Reston, VA

Fairfax County officials say they plan to follow the state government’s lead on how to handle the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s updated mask guidelines, which now state that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask outdoors or indoors in most settings.

The CDC announced the revised guidelines yesterday afternoon (Thursday) in a move intended to highlight the benefits of getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

“We will continue to follow the masking guidance put out by the state and follow the data,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said in a statement. “While there are still times that a mask may be necessary, the vaccine works. This is a strong incentive to get vaccinated if you have yet to do so. It is crucial and effective in protecting your family, friends, and community.”

Virginia officials are currently reviewing the new guidance and expect to issue updates to Virginia’s mask requirements soon, according to Alena Yarmosky, the press secretary for Gov. Ralph Northam’s office.

“Virginia will continue to follow CDC guidelines, as we have throughout this pandemic. We are reviewing this guidance and expect to have more updates soon,” Yarmosky said in a statement. “Ultimately this reinforces the importance of getting vaccinated. Vaccines are our pathway out of this pandemic, and they are how we can all get back to doing what we love.”

The change comes almost exactly one year after the Commonwealth first instituted a mask mandate in an effort to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

There are caveats to the significant loosening of mask-wearing guidelines for fully vaccinated individuals, defined by the CDC as people who have gone at least two weeks since their last needed dose.

Fully vaccinated individuals must still cover their face and maintain social distancing when going into doctors’ offices, hospitals, nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, and congregate settings, such as prisons or homeless shelters. Masks are also still required on public transportation and in transportation hubs like airports.

Nonetheless, the move reflects the progress that the U.S. has made in finally getting COVID-19 under control.

With cases declining locally and statewide, and more of the population getting vaccinated, Virginia already loosened its mask guidelines in April, and several capacity restrictions are set to ease tomorrow (Saturday). Northam plans to lift all limits on June 15 if case rates continue to fall.

The new mask guidance was announced within 24 hours of the CDC — along with Virginia and Fairfax County — expanding eligibility for the Pfizer vaccine to adolescents between the ages of 12 to 15.

“With the expansion of eligibility to everyone 12 and older, more Virginians can get vaccinated than ever before,” Yarmosky said. “If you haven’t already, now is the time to get your shot.”

Clinical trials for vaccinating kids under the age of 12 remain ongoing as well.

Photo via Mika Baumeister/Unsplash

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County Board Discusses Impact of Telework on Hiring — “After companies in the county have spent more than a year with much of their workforces teleworking — and with county office vacancy rates hovering at 14.6% in 2020, the highest rate in two years — Fairfax Board Chairman Jeffrey McKay asked the Fairfax County EDA whether the number of tech vacancies could lead companies to pivot to recruiting remote workers and what the ripple effects would be.” [Washington Business Journal]

Metro Waives Special Events Fee — Metro’s Board of Directors approved a temporary policy yesterday (Thursday) waiving the $100,000 per hour fee normally charged to large-scale event organizers to keep stations open past standard closing hours. The waiver will apply for professional sports games and other approved special events through Dec. 31. [WMATA]

Suffragist Memorial Dedication on Sunday — The Turning Point Suffragist Memorial will be dedicated at Occoquan Regional Park in Lorton at 2 p.m. on Sunday (May 16). It is the first memorial in the U.S. devoted to the women’s suffrage movement. The ceremony, which will be live-streamed, was originally scheduled for Aug. 26, 2020 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment’s ratification but got postponed due to the pandemic. [Turning Point Suffragist Memorial Association]

Colvin Run Mill and Frying Pan Recognized — The National Association of County Park and Recreation Officials named Colvin Run Mill in Great Falls and the Friends of Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon among the winners of its 2021 NACPRO Awards. The Colvin Run Miller’s House Exhibit won the Historical or Cultural Facility category, and the Friends of Frying Pan won the Outstanding Support Organization category. [Fairfax County Park Authority]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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A new restaurant that offers sushi and Thai cuisine has taken up residence at Plaza America in Reston.

SAAO Thai and Sushi will open its doors in late May, according to Naruedon “Don” Senatham, a partner on the restaurant.

It is located in Suite 105 at 11730 Plaza America Drive, taking the place of Nikko Sushi and Hibachi. Other tenants in the building include The Melting Pot and NCI Information Systems Inc.

This will be the fifth restaurant in the D.C. area for the ownership team, which also operates Teak Wood Thai & Sushi, Kruba Thai & Sushi, and The Regent Thai in downtown D.C. as well as Galae Thai in Alexandria.

Senatham told Reston Now that the restaurant team became interested in expanding into Reston after seeing the area grow over the past 10 years. Plaza America’s proximity to key transportation hubs like the Dulles Toll Road, Metro Silver Line, and Dulles International Airport suggested it had “great potential” for doing business.

“Over 15 years, we served millions of dishes of our Thai and Sushi culinary expertise in D.C.,” he said by email. “Now, we are offering Reston residents [the chance] to enjoy the dining experience with 2 cuisines in 1 place.”

The Thai menu features several staple dishes, such as pad thai, tom yum soup, and panang curry. There is also a Japanese menu with sushi, sashimi, and ramen.

According to Senatham, SAAO takes its name from the Northern Thai word for “twenty,” and its logo incorporates the number 20 in Thai numerals, a nod to the fact that it was intended to be established in the year 2020.

Inside, the restaurant has been furnished with woodcarvings and decorations made in Thailand.

“Saao Thai and Sushi offers an authentic Thai dining experience,” Senatham said, noting that the restaurant will use freshly sourced produce. “From smooth, aromatic curries to fresh salads and perfectly balanced pad thai, our menu provide an insight into the best of Thai and sushi cuisine.”

Photo courtesy SAAO Thai and Sushi

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This is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

The number of unemployed Virginians increased from 145,294 in March 2020 to 482,111 in April 2020 causing unemployment insurance claims to increase ten-fold within a month! In addition to the rising number of unemployed, Congress created several temporary programs to extend unemployment insurance benefits and expand them to many previously ineligible workers. Since those federal programs are administered by the states, the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) was overwhelmed with claims. In the fall of 2020 VEC ranked lowest nationwide for timeliness in processing unemployment insurance claims that required further review. Citizens were understandably frustrated and upset with a process that has left some without benefits for many months. My office, along with that of other legislators, was deluged with e-mails and calls from those desperately seeking help. My legislative assistant has put in many extra hours helping constituents with their filings and follow up.

A review of unemployment rates throughout the Commonwealth reveals that the rise in unemployment was statewide with areas having a high rate of unemployment going into the pandemic getting hit the hardest, but more prosperous areas got hit as well. According to data on the VEC website, the rate of unemployment for March 2021, the last period for which numbers are available, ranged from a low of 3.2 percent in Madison County, an agricultural area in the center of the state, to a high of 12.9 percent in Petersburg City, one of the poorest areas in the state. On the low end of the unemployment numbers, Falls Church City was number 2 with a rate of 3.4 percent, and Fairfax County was 39th lowest at a rate of 4.6 percent. On the high end, Richmond was 7.1 percent, and the cities in the Hampton Roads region including Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Hopewell ranged from 7.1 percent to 10.0 percent, just below Petersburg City.

The COVID-19 relief checks were very helpful in slowing the slide of the economy toward recession levels of unemployment. The additional funding now being debated in the Congress for infrastructure and additional relief will shore up the economy further until the normal activity of the economy returns with the end of the pandemic. I will leave to economists to debate the amount of stimulus needed to restore the economy, but I can say that the federal money that has flowed into the state has prevented widespread reductions in staff and services that would have been necessary without that funding.

For those who have borne the brunt of the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic I can only offer my sympathy and compassion for what you have had to endure. I continue to be impressed with the resiliency of individuals and communities in times of challenge like these. The response of state government in this pandemic was unsatisfactory. True the bureaucracy was swamped with requests, but we should have been quicker to respond. True our existing technology was not up to the demand, but the technology that was to have been upgraded should have been done years ago. As Chairman of the Joint Legislative Audit Review Commission (JLARC), I promise that the results of the study that we are undertaking of VEC will address current concerns and provide recommendations to prevent this kind of situation from arising again!

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(Updated 11:20 a.m.) Fairfax County residents aged 12 to 15 years old can get the Pfizer vaccine starting today.

Last night (May 12), the Virginia Department of Health announced that adolescents in this age range are eligible to get the Pfizer vaccine after federal officials approved the change earlier in the day.

This morning, the county health department announced on its blog that this expansion of eligibility will include those in the Fairfax Health District, which encompasses the county and the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church).

Appointments can be made for this age range by calling 703-324-7404 or by going online to the CDC’s Vaccine Administration Management System, which is being used to manage county health department clinics and a clinic at George Mason University.

The Tysons Community Vaccination Center at the former Lord & Taylor store in Tysons Corner Center will begin vaccinating 12 to 15 years old starting tomorrow (Friday). The clinic will accept walk-ins, though appointments are highly encouraged.

A parent, guardian, or another adult must accompany anyone under the age of 18 to their appointment or walk-in vaccination at all health department-run sites.

Retail pharmacies are also now offering the Pfizer vaccine to this age group, a county health department spokesperson confirms to Reston Now. Residents can search vaccines.gov, which was previously known as VaccineFinder, to see where doses may be available.

The county also suggests that families contact their physician about availability.

In addition, the health department is working with school systems in the Fairfax Health District to coordinate “strategies” to ensure vaccine access to all students.

“The Health Department is working with the school administrations of Fairfax County Public Schools and Fairfax-Falls Church Public Schools on strategies to ensure equity in access to vaccination for under-resourced students,” the blog post says. “Parents are encouraged to monitor their email and school announcements for information and updates.”

In a joint statement this morning from FCPS and the health department, it’s noted more information about this should be provided later this month.

In terms of supply, the county anticipates being able to meet demand immediately.

“There remains a large supply of vaccine in our community with numerous vaccine providers unlike in months past,” a county health department spokesperson told Reston Now. “We anticipate a rush, but there are numerous appointment slots to choose from so we don’t expect a lag in terms of meeting demand.”

Based on census data, the county estimates there are nearly 63,000 residents in this age range in the Fairfax Health District.

The administration, side effects, and how long it takes to be fully vaccinated is the same for adolescents as it is for adults. The Pfizer vaccine is given in two doses separated by 21 days, and side effects include pain or redness in the shot location, fatigue, fever, and muscle aches.

Adolescents are also considered fully vaccinated 14 days after receiving the second dose.

Clinical trials for vaccinating kids under the age of 12 remain ongoing.

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Fairfax County police are asking the public to avoid the South Lakes Village Shopping Center area after a robbery was reported at the BB&T Bank there.

The Fairfax County Police Department said at 10:50 a.m. that officers are responding to 11100 South Lakes Drive in Reston.

“Suspect left the area on foot wearing all black with sunglasses and a mask,” the FCPD said. “No injuries reported. Please avoid the area.”

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An end to the nation’s gasoline supply anxieties is within sight, but not before fears of a shortage fueled a panic-buying frenzy throughout Virginia, including in Fairfax County.

The Colonial Pipeline Company announced yesterday afternoon (Wednesday) that it has restarted operations and is now in the process of delivering gas to individual markets.

“Following this restart, it will take several days for the product delivery supply chain to return to normal,” the company said in an update at 5:11 p.m.

A major gas and jet fuel source for the southern United States and much of the East Coast, the Colonial Pipeline shut down on Saturday (May 8) in response to a ransomware attack perpetrated by a criminal organization called DarkSide that’s likely based out of Eastern Europe.

On Tuesday, Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency in anticipation of disruptions to the supply chain that supports many Virginia retailers.

“This emergency declaration will help the Commonwealth prepare for any potential supply shortages and ensure Virginia motorists have access to fuel as we respond to this evolving situation,” Northam said.

Within 24 hours, the travel app company GasBuddy calculated that 44% of gas stations in Virginia were out of gas, the highest percentage of any impacted state. That rate rose to 55% as of this morning, though, the Commonwealth has been surpassed by North Carolina, where 71% of stations were reportedly running on empty.

Fairfax County was not exempt from the fuel outages or the panic-buying that contributed to depleted gasoline supplies, as social media filled up with reports of stations running out of gas.

Drivers continually passed through an Exxon station at the corner of Maple Avenue and Branch Road in Vienna yesterday afternoon, only to be disappointed by the sight of “out of gas” signs posted on all of its pumps.

The owner told Reston Now that the station had been out of gas since Tuesday, but they hoped more supplies would come within the next day.

The Exxon station at Hunter Woods Plaza in Reston was cut off from traffic by yellow caution tape as of 2:10 p.m. on Wednesday, according to local writer Addison Del Mastro, who added that the Exxon at the Fox Mill Shopping Center in Herndon was also out.

Readers told Reston Now that Sunoco stations in the North Point Village Center and on South Lakes Drive near Twin Branches Road had also run out of fuel.

Stations that did have gas had either very long lines or were saving it for emergency vehicle use only.

The Mobil station on Maple Avenue and Park Street in Vienna had been crowded all day, a worker told Reston Now around 5 p.m. yesterday. At that time, drivers pulled up to each pump as soon as the vehicle ahead of them finished filling up, and lines extended into the streets at both entrances to the station.

Meanwhile, local officials and agencies urged folks not to panic, horde gasoline, or to put gas in plastic bags, emphasizing that the shortages were expected to be temporary.

Fairfax County said that it did not anticipate any disruptions to government operations or services as a result of the pipeline shutdown.

“The county maintains its own fuel supply, which is distributed through 53 fueling sites, and receives regular deliveries,” the county said. “County operation plans take into account the possibility of temporary fuel shortages and price increases.”

Angela Woolsey contributed to this report.

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Morning Notes

Prosecutor Calls for State Investigation of Traffic Stop — Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano has called on Virginia State Police to conduct an internal investigation of a potential violation of the state’s new ban on pulling people over for dark taillights. The county has dropped all charges against a Black woman who was pulled over on the Capital Beltway by a state trooper. [Associated Press/WTOP]

Metro Behind on Safety and Training Protocols — A Washington Metrorail Safety Commission audit of Metro’s signal and automatic train control system found that the transit system has failed to keep up “with preventive maintenance, lacks needed safety certifications and is not training employees on how to maintain the system’s complex equipment and machinery.” [The Washington Post]

Association Drive Among Endangered Historic PlacesPreservation Virginia included Reston’s Association Drive Historic District among Virginia’s Most Endangered Historic Places, a list released each May to mark National Historic Preservation Month. The business park is considered threatened because of the Soapstone Connector project. [Independent-Messenger]

Reston Business Owner Featured on Today Show — Reston resident Radhika Murari appeared on The Today Show yesterday for an Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month segment that highlighted her work as the founder of OmMade Peanut Butter. [Supervisor Walter Alcorn/Twitter]

Photo by Fred Dews/Twitter

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Fairfax County’s planning staff recommends allowing Boston Properties to replace garage parking, retail, and restaurant space with office space in the next block of the massive Reston Gateway mixed-use development.

In a report released last week, the staff says they support amending the plans to permit an office building in Block D of the development. The report states that this would “maximize” unused office space and place offices closer to the impending Reston Town Center Metro station, putting them about a quarter mile from the entrance.

The proposed office building could go as high up as 44 stories. The county has already approved plans for two residential towers — potentially 12 and 36 stories tall — with below-grade parking.

In its proffer conditions amendment application, which was submitted in October, Boston Properties said that the requested changes shift previously approved density for office space in the development to Block D, which will result in “higher tax-paying square footage.”

The changes would add 78,000 square feet of office space to this block, according to a chart in the report.

However, overall square footage would drop by about 80,000 square feet, since the proposed changes would reduce residential space by about 20% and eliminate retail and restaurant uses from the block.

There will still be a parking garage, but it will change from a four-level parking garage that sits above ground-level retail to a screened, ground-level parking garage below office space.

To compensate for moving parking to street level, Boston Properties has proposed providing a sculpture, landscaping, seating and wall murals, or “a similar form of activation along the Town Center Parkway façade to foster pedestrian activity in this area.”

The staff report supports this proposal and recommends having additional elements like horizontal lighting, colored changeable lighting, and variations in building and decorative materials.

“Collectively, these design elements should provide visual activation and interest to the parking garage façade that better supports and engages the pedestrian realm with the removal of ground level retail,” the staff report says.

Block D occupies about two acres of land on the east side of Town Center Parkway between Century Street and Founders Boulevard. The development plan includes pedestrian pathways, sidewalks, and bike lanes along Town Center Parkway, along with a 700 square-foot plaza with seating, tables, benches, landscaping, and public art.

This is in keeping with the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan‘s requirements for the Reston Town Center Station Center District, which notes that “redevelopment should create a series of urban plazas and parks to provide gathering places for people of all ages to enjoy festivals and community events.”

First approved in 2018, the 4.8 million square-foot Reston Gateway complex is now at the tail end of its first phase of development. Blocks A and B, where Fannie Mae is set to move in 2022, are mostly office space with mixed-use retail, and Block C will have a 570-room hotel plus retail and restaurants.

Block D was expected to be a parking garage with residential, retail, and restaurants, but if the Fairfax County Planning Commission approves Boston Properties’ proposed changes as scheduled on May 19, the block will now consist of office space, a smaller parking garage, and some residential units.

The first phase of Reston Gateway is slated to open in the fourth quarter of 2021.

Image via Fairfax County

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