginia and the U.S., FCPS announced at the end of July that all students, teachers, staff, and visitors will be required to wear masks inside school buildings.
The policy initially exempted vaccinated staff when students aren’t present, but FCPS said in a newsletter released yesterday that the mask requirement has been expanded to include everyone, regardless of vaccination status or location.
“We are aware that COVID-19 case numbers are rising in Fairfax County, driven by the highly contagious Delta variant and slowing vaccination rates,” Sellers said. “We have put layered prevention strategies in place to counter this rise. The American Academy of Pediatrics Guidance recommends a continued focus on layered prevention strategies, including universal mask wearing for all students and staff.”
FCPS says it’s confident that its strategies will “support a safe and healthy environment in our schools for our students and staff — especially those who are not yet able to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.”
While visiting a vaccine clinic last week, Superintendent Scott Brabrand said FCPS is preparing to have vaccines administered to students in schools once the Food and Drug Administration approves its use for younger kids.
Virginia health officials said earlier this week that they anticipate the FDA will approve vaccines for children aged 5 to 11 in September, when the federal agency is also expected to give full approval to the vaccines that have been authorized for use in the U.S.
Falls Church City Requires Masks and Distancing — “Masks and social distancing are now required for all visitors and employees — regardless of vaccination status — in City of Falls Church facilities, including City Hall, the Community Center, and the Mary Riley Styles Public Library when it reopens. This safety precaution mirrors the rules in other Northern Virginia jurisdictions.” [City of Falls Church]
D.C. Restaurant Week Returns — The Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington’s annual D.C. Restaurant Week kicked off yesterday (Monday) and will last through Sunday (Aug. 15), with many participants again offering to-go options. Tysons venues include Agora Tysons, The Capital Grille, La Sandia, and more. [Viva Tysons]
Vienna Outback Steakhouse Eyed for Another Drive-Thru Bank — “Chase Bank is seeking a conditional use permit for a bank with a drive-thru ATM at 315 Maple Avenue East. The existing one-story building at Maple Avenue East and Glyndon Street SE would be demolished and replaced with a new bank and drive-thru ATM. The project requires review from the town’s Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals.” [Patch]
Capital One Exec Appointed to Fairfax County EDA — Joe Vidulich, federal government relations director of Capital One, joined the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority Board yesterday (Monday) after the Board of Supervisors approved the addition. The Virginia General Assembly passed a law earlier this year allowing the board to expand from seven to nine seats. [Fairfax County]
Masks Now Required in County Facilities — “Beginning Monday, Aug. 9, all employees and visitors — regardless of vaccination status — will be required to wear a mask while inside all Fairfax County facilities to help stop the spread of COVID-19…The rise in COVID-19 cases has resulted in the Fairfax Health District moving from moderate to substantial community transmission. This is due to the on-going spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus.” [Fairfax County Health Department]
Suspect in Ritz Carlton Stabbing Identified — D.C. resident Igor Koob, 34, was treated for non-life-threatening injuries and arrested for aggravated malicious wounding after he allegedly stabbed a woman at The Ritz Carlton in Tysons on Wednesday (Aug. 4). The woman had stab wounds to her upper body, and as of Friday (Aug. 6), she was still in the hospital for life-threatening injuries, according the Fairfax County Police Department’s weekly crime report. [FCPD]
Falls Church Candidates Launch Campaigns — “This week marked the formal launch of two campaigns in what will be a busy fall season in Falls Church leading up to the November 2 election to fill three of seven seats on the City Council and School Board here. Vice Mayor Marybeth Connelly launched her campaign as one of six candidates seeking election to the City Council, and first time candidate David Ortiz announced the launch of his campaign as one of eight candidates all running for the first time for School Board.” [Falls Church News-Press]
(Updated at 2:30 p.m.) The Fairfax County Courthouse is renewing its mask policy once again even as the judicial system tries to inch back to normal amid a backlog of cases.
The Fairfax County Circuit Court issued an amended order today (Wednesday) stating that, effective immediately, masks will again be required to enter the judicial complex and in all public areas in the courthouse, though judges have the authority to let individuals take off their masks in their courtrooms.
At the same time, courts are starting to resume more in-person procedures. Plexiglass barriers have been installed to keep jurors socially distanced, and defense attorneys as of last month have been able to meet with clients in the jail rather than trusting in Zoom to meet confidentially.
But amid the safety efforts, many cases have been delayed, putting a pause on justice.
“The backlog remains a major factor in our operations and is unlikely to be fully resolved for years,” said Ben Shnider, a spokesperson for Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano.
Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that vaccinated people wear masks indoors in areas with high or substantial COVID-19 transmission, which now includes Fairfax County.
The Fairfax County Courthouse says its reversal was due to the CDC update but noted that a presiding judge may direct otherwise in individual courtrooms.
Inside the courthouse, there’s yet to be a criminal trial with the new plexiglass format for the county’s chief public defender, Dawn Butorac, who wonders if the changes will influence jurors’ perceptions.
“It’ll be interesting to see how a witness is perceived in that environment,” she said. “It’ll be closer to normal.”
Under a transition plan that was last adopted on July 7, the Fairfax County Circuit Court restarted in-person hearings for all civil trials and non-Friday motions on July 1.
The courthouse installed the plexiglass changes this summer to increase the number of criminal trials, but backlogs remain throughout the system.
During the pandemic, arrests continued, but courts scaled back operations. Notably, in early 2020, the Virginia Supreme Court suspended a state law that adds another level of protection to one’s constitutional right to speedy trials. The suspension was renewed in September.
Even as operations ramp back up, citizens still have the option to postpone jury duty when summoned to court. COVID-19 questionnaires allow people to postpone their legally required obligation, depending on individuals’ circumstances regarding the virus. Exemptions include health conditions such as cancer, obesity, heart issues, and asthma, as well as pregnancy and smoking.
While the backlog in cases will still be a challenge, Fairfax County’s most recent budget enabled the commonwealth attorney’s office to add 15 positions, increasing its staff to 83.
That means there will be 50 prosecutors compared to 25 attorneys in the public defender’s office, according to Butorac.
“In theory…we have progressive prosecutors that should be prosecuting less,” Butorac said.
Descano and his office have sought to adopt a progressive approach that seeks alternatives to jail sentences when possible, arguing that diversion efforts can keep people from being unnecessarily criminalized and help prevent recidivism.
According to Descano’s office, it will continue to prioritize alternatives to incarceration when a case “best meets the safety and justice needs of the community.” In a statement, Shnider said prosecutors are trained to avoid reflexively seeking the most punitive outcome in every case.
Photo via Google Maps
Fairfax County has reached “substantial” community transmission of COVID-19, and as a result, health officials are now recommending that everyone wear a face masks in public indoor settings, regardless of their vaccination status.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had rated the spread of the coronavirus in Fairfax County as “moderate” as recently as Monday (Aug. 2), but that changed when the federal agency updated its COVID-19 data tracker yesterday afternoon (Tuesday).
The shift in categorization brings the county in line with every other jurisdiction in Northern Virginia. The CDC calculates the level of community transmission based on the total number of new cases per 100,000 persons and the testing positivity rate over the last seven days.
The Fairfax County Health Department and Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay noted in separate statements that the new mask recommendation is in line with current CDC and Virginia Department of Health guidance.
“We will continue to follow the data and spread messaging about the effectiveness of mask wearing, particularly around populations like children who are unable to be vaccinated,” McKay said. “As I have said many times before, the most important thing anyone can do is to get vaccinated if you are eligible.”
Fairfax County has seen an exponential increase in COVID-19 cases since mid-June, when the county was seeing so few cases that its weekly average dipped into negative numbers.
In comparison, the Fairfax Health District, including the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, reported 124 new cases yesterday, matching the single-day high for this summer previously set on Sunday (Aug. 1). The seven-day average is now 92.8 cases and could eventually return to the triple digits for the first time since April 28, according to Virginia Department of Health data.
The county is averaging 8.1 new cases per 100,000 people over the past week, and the current seven-day testing positivity rate was 4.7% as of July 30, the highest it has been since April 30.
The Fairfax County Health Department has attributed the virus’ resurgence to the spread of the delta variant, which the CDC says is especially transmissible.
Data suggesting that the delta variant can be spread by people who have been vaccinated led the CDC to amend its health guidance for fully vaccinated people on July 27 to recommend that everyone wear a mask indoors in areas with substantial or high spread.
Fairfax County’s announcement about wearing masks echoes advice from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, who said on Thursday (July 29) that people should consider wearing a mask when in public, indoor settings where there is increased risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Like Northam, the county frames its guidance as a recommendation, rather than a requirement. VDH has not yet officially updated its guidelines in response to the CDC’s revisions.
The county health department says wearing a mask indoors is “an important approach to prevent further spread of COVID-19” but emphasizes that it should be combined with other measures, including social distancing, getting tested when symptomatic, and most importantly, getting vaccinated if eligible.
“Despite some breakthrough cases, vaccination remains the most important approach to prevent COVID-19 and particularly to prevent more severe infection,” the FCHD said in its blog post.
As of 11 a.m. yesterday, 761,471 Fairfax Health District residents — 76.5% of adults and 64.3% of the total population — have gotten at least one vaccine dose. 689,700 residents — 69.8% of adults and 58.3% of the total population — have been fully vaccinated.
As of July 30, 99.5% of COVID-19 cases, 98.7% of hospitalizations, and 98% of deaths in Northern Virginia since Jan. 21 have involved people who were not fully vaccinated, according to the state health department.
The Fairfax Health District has recorded 79,735 COVID-19 cases, 4,186 hospitalizations, and 1,152 deaths.
Photo via Engin Akyurt/Unsplash
(Updated at 4:10 p.m.) Virginia recommends that even vaccinated individuals wear masks indoors in certain circumstances, but with different locations experiencing different levels of COVID-19 transmission, the state has stopped short of issuing a mandate.
While some states revised their mask rules shortly after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s announcement on Tuesday (July 27), Virginia had not indicated how it will approach mask-wearing amid rising COVID-19 case levels, with officials saying only that they were reviewing the new guidance.
Gov. Ralph Northam issued the first official statement on the issue via social media on Thursday (July 29), writing that “all Virginians should consider wearing a mask in public indoor settings where there is increased risk of COVD-19 transmission, as the new CDC guidance recommends.”
“This is not a requirement, but a recommendation,” he said.
This is not a requirement, but a recommendation.
— Governor Ralph Northam (@GovernorVA) July 29, 2021
These situations include masking indoors at K-12 schools and in areas of the Commonwealth that have “substantial” community transmission of the virus.
Northam noted in further tweets that there has been a dramatic rise in COVID cases in Virginia over the last month due to the delta variant and that “over 98%” of hospitalizations and deaths are residents who are unvaccinated.
When asked why the state is recommending but not requiring indoor mask-wearing, a Virginia Department of Health spokesperson said the department “doesn’t have anything to add at this moment” beyond Northam’s statement.
When explaining the decision to revise its guidelines, the CDC cited new scientific evidence showing that vaccinated people infected with the delta variant could potentially spread the virus to others. While the available vaccines effectively protect against severe illness and hospitalizations, the findings concerned officials enough to prompt a reversal of sorts after mask requirements were eased in May.
“This new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update to our recommendations,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky said.
With case numbers climbing locally, as they have elsewhere around the country, Fairfax County has moved to put new rules in place in the hopes of slowing the virus’ spread without jeopardizing plans to reopen workplaces and schools.
Fairfax County Public Schools announced yesterday (Wednesday) that it will require universal masking in school buildings regardless of an individual’s vaccination status, and the Board of Supervisors approved a motion on Tuesday (July 27) to evaluate whether to implement a vaccine mandate for 12,000 county employees.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said in a statement that he supports a shift back to wearing masks indoors for places with high COVID-19 transmission and around people who are unable to get vaccinated:
With the delta variant surging in unvaccinated communities, I support masking in areas with more people vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 who aren’t able to be vaccinated (such as schools) and areas with a high risk of transmission. In Fairfax County we will continue to follow state guidelines on masking and sharing the effectiveness of masking to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Currently, 76% of Fairfax Health District residents over the age of 18 have received at least one dose of the vaccine and 69.4% are fully vaccinated, according to the Fairfax County Health Department’s vaccine dashboard.
Health experts and public officials continue to reiterate that vaccines are the best tools in the fight against the pandemic.
“The vaccine is the strongest tool we have to fight this pandemic,” McKay wrote. “For the sake of our economic recovery, sending students back to school, and returning to normal, we need even more people to get vaccinated. If you aren’t vaccinated, go to vaccine.gov to get scheduled, there are appointments available near you!”
In terms of transmission rates, Fairfax County is currently doing better than many other Virginia counties.
While the CDC’s COVID tracker shows that a large swath of the Commonwealth has “substantial community transmission,” Fairfax County currently has “moderate” transmission like Arlington County. A number of nearby localities like the City of Alexandria, Stafford, and Spotsylvania counties have “substantial” or even “high” transmission.
D.C., which has substantial spread, announced today that it will require everyone 2 and older to wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status starting Saturday (July 31).
Photo via Mika Baumeister/Unsplash