Surveys give Fairfax County mostly high marks for Covid response

The Fairfax County Government Center’s COVID-19 vaccination site in March 2021 (via FCHD/Twitter)

There were undeniably hiccups along the way, but Fairfax County’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic earned an overall positive assessment from community surveys conducted this summer.

A general community survey issued in June received 2,148 responses, representing just a fraction of the county’s over 1.1 million residents.

However, 90% of respondents reported experiencing little or no difficulty accessing county services during the pandemic, and 89% said the same specifically for services related to COVID-19, Fairfax County Emergency Management Coordinator Seamus Mooney told the Board of Supervisors on Sept. 13.

On average, 71% of 147 surveyed businesses said they would’ve had to stop operations or been otherwise negatively affected without access to county services. 91% of community organizations said they were satisfied with their collaborations with the county, per Mooney’s presentation.

“This was an international health emergency, the likes of which none of us had ever seen before,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “So, we were pivoting day in and day out, every minute to try to respond to our community, and this survey proves that our response was effective and that our agencies really stood up and did their job.”

The survey findings were shared as part of a COVID-19 After Action Report that the county is compiling to assess its response to the pandemic and how this experience could inform its response to future emergencies.

While the full report won’t be finalized until later this year, Mooney said the surveys and feedback from the supervisors’ offices and different county agencies suggest the government successfully adapted to the pandemic’s changing circumstances, from the park authority and library’s pivot to online programming to the “rapid rollout” of non-congregate options for sheltering people experiencing homelessness.

A Quarantine, Protection, Isolation/Decompression (QPID) emergency housing program provided temporary shelter in hotels for 2,188 people. Though the program ended in March, the board directed county staff to evaluate how it might inform the county’s approach to supportive housing going forward.

According to the presentation, the county also provided over $90 million in funding for rent assistance, food and other basic needs services. From May 2020 to July 2022, over 1.5 million meals were distributed at Fairfax County Public Schools and by trucks.

“Changes made during the pandemic have the potential to reset expectations for future operations and establish a new path forward that the county can utilize from here on out,” Mooney said.

One change here to stay is the option for community members to testify remotely at Board of Supervisors meetings, which was “a major success,” the presentation says.

When it comes to challenges, one date looms large in county officials’ memories: Jan. 18, 2021. That’s when the county launched its online COVID-19 vaccine registration system, which immediately ran into technical issues after demand overwhelmed the county’s call center a week earlier.

Mooney noted that some factors out of the county’s control, such as the limited vaccine supply and Virginia’s faster-than-expected expansion of eligibility, contributed to the registration system’s botched rollout.

Once introduced, the county’s system proved “more reliable” than the state’s, Mooney said, though there was some initial confusion. While frustrating, the amount of demand showed that Fairfax County was “a community who cared enough about each other and wanted to break down the door and be the first one to get vaccinated,” McKay said.

As of this morning (Tuesday), 85.6% of Fairfax Health District residents have gotten at least one Covid vaccine dose, including 93% of people 18 and older, and 78% are fully vaccinated, according to the county health department’s dashboard.

Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross said the pandemic exposed a gap in the county’s communications when it comes to people who don’t have access to or aren’t familiar with online technology, noting that information was often shared in ways “predicated on the fact that you would have a device and be able to respond.”

According to the community surveys, residents primarily got information about Covid through the county website, social media, and by phone, either by calling directly or through Fairfax Alerts notifications.

“I think we need to be able to have our communication on several levels,” Gross said. “For those who have no problem with the current technology, great. For those not used to technology, those of us who didn’t grow up with it, really, we need to have another approach, an understanding approach to be able to work with that particular segment of the community.”

Photo via Fairfax County Health Department/Twitter

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