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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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Barring an abrupt change in plans, Fairfax County Public Schools students will start returning to school buildings next week for the first time since classes resumed after winter break in January.

The Fairfax County School Board approved a new Return to School timeline last Tuesday (Feb. 2) that lets 8,000 students in special education and career and technical education programs get two days of in-person instruction and two days of virtual instruction per week starting on Feb. 16. All FCPS students will be phased into the hybrid learning model by Mar. 16, though students who choose to stay all-virtual can do so.

The school board’s decision came three days before Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Friday (Feb. 5) that all school divisions in Virginia must offer families some form of in-person learning option by Mar. 16, citing the need to prevent learning losses.

An FCPS report released in November found an uptick in failing grades during the first quarter of the 2020-2021 school year, particularly for students with disabilities and English-language learners, and research from the CDC suggests schools can deliver in-person instruction safely as long as mitigation protocols are followed, including mask-wearing and social distancing.

With COVID-19 cases declining in Fairfax County recently and FCPS staff prioritized for vaccinations, FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand expressed confidence last week that the division can pull of a successful return to in-person learning.

However, FCPS officials also said that transporting students will be a challenge due to the inability to ensure enough spacing on buses, and employees raised concerns in the past through the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers about inadequate implementation and enforcement of mitigation measures. FCPS has recorded 939 COVID-19 cases among staff, students, and visitors since Sept. 8.

Do you think FCPS is ready to restart in-person learning? Should the district move faster to expand in-person learning, or should it take a more cautious approach? Should schools be looking to resume in-person instruction at all?

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The food service industry is in survival mode this winter, as COVID-19 cases remain high in Fairfax County and around the U.S.

Increased flexibility for outdoor dining operations, along with a greater emphasis on takeout and delivery services, helped sustain many restaurants during the summer and fall, but the chillier weather has made convincing people to eat or drink outside a trickier proposition.

The National Restaurant Association reported in December that sales had dropped by $2.2 billion — or 4% — in November from the previous month and were expected to decline further over the winter. Overall, the food service industry has seen a nearly 20% drop in sales compared to business pre-pandemic.

To rally public support, local restaurants, breweries, and cafes have turned to a range of promotions, from restaurant weeks to a #BundleUp campaign led by Caboose Brewing Company, which runs Caboose Tavern in Vienna and Caboose Commons in Merrifield, and the the Lake Anne Brew House in Reston.

Have you been patronizing restaurants and other food and beverage establishments this winter? Are you sticking with delivery and takeout orders, or are you willing to try dining outside — or even indoors?

Photo via Spencer Davis on Unsplash

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An end to 2020 is almost upon us. If ever a year deserved a send-off of champagne and confetti, it was this one, but as they did with many other traditions, concerns about COVID-19 have curtailed or put on hold many of the usual New Year’s Eve parties.

Still, there remain plenty of options for ringing in the new year.

Many local restaurants are offering special meals to eat in or take home as well as festive cocktails created by local bartenders and mixologists that you can order or try to recreate yourself.

For people who like to close out the year with a song, the Times Square Ball Drop will feature singer Andra Day headlining an evening of live performances. The event is closed to the public this year, but it will still be broadcast on TV and online.

Anyone itching for an in-person concert can stop by Vienna’s Jammin’ Java, which is hosting a “Flashback to the ’80s” party led by DJ D, or the State Theatre in Falls Church, where the Nowhere Men are providing a free outdoor Beatles tribute concert.

The great outdoors also offer a world of possibility.

The Winter Walk of Lights at the Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna will remain open through Jan. 3, and the Fairfax County Park Authority is turning its annual First Hike Fairfax program into a three-day affair that starts on New Year’s Day. People who send in a photo of their hike by Jan. 3 will be entered into a contest to celebrate the park authority’s 70th anniversary.

How do you plan on ushering in 2021? If you have a special New Year’s tradition that’s not included below, feel free to share in the comments.

Image via Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

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