Months after Virginia started lifting its mask restrictions, the once-ubiquitous face masks that were a defining symbol of the COVID-19 pandemic have started becoming more scarce. But with the delta variant starting to cause a COVID-19 resurgence, some are saying masks in public should make a comeback, even for people who have been fully vaccinated.

The delta variant now accounts for 83% of new COVID-19 cases reported in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated earlier this week. The delta variant is more contagious than other strands of COVID-19 and could potentially have more severe symptoms.

In official channels, mask requirements have continued to ease up. The Commonwealth is set to let a statewide mandate on indoor mask wearing in schools expire on Sunday (July 25), though the state guidance remains that teachers, students and staff should still wear their masks indoors.

While the virus now appears to be almost exclusively spreading among unvaccinated people, some fully vaccinated people have continued wearing masks for a variety of reasons, from a desire to fend off other illnesses or to protect young children and other people unable to get a vaccine to concern about being judged.

Have you stayed in the habit of wearing a face mask, or does it depend on the setting?

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This coming weekend is the Fourth of July, and unlike last summer when — well, you know — travel is on the table for many Tysonians and neighbors.

Nationally, 47 million Americans are expected to travel this weekend, many of them by car, according to Travel and Leisure. It’s an estimate in line with pre-pandemic figures.

Are you planning to head out-of-town this weekend? How are you planning on traveling? List your mode-of-choice in the comments if it’s not a plane or car.

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One of the longest-running stories on Tysons Reporter has been plans to overhaul McLean’s downtown. The aim is to make it more vibrant and active, but critics of the plan say it still misses the mark on parking and stormwater management.

The McLean Community Business Center plan divides the 230 acres of central McLean into a few zones with greater residential density opportunities than currently exist — the idea being to incentivize more development in exchange for those developments including more public open space and community amenities.

The expanded density will allow for up to 3,850 residential units in McLean, more than triple the 1,280 units currently built in that area.

Robert Jackson, president of the McLean Citizens Association, said that in spite of some changes, the MCA still opposes the draft plan, due to a lack of specificity around water management requirements and changes that will shift the emphasis to underground parking garages, rather than surface parking.

“Some changes made, and we are pleased with some of them, but [those] two major issues remain unaddressed satisfactorily,” he said at a public hearing held by the Fairfax County Planning Commission on May 26.

Other concerns that emerged during last week’s public hearing included calls for more assurance that the new development won’t add to McLean’s flooding issues.

“The focus needs to address flooding and streambed erosion concerns,” local citizen Barbara Ryan said, “particularly as we are seeing downstream erosion in Pimmit Run.”

After the public hearing, the planning commission deferred its decision on whether to recommend approval of the proposed comprehensive plan amendment to June 9. The plan will then go before the Board of Supervisors on June 22.

Image via Fairfax County

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Virginia is no longer requiring that people wear face masks indoors if they have been fully vaccinated, a move that reflects the COVID-19 pandemic’s waning threat in the state as vaccination rates rise and case rates fall.

However, there are some exceptions to the new rules. In addition to maintaining the state’s mask mandate for health care facilities, public transportation, and schools, the revised guidance lets businesses continue requiring masks within their establishments.

In the wake of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s announcement, some businesses are continuing to mandate masks for all customers, while others are letting fully vaccinated customers go mask-free, depending on local and state regulations, though a few, like Trader Joe’s and Starbucks, are still requiring masks for employees.

With masks still “strongly recommended” in all settings for people who aren’t fully vaccinated, however, businesses largely seem to be relying on an honor system, raising questions for parents with children who aren’t eligible to be vaccinated yet and service workers who have to interact with a wide variety of customers.

Gov. Ralph Northam said earlier this month that he has not ruled out the possibility of vaccine “passports” as a means for people to prove they’ve been vaccinated before participating in certain activities, but for the time being, there are no plans to implement any such system.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay told Tysons Reporter that he is “not aware of any concerns” from businesses about enforcing the new mask guidelines.

“I’m not aware of any concerns we have heard at this point, but per state guidance, businesses can make their own decisions about masking,” McKay said. “I encourage our businesses to do what they feel is best for the health and safety of their staff and customers.”

What approach makes you most comfortable when it comes to masks right now? Would you prefer that retail stores, theaters, and other businesses keep requiring masks to minimize confusion and risk, or should they let customers and workers go without masks, trusting that they’ve been vaccinated?

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The cicadas are about to take over the world, or at least much of the East Coast, including Fairfax County.

After biding their time for the past 17 years, Brood X could start emerging in full force as soon as today (Monday), according to the first-ever cicada forecast by The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang.

From animals digging for a snack to holes in the earth made by cicada nymphs burrowing up from their underground lairs, signs of the insects’ impending arrival have become more plentiful in recent weeks. In fact, a few bugs have already been spotted, summoned out of their exoskeletons early by the rapidly warming weather.

The prospect of millions of winged insects crawling out of the ground might convince some people to stay inside until July, but as Fairfax County Park Authority naturalist and education and outreach manager Tammy Schwab told Tysons Reporter in March, cicadas are harmless — even edible.

In addition, while some annual cicadas pop up every year, the once-every-other-decade appearances of the periodical variety are natural phenomena unique to the U.S., a product of the creatures’ unusually long life cycles.

Fairfax County has been doing its part to turn anxiety over Brood X into excitement, inviting community members to a game of Cicada Stroll Bingo and highlighting the environmental benefits of cicadas.

How are you planning to greet Brood X? Are you ready to embrace the swarm, or does the idea of stepping outside in the next two months fill you with dread?

Photo courtesy Fairfax County Park Authority

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After months of economic uncertainty and upheaval, movie theaters are hoping to make a comeback in 2021.

Last weekend, the monster mash-up “Godzilla vs. Kong” scored the biggest opening at the U.S. box office since the COVID-19 pandemic threw Hollywood’s release calendar into disarray in March 2020. The recent reopening of theaters in the major markets of New York City and Los Angeles has the industry hoping for a revival this summer, despite the loss of some beloved exhibitors.

Locally, the ShowPlace ICON Theatre at The Boro announced earlier this week that it will reopen next Friday (April 23). This will essentially be a second chance for the theater to introduce itself to Tysons after it held a grand opening in February 2020 only to be shut down by the pandemic a month later.

Like other theaters in the area, ShowPlace initially opened its doors again in August, but a dearth of major new releases and the challenges of operating under Virginia’s capacity limits led the venue to close again in September.

The theater hopes the opening will stick this time, offering “Welcome Back” discounts on tickets and concessions. A recent poll suggests audiences are becoming more comfortable with the idea of sitting in a darkened room among strangers.

However, much of that confidence hinges on vaccines taking effect, and with COVID-19 cases on the rise again, going to an indoor movie theater still poses some health risks, particularly for people who have not been vaccinated yet.

With ShowPlace planning to reopen, how comfortable do you feel right now about going to the cinema? Have you already taken in a blockbuster or Oscar contender, or are you waiting for vaccines to become more widespread?

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The Town of Vienna is funding a sidewalk project that aims to make the town a little more pedestrian-friendly, but walkability remains a big topic throughout the car-heavy Tysons area.

With coronavirus shutting down most international travel, more emphasis was put on traveling by foot around neighborhoods. In Tysons, that led to temporarily closing a section of Tysons Blvd last year to accommodate more pedestrian traffic.

At the northern end of the area, McLean is also in the process over updating some of its busted sidewalks to help make walking around downtown less of a chore.

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This year’s graduating classes may get to celebrate their achievements with socially-distanced graduation ceremonies.

Earlier this week, Gov. Ralph Northam released preliminary guidance for graduation ceremonies at high schools and universities this spring and summer.

“We are releasing this guidance early to allow schools to begin planning for this year’s events,” Northam said Wednesday (March 17) in a statement. “While graduation and commencement ceremonies will still be different than they were in the past, this is a tremendous step forward for all of our schools, our graduates, and their families.”

Northam wants all outdoor ceremonies to be capped at 5,000 people or 30 percent of venue capacity.

Indoors events are limited to 500 people or 30 percent of the venue capacity. All attendees must wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines to the extent possible.

Seating areas should be reconfigured to accommodate social distancing, among other recommendations pitched by Northam.

Updated guidance is expected to be released as part of a forthcoming executive order.

The guidance comes as Fairfax County Public Schools prepares for a return to five days of in-person classes in the fall. Since Feb. 16, more than 98,000 students and staff members have resumed in-person classes.

More than two-thirds of the state’s public school teachers and staff have received at least one dose of the vaccine. The statewide positivity rate for COVID-19 also continues to fall, currently standing at 5.4 percent.

Last year, some Fairfax County students celebrated with car parades, while other schools returned to virtual celebrations or graduate photo opportunities. FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand told the school board on Tuesday (March 16) that he was “confident” there will be in-person ceremonies for the senior Class of 2021.

With this in mind, we’d love to know what you think about how and if in-person graduation ceremonies should resume this year. Let us know in the poll below.

Photo via Andre Hunter on Unsplash

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The COVID-19 vaccination process has been ramping up in Fairfax County in recent weeks, as supplies increase and more partners come on board to help administer the vaccines.

While eligibility for the vaccine has not expanded since mid-January, Fairfax County’s allocation of vaccine has grown over the past month or so from 13,000 to 19,220 first doses per week, and the size of shipments are expected to continue increasing throughout March, allowing the county health department to get through its existing waitlist more quickly.

As of 5 p.m. yesterday (Thursday), more than 111,000 people were waiting for appointments to get vaccinated. A total of 307,659 people have registered through the Fairfax County Health Department, which administered 21,791 first doses during the week of March 1-7.

The authorization of a third vaccine manufactured by Johnson & Johnson helps increase supply, giving providers another option on top of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that have been available since December, according to the Fairfax County Health Department.

Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which both require two shots separated by three or four weeks, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine needs only one dose. It is also easier to store and seems to less apt to trigger strong side effects.

The J&J vaccine is slightly less effective at guarding against severe disease caused by COVID-19, with an 85% efficacy rate compared to 95% and 94.1% for Pfizer and Moderna, respectively. However, differences in how clinical trials were conducted make comparisons inexact, and all three are considered “extremely effective at preventing severe disease, hospitalization, and death,” FCHD says.

Fairfax County currently doesn’t offer a choice between the vaccines, since the health department has been primarily utilizing Pfizer for first doses. The county has been sending its J&J allocation to Inova, which expects to double its capacity later this month with the launch of a new mass vaccination center in Alexandria.

The FCHD says it anticipates getting more of the J&J vaccine by the end of March, though the number of doses is unknown at this time. For now, officials say people should take whichever vaccine becomes available to them.

If you were given a choice, though, which would you prefer? Would you want to get the process over with in one shot, or do you have more confidence in the two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccines?

Photo via Fairfax County Health Department/Twitter

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The D.C. area is hunkered down for another winter storm today (Thursday) that could last into Friday morning.

At 1:05 p.m., the National Weather Service downgraded its earlier winter storm warning to a Winter Weather Advisory. As of 8:30 this morning, the NWS had projected one to three inches of snow, a drop down from previous forecasts of three to six inches of accumulation.

However, with the addition of freezing rain and ice, the roads are still going to be slippery, making travel a challenge.

The Fairfax County, Town of Vienna, and the City of Falls Church governments have closed for today, and Fairfax County Public Schools have canceled all classes.

In previous years, icy road conditions would have made for treacherous commutes to work and school, but the novel coronavirus pandemic has forced many to work and learn from home. Still, the frequency of winter weather events over the past few weeks can feel disruptive, even if not much snow has actually materialized so far this year.

How do you feel about all this winter weather? Do you wish there was more snow, or are you comfortable with the amount that Fairfax County has gotten? Are you ready for warmer weather yet?

Photo via Fairfax County Police Department

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