Tysons, VA

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is easing some of the public health restrictions prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the 10 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales.

Effective Mar. 1, Virginians will be able to buy and drink alcohol at restaurants, food courts, breweries, distilleries, and wineries until they are required to close at midnight.

The changes to the current executive order come amid declining rates of hospitalizations and infections and rising vaccination rates in the Commonwealth, Northam said during a press conference this morning (Wednesday).

Northam is also easing restrictions on outdoor entertainment and social gatherings, where evidence shows the risk of airborne transmission of COVID-19 is lower.

“Thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of all Virginians, hospitalization and positivity rates across the Commonwealth are the lowest they have been in nearly three months,” Northam said in the press release. “As key health metrics show encouraging trends and we continue to ramp up our vaccination efforts, we can begin to gradually resume certain recreational activities and further reopen sectors of our economy.”

He attributed the rise in cases over the winter to cold weather and the holidays.

The state’s Safer at Home strategy will remain in place, along with its accompanying requirements for physical distancing, mask-wearing, gathering limits and business capacity restrictions.

“Even as we take steps to safely ease public health guidelines, we must all remain vigilant so we can maintain our progress — the more we stay home, mask up, and practice social distancing, the more lives we will save from this dangerous virus,” he said.

The current modified Stay at Home order will expire on Sunday (Feb. 28).

The full press release from the governor’s office is below. Read More

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Tuesday Morning Notes

Virginia to Become First Southern State to Abolish Death Penalty — “State lawmakers gave final approval Monday to legislation that will end capital punishment in Virginia, a dramatic turnaround for a state that has executed more people in its long history than any other. The legislation repealing the death penalty now heads to Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who has said he will sign it into law, making Virginia the 23rd state to stop executions.” [AP News]

Bank Proposed to Replace Peet’s Coffee in Vienna — The Town of Vienna Board of Zoning Appeals is scheduled to consider a conditional use permit to turn the former Peet’s Coffee on Maple Avenue into a drive-thru Burke & Herbert Bank on Mar. 17. Peet’s permanently closed its store in Vienna last summer. [Vienna Patch]

Fairfax County Lowers Flags to Commemorate COVID-19 Victims — “The U.S., Virginia and Fairfax County flags are lowered to half-staff in respect and memory of the more than 500,000 Americans, including over 7,400 Virginians, who have died from COVID-19. The flags will remain at half-staff until sunset Friday, Feb. 26.” [Fairfax County Government/Twitter]

Metro Seeks Public Input on Budget — The public comment period for Metro’s FY 2022 budget is officially open. With rail ridership down 90% and bus ridership down 60% during the pandemic, the proposed budget could close 22 stations, consolidate bus lines, reduce train and bus service, and result in employee layoffs. The comment period ends at 5 p.m. on Mar. 16. [Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority]

Black Ice Makes Travel Hazardous — With temperatures at or below freezing, roads could have slick spots through mid-morning. Police urge caution as icy roadways have been reported throughout Fairfax County. [NWS/Twitter, Fairfax County Police Department/Twitter]

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Fairfax County opted out of Virginia’s new statewide COVID-19 vaccine pre-registration system to reduce confusion, but the decision seems to have had the opposite effect for some county residents.

The Virginia Department of Health told Reston Now, Tysons Reporter’s affiliate site, that on Wednesday (Feb. 17), the day after the launch, the statewide COVID information line received 542 calls from Fairfax County zip codes asking questions about vaccines that were rerouted back to the county’s call center.

When asked about this, the Fairfax County Health Department acknowledged the potential for confusion.

“We understand that it could still be confusing that there are two systems,” wrote Jeremy Lasich, spokesperson for the Fairfax County Health Department. “We are happy that we have a strong partnership with VDH and that their call center is appropriately routing questions about Fairfax County back to our local call center.”

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay told Tysons Reporter last week that the county had decided to forgo the Virginia appointment system in favor of its own existing system to “cut down on confusion.”

Reston Now reached out to the Chairman’s office with the information from VDH but has yet to hear back as of publication.

Fairfax County is the only jurisdiction in Virginia to opt-out of the state COVID-19 vaccine pre- registration system.

The county maintains that they are “consistently” communicating the need to register through their system through their website, blog, social media, and other avenues.

This includes translating COVID-related materials into Spanish and sharing information via text messages from the Health Department’s outreach team.

VDH has also added language to their website directing Fairfax County residents back to the appropriate portal.

If Fairfax County residents do end up registering through the state system, the information will end up eventually going back to the county, but those residents will be added to the end of the waitlist, the county explains in a newly published blog post.

If residents register in both the state and county systems, the first registration will be honored and the second one will be removed.

Over the last several weeks, the vaccine rollout across Fairfax County, Virginia, and the D.C. region has continued to be plagued with technical issues, equity concerns, and logistical challenges.

The county is currently in “Phase 1b”, meaning they are offering vaccine registration for all residents 65 years or older as well as those between 16 and 64 years old with underlying medical conditions.

Some essential workers are also in the process of getting vaccinated, including health care personnel, childcare workers, and K-12 teachers or staff members living or working in the county.

Fairfax County now has a registration status checker for people to see their eligibility, and residents can sign up for an appointment through the county’s vaccine registration page. Fairfax County residents can also call 703-324-7404 for more information.

According to the county’s new data dashboard, those who registered on January 18 — the first day it was open to those in Phase 1b — are now being scheduled for appointments.

More than 42,000 people signed up that day, nearly four times as many people as Jan. 11, the next busiest day for registrations, the county health department says.

The county expects it will take “several weeks” for all those that registered on Jan. 18 to get a scheduled appointment.

It may appear as if progress isn’t being made when the appointment date on the dashboard isn’t changing, but the health department is moving through registrations, Lasich told Reston Now.

“We continue to ask for your patience,” he said. “We promise you will get an appointment if you are on our list.”

Photo via Fairfax County Health Department

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(Updated at 5:10 p.m.) Fairfax Health District residents looking to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine appointment should continue to use the Fairfax County registration system, the Fairfax County Health Department said today (Friday).

The Virginia Department of Health announced that a new, statewide registration system will launch on Tuesday (Feb. 16). Local health districts have been directed to close their existing registration forms starting at 5 p.m. today so that data can be cleaned up, consolidated, and transferred to the new system.

However, the FCHD says it will not participate in the statewide system at this time and will instead continue to manage vaccine appointments for everyone in the Fairfax Health District, which includes Fairfax County, the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, and the towns of Vienna, Herndon, and Clifton.

“For those already on the waitlist, do not register again on the new statewide system,” the county health department said.

Fairfax County’s vaccine call center at 703-324-7404 will also continue to be operational, even with the state launching a new call center.

Fairfax County decided to stick with its own registration system because officials believed it would be less confusing for residents, and because the county has “invested a lot of resources” into the system, Fairfax County Health Department spokesperson Tina Dale said.

Dale notes that the FCHD has now registered more than 200,000 people for vaccine appointments through its system.

“We invested a lot of resources into our registration system and worked out the kinks to ensure we continue to process more people than any other health district in the state,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said in a statement. “At this point, I am glad we can maintain our system that residents are familiar with to cut down on confusion. We will continue to have conversations with the state about registration as the vaccine process rolls out.”

Fairfax County’s promised dashboard with COVID-19 vaccine and registration data is also now live. According to the dashboard, 100,248 people in Fairfax County have now received at least one vaccine dose as of 4 p.m. today.

Photo via Fairfax County government

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(Updated at 11:55 p.m.) More than 100 people have signed up to compete in Virginia’s inaugural Smart City Challenge, and organizers expect more to join in the coming weeks.

The proceedings kicked off on Saturday (Jan. 23) with remarks from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and panel discussions on how technology could be used to address societal challenges, from COVID-19 and natural disasters to the availability of healthy food and efficiency of traffic lights.

The month-long competition will conclude on Feb. 18 when participants pitch projects designed to improve modern communities by tackling issues in housing, transportation, health, education, and other sectors.

People can also register for virtual discussions on topics like female leaders in innovation and the future of housing, even if they are not taking part in the competition.

“I can’t wait to see the impactful solutions that come out of the Smart City Challenge,” Northam said. “In fact, I hope we can implement some of them right here in our Commonwealth to create high-paying jobs and advance equitable and inclusive opportunities for all Virginians.”

Spearheaded by the nonprofit accelerator Smart City Works and McLean coworking hub Refraction, the 2021 Smart City Challenge is part of Virginia’s efforts to position itself as a leader in the development of artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, and other kinds of “smart” technology.

According to Refraction CEO Esther Lee, who briefly served as Virginia’s commerce secretary under Northam, Virginia Tech’s plans to build an innovation campus in Alexandria helped draw Amazon to Northern Virginia.

In addition, the Herndon-based Center for Innovative Technology has teamed up with Stafford County to establish a Smart Community Testbed that Northam says will enable Virginia to deploy technology ranging from wildfire-detecting sensors to a WiFi-equipped park in Fredericksburg.

Given the amount of construction and traffic in the area, Tysons could be another prime location to experiment with smart technology, particularly when it comes to climate and energy efficiency issues, MITRE Labs Senior Vice President, General Manager, and Chief Futurist Charles Clancy says.

Headquartered in McLean, MITRE is a sponsor of the Smart City Challenge, along with Fairfax County, Dominion Energy, and several other local governments, businesses, and educational institutions. The company will host a discussion about resilence and sustainability on Feb. 12, and Clancy spoke on one of the panels for the kick-off.

“How can smart city technology…further reduce [greenhouse gas] emissions, particularly in an environment where, post-pandemic, we expect upwards of 50% of employees to not be in the office every day, all day?” Clancy said. “…Tysons is a great playground to experiment with that, given the density of office space and, of course, mixed-use [development]. It’s a microcosm of all those issues in one.” Read More

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COVID-19 vaccinations, the state budget, and the question of how to get students and teachers back in schools are among the many items on the agenda for Virginia lawmakers this year, as the General Assembly prepares to convene for a truncated 46-day session.

Del. Marcus Simon (D-53rd) and State Senate Majority Leader Sen. Richard Saslaw (D-35th) cited those issues among their top priorities for the upcoming legislative session during a virtual town hall hosted by the City of Falls Church on Wednesday (Jan. 6).

“We have to have a balanced budget. We have to prioritize K-12 education,” Simon said.

He added transportation infrastructure, criminal justice reform, voting accessibility, and the need to put Virginia on a path to “going carbon-free as soon as we can” to his laundry list of goals for the session, which starts on Wednesday (Jan. 13) and ends on Feb. 27.

Currently, Virginia is vaccinating healthcare providers and those in nursing care facilities, who comprise Phase 1A of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s priority groups.

He and Saslaw said they hope Virginia can start vaccinating those in Phase 1B — such as firefighters, teachers, agriculture workers, and those 75 and older — by February.

Saslaw emphasized the importance of funding for K-12 and college education and tackling school reopening plans.

“A lot of kids are being hurt by virtual learning,” he said. “It just doesn’t work well.”

He also noted that increased expenditures for COVID-19 relief and transportation infrastructure, combined with decreased revenue from meals, sales, and gas taxes, have contributed to a potential budget deficit of $300 million to $400 million.

“The budget is the overriding thing,” Saslaw said.

As chair of the House Committee of Privileges and Elections, Simon said that he is looking to make permanent several voting laws that the General Assembly implemented last year on a temporary basis.

With COVID-19 keeping people confined to their homes and turning potentially crowded polling places into a public health risk, state legislators voted to permit ballot drop boxes, prepaid postage for mail absentee ballots, and other allowances, but those measures were only in place for 2020.

The General Assembly will need to adopt new legislation this year to continue those policies for future elections.

“Virginia has a history, unfortunately, of voter suppression, and I’m working very hard to change that,” Simon said.

Simon and Saslaw also indicated support for a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would eliminate voting restrictions for people who have been convicted of a felony.

Finally, Simon assured listeners that the redistricting process will be open to the public. During last year’s Nov. 3 general election, Virginians approved a referendum that shifted responsibility for drawing congressional and state legislative district lines from the General Assembly to a commission of legislators and citizens.

“The good news about it all is the transparency piece,” Simon said. “Every conversation about this — if you can bear it — you can tune in and follow it.”

Photo via Virginia General Assembly/Flickr

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As Virginia continues to roll out the COVID-19 vaccines to healthcare professionals and workers in long-term care facilities, Gov. Ralph Northam provided some clarity regarding the next phase of the state’s vaccination plan during a press conference yesterday (Wednesday).

Phase 1B, the next group to be prioritized for innoculations, will focus on essential workers, people who are at high risk of being exposed to the novel coronavirus, and people who are unable to do their jobs remotely, Northam said.

The largest segment of that group will be teachers, childcare workers, and other school employees. There are roughly 285,000 teachers and childcare workers in Virginia, according to Northam’s presentation.

“They’re high on the list of essential workers, because teachers are critical to getting schools back open, and that’s critical to people getting back to work and literally getting back to normal,” Northam said. “Opening schools doesn’t depend on vaccinating teachers, but that sure will make it a lot easier.”

Phase 1B will also include first responders; grocery, agriculture, and food processing plant workers; manufacturing workers; postal workers; and bus drivers and other transit workers as well as those who are 75 and older.

Virginia is currently in Phase 1A of its vaccination plan, which is limited to healthcare workers and workers in long-term care facilities.

Northam did not provide details on when to expect the state to advance to the next phase, but he hopes the Commonwealth will eventually have the supplies to deliver 25,000 doses per day. Right now, Virginia is getting about 110,000 doses a week, or roughly 14,000 doses per day.

With a population of 8.5 million people, Virginia needs to administer 17 million shots total since the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that have been authorized for distribution both require two doses. That means the state will need to double its distribution rate in order to vaccinate everyone by the end of this year, Northam says.

To ensure that no doses are wasted, Northam says healthcare providers, health departments, hospitals, and any other organizations responsible for administering the vaccine must utilize their entire supply, or else risk getting fewer doses in subsequent shipments.

“You use it or you lose it,” the governor said. “So, I want you to empty those freezers and get shots in arms. No one wants to see any supplies sitting unused.” Read More

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Local elected officials from the county to the state level expressed horror and sadness at yesterday’s assault on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., as Congress worked to certify the results of the 2019 presidential and Congressional elections.

Thousands of supporters of President Donald Trump — some of them associated with right-wing extremist groups like the Proud Boys — broke into the Capitol, disrupting the certification process and forcing federal lawmakers to shelter in place as the building went into lockdown.

D.C. police reported last night that four people died in the chaos, and 52 people had been arrested, mostly in relation to violations of a curfew instituted by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.

While Fairfax County was not as directly affected as nearby Arlington County and the City of Alexandria, which were both put under a curfew, the county joined the emergency response by deploying officers with its police department’s civil disturbance unit and opening its emergency operations center to the Virginia State Police.

The Fairfax County Police Department also stepped up its presence in the county as officials monitored areas they suspected “may see increased activity,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said shortly before 6 p.m. yesterday.

McKay described the events in D.C. as “nothing short of a coup” and a “dark day for American democracy,” sentiments that Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik says she shares.

“I am appalled at the situation in our nation’s capital, and know that our region and country deserve better,” Palchik said in a Facebook post. “Thank you to the Fairfax teams stepping up to ensure safety across our community.”

Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn urged residents to “stay home, stay safe and reach out to neighbors and friends who may be feeling frightened or isolated.”

Del. Marcus Simon (D-53rd), State Sen. Richard Saslaw (D-35th), and Falls Church City Mayor David Tarter commented on the riot in D.C. during a virtual town hall  hosted by the City of Falls Church. The meeting was intended to give community members a chance to learn about the upcoming Virginia General Assembly session.

Their thoughts, along with a statement from Del. Mark Keam (D-35th), can be found below: Read More

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Using a mobile phone while driving will officially be illegal in Virginia starting on Jan. 1.

Current state law prohibits reading a phone and texting while driving and holding a phone while driving through a work zone, but the Virginia General Assembly adopted legislation barring the use of handheld phones while driving a moving vehicle on state highways in March.

While the law was technically enacted on July 1, its effective date was delayed until the new year so that the public could be educated about its provisions and law enforcement agencies could get training on how to enforce it.

Violations of the new law will be punishable by a fine of $125 for the first offense and $250 fine for any subsequent offenses.

There are a few exceptions to the ban on using a phone while driving, including:

  • Emergency vehicle operators who are performing their official duties, including law enforcement and fire and medical responses
  • Drivers who are lawfully parked or stopped
  • Someone using their phone to report an emergency
  • The use of an amateur or citizens’ band radio
  • Department of Transportation vehicle operators who are performing traffic incident management services

Virginia’s public information campaign on the new law is being led by Drive Smart Virginia, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting traffic safety.

According to Drive Smart Virginia, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles reported that 15% of all fatal crashes in 2018 were related to distracted driving. Fairfax County has the second-most distracted driving fatalities in the state, surpassed only by Prince William County, and the most injuries that result from distraction-related crashes.

The distracted driving ban is perhaps the most significant legal change coming to Virginia on New Year’s Day, but it is not the only new law that will take effect on Jan. 1.

Here are some other measures to be aware of when the new year arrives:

  • HB 264: requires in-person training for concealed handgun permits, removing online or electronic courses as an option for demonstrating competence
  • HB 1211: enables undocumented immigrants to apply for new driver privilege cards so they can legally drive
  • HB 66: prohibits health insurance companies from charging more than $50 per 30-day supply for prescription insulin
  • HB 789: sets a 36% annual rate cap on the interest and fees charged for a short-term loan, which can now go up to $2,500
  • SB 172: protects people who receive emergency services from an out-of-network healthcare provider from unexpected medical costs
  • HB 1407: prohibits employers from misclassifying employees as independent contractors
  • HB 742: gives localities the authority to regulate the takeoff and landing of unmanned aircraft on public property

Photo via Alexandre Boucher on Unsplash

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The Weekly Planner is a roundup of interesting events coming up over the next week in the Tysons area.

We’ve searched the web for events of note in Tysons, Vienna, Merrifield, McLean, and Falls Church. Know of any we’ve missed? Tell us!

Tuesday (Dec. 15)

  • Kanopy Film Discussion Group (Online) — 7-8 p.m. — For its December meeting, Falls Church City’s Kanopy Film Discussion Group will talk about the movie Driveways, which stars Hong Chau and the late actor Brian Dennehy. Email Pete Sullivan at [email protected] to request a link to the Zoom meeting.

Wednesday (Dec. 16)

  • MCA Virtual Public Safety Forum (Online) — 7-8 p.m. — The McLean Citizens Association will host a discussion on criminal justice issues with Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano. To view the event on Zoom, register here. It will also be streamed live on the MCA Facebook page.
  • Vaccinate Virginia Town Hall (Online) — 7 p.m. — The Virginia Department of Health will host a statewide town hall with community and medical leaders to answer questions about the COVID-19 vaccine. Check the VDH website for the panel speakers and a full listing of the TV news stations that will broadcast and livestream the event.

Thursday (Dec. 17)

  • Middle School Book Club (Online) — 4 p.m. — The Mary Riley Styles Public Library in Falls Church is inviting kids in grades 6-8 to discuss March Book 1, the first part of the late Rep. John Lewis’s graphic novel series about the Civil Rights Movement. Email [email protected] to reserve a copy of the book that will be available for curbside pick-up at the library (120 N. Virginia Ave.).
  • Holiday Pop-Up Market (Dec. 17-20) — 5-8 p.m. at Vienna Shopping Center (136 Maple Ave.) — Local artisans will sell jewelry, art, and other handmade gifts at a pop-up market organized by the Town of Vienna and Vienna Shopping Center. Shoppers can reserve a time online or walk in, and admission is free. Hours vary depending on the day.
  • Clemyjontri Park Public Meeting (Online) — 7 p.m. — The Fairfax County Park Authority will share updates on its master plan revision for McLean’s Clemyjontri Park. Potential changes include the development of a new arts center for the McLean Project for the Arts. Participate online or via telephone by calling 855-925-2801 and entering the access code: 8950.

Friday (Dec. 18)

  • Mayor’s Walk — 9:30 a.m. at Vienna Town Hall — Chat and stroll through town with Vienna Mayor Linda Colbert, who holds this event once a month.
  • Networking Effectively (Even Online) (Online) — 10:30-11:30 a.m. — The Tysons Regional Chamber of Commerce will host a free webinar on how small and mid-sized businesses can strengthen connections, improve engagement, and leverage their networks. Register online to receive event details.
  • Virtual Holiday Bingo Fun (Online) — 1:30-2:30 p.m. — Town of Vienna Program Coordinator Kathy Blevins will lead an hour of bingo through Zoom. Winners will receive prizes from local businesses, according to the event page. Email [email protected] by Thursday (Dec. 17) to register.

Saturday (Dec. 19)

  • Free Food Distribution — 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at First Baptist Church of Merrifield (8122 Ransell Rd.) — The First Baptist Church of Merrifield will host a drive-by food distribution event. Each car or household can take one produce and one non-perishables box. Organizers request that everyone wear a mask and respect social distancing requirements.
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