(Updated at 11:30 a.m.) Fairfax County could require all of its employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 when they return to offices this fall.

During their meeting today (Tuesday), the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion brought by Chairman Jeff McKay directing County Executive Bryan Hill to evaluate whether to implement a vaccine mandate for the county’s 12,000 government employees, who range from library staff to police and solid waste workers.

While the county has reported relatively high vaccination rates, with almost 80% of adults having gotten at least one dose, some people who are eligible for the vaccine are choosing not to get it because of “false information,” according to McKay.

“Getting vaccinated is an act of public charity,” McKay said. “It’s not just about protecting you, but protecting everyone that you work with, every county resident that seeks our services, and everyone that works in our community.”

McKay confirmed that Hill is currently developing a plan for county government employees to return to offices in September.

The board directed Hill to consider providing some exemptions from the vaccine mandate for “religious and medical purposes” as well as requiring face masks and weekly COVID-19 testing for employees who do not qualify for an exemption and continue to refuse to get vaccinated.

In introducing the motion, McKay cited the growing prevalence of the delta variant, which now makes up more than 80% of all new cases in the U.S. and an estimated 69.4% of cases in the mid-Atlantic region, including Virginia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Like elsewhere in the country, Fairfax County has seen a rise in cases throughout July.

McKay noted that the need to bring COVID-19 case levels back down is especially urgent as Fairfax County Public Schools hopes to reintroduce five days of in-person learning when the new school year starts in August.

“What is happening right now with the delta variant in our community is scary for so many people, and I know it’s scary for our public school system,” McKay said. “Keep in mind that there are thousands of kids in elementary school that don’t have the luxury of getting vaccinated, and we need to do it for them. We need to make sure that our schools can reopen fully and safely, and we all need to get vaccinated to ensure that that happens.”

The board’s move comes as the CDC is expected to announce this afternoon a reversal of its policy allowing unvaccinated people to go maskless indoors, as reported by The Washington Post and other national outlets.

David Taube contributed to this report.

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Coronavirus (via CDC on Unsplash)

Fairfax County’s COVID-19 case levels remain well below the worst days of the pandemic, but their rapid rise over the past month is enough to set off alarm bells, threatening to bring a summer heralded as a return to normalcy to a more sobering end.

The Fairfax Health District, which encompasses the county and the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, has added 457 new cases since this time last week, including 64 cases just today (Monday) and 84 cases on Friday (July 23) — the biggest single-day influx since 127 cases were reported on May 7. The district has now reported a total of 79,024 cases.

10 more people in the Fairfax Health District were hospitalized by the novel coronavirus over the past week, and one person died, bringing the respective totals up to 4,171 hospitalizations and 1,152 deaths.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, Fairfax County’s current seven-day average of 65.3 new cases is the highest it has been since May 9, when it was 67.7 cases. In comparison, the weekly average was hovering around zero as recently as June 20.

In addition, the district’s testing positivity rate has jumped from 0.8% on July 3 to 2.4% as of July 22.

Fairfax County COVID-19 cases over the past 90 days as of July 26, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)
All Fairfax County COVID-19 cases as of July 26, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)

The increased transmission of COVID-19 over the past month has been attributed to the growing presence of the delta variant — the most contagious version of the virus yet.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 83.2% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. now stem from the delta variant. While the Fairfax Health District has officially recorded just 20 delta cases, the CDC predicts that variant has made up an increasing share of cases in the mid-Atlantic region, from 45.3% during the two weeks ending on July 3 to 69.4% by July 17.

With more cases occurring overall, Virginia has seen more breakthrough infections over the past couple of weeks. On July 9, when VDH started reporting this data, 0.004% of fully vaccinated people had contracted COVID-19 in 2021. As of July 23, when the dashboard was last updated, there have 1,377 breakthrough cases in the state — 0.032% of fully vaccinated individuals.

However, unvaccinated individuals still make up 99.54% of COVID-19 cases and nearly all hospitalizations and deaths. 7,757 unvaccinated people have been hospitalized this year, compared to 114 people who were fully vaccinated, and 3,846 of the 3,884 people who have died were not fully vaccinated.

While some parts of the country have reinstated mask mandates in response to rising cases, Virginia has kept its focus on getting people vaccinated even as demand has slowed. The Commonwealth let its public health order requiring masks in schools expire yesterday (Sunday), instead leaving mask rules up to local school districts.

The Fairfax Health District has adminstered 1.4 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, delivering at least one shot to 752,842 residents, including 75.8% of people 18 and older. 63.6% of the district’s population has gotten at least one dose, outpacing Virginia as a whole, which has given at least one dose to just under 60% of the population.

683,428 Fairfax Health District residents are now fully vaccinated, which amounts to 69.2% of adults and 57.7% of the total population, according to the Fairfax County Health Department’s dashboard.

Fairfax Health District COVID-19 vaccinations by age group as of July 26, 2021 (via Fairfax County Health Department)

Interestingly, young adults between the ages of 25 and 34 are lagging behind in vaccinations. 67.3% of them have received at least one dose, whereas every other age group, including 12 to 17-year-olds, has a vaccination rate of at least 70%.

Photo via CDC on Unsplash

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Encampment set up by people experiencing homelessness (via MWCOG)

Thanks to federal relief funding, Fairfax County is getting an infusion of emergency housing voucher money to help people who are at risk of homelessness or fleeing from domestic violence and others in need.

The American Rescue Plan Act signed into law in March is providing $10 billion to address homelessness, including 70,000 vouchers to local housing authorities, including Fairfax County.

The county will partner with community groups to provide the housing assistance, which could last 10 years — the length of the program — for each recipient.

“We are very grateful to receive these Emergency Housing Vouchers to serve many of our most vulnerable residents and neighbors and help them achieve safe and stable housing,” Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority Chair C. Melissa McKenna, who serves as the Dranesville District commissioner, said in a statement.

The Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority approved a county framework last Thursday (July 15) to receive the money, which involves 169 vouchers that will be made available in coming weeks.

Recipients will need to be referred to the program by county case managers or other service points, such as homeless services, Coordinated Services Planning (703-222-0880), or the Domestic and Sexual Violence 24-Hour Hotline (703-360-7273).

Money will go to landlords, and recipients will be required to pay 30% of their income toward rent and utilities.

The emergency housing vouchers can cover a variety of costs, including security deposits, moving expenses, and essential household items such as bedding and tableware.

Even outside the vouchers, ARPA has dedicated billions of dollars to addressing housing issues, as people have struggled to pay rent amid statewide shutdowns last year and uncertain employment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The need to provide housing assistance is expected to become especially urgent in the coming months after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium expires on July 31.

“The [assistance is] designed to prevent and respond to [the] coronavirus by facilitation the leasing of the [emergency housing vouchers], which will provide vulnerable individuals and families a much safer housing environment to minimize the risk of coronavirus exposure or spread,” Dominique Blom, a general deputy assistant secretary with the Housing and Urban Development Department, said in a May memo describing the funding.

Vaccinations have helped bring the virus under control, but cases have been rising in Virginia and the U.S. amid the spread of the highly contagious delta variant, which is now the source of 83% of all new COVID-19 cases, according to CDC estimates.

“Individuals and families who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness are often living in conditions that significantly increase the risk of exposure to coronavirus in addition to other health risks,” Blom said in the memo.

Eligibility for the vouchers is limited to individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness, at risk of homelessness, or were recently homeless and “for whom providing rental assistance will prevent the family’s homelessness or having high risk of housing instability.”

People fleeing — or attempting to flee — domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, or human trafficking are also eligible for the vouchers.

“These vouchers — in addition to the existing programs and services offered through a robust partnership — offer yet another valuable resource to help position individuals and families on a reliable foundation from which they can achieve their fullest potential,” McKenna said in her statement.

During the first year of the pandemic, homelessness decreased throughout the D.C. region except in Fairfax County, which saw a 17% increase from 1,041 people in 2020 to 1,222 in 2021, and Prince George’s County, which had a 19% increase, according to a Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments report.

Fairfax County has attributed the increase to expanded services supported by COVID-19 relief funding.

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Mask wearing bunny (photo by robinreston)

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?

Photo by robinreston

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Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand with a face mask (via FCPS)

Virginia school districts will make their own rules regarding masking requirements for the upcoming school year, the state’s education and health departments announced today (Wednesday).

The Commonwealth will let a public health order that’s in effect until Sunday (July 25) expire, thereby ending a statewide mandate that kids over age 5 wear masks indoors at public and private schools and putting decisions in the hands of local officials.

“The science is clear that vaccinations and masks help keep our communities safe from COVID-19,” Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dr. Daniel Carey said in a statement. “The Commonwealth’s children and the individuals that help them learn will be protected by proven strategies, without a one-size-fits-all approach.”

Fairfax County Public Schools currently requires masks to be worn indoors for students, staff, and visitors when school is in session “until more students aged 12 and older are fully vaccinated and until younger students become eligible for vaccination.”

“We are reviewing the guidance and reaching out to hear from our community, and will share a plan early next week with staff and families,” FCPS spokesperson Julie Moult said in a statement.

Virginia’s new guidance says elementary schools should require students, teachers, and staff to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, until vaccines are available for young children. For middle and high schools, it recommends that students, teachers, and staff who are not fully vaccinated be required to wear masks indoors.

State officials said the change will allow districts to make their own decisions and the switch reflects changes by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which  loosened its guidance earlier this month and advised that masks should be worn indoors by all individuals age 2 and older who are not fully vaccinated.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, by contrast, recommends that, unless they are unable to do so due to medical or developmental challenges, all school staff and students over the age of 2 should wear masks at school, even if they’re vaccinated.

The changes come as daily COVID-19 cases have increased in Virginia and the U.S., and the especially contagious delta variant now represents 83% of new coronavirus cases in the U.S., according to a CDC estimate.

Over 70% of students ages 12 to 17 in Fairfax County have been vaccinated. COVID-19 vaccines for those under the age of 12 are not yet authorized but currently undergoing trials.

The CDC has said that most students, including those with disabilities, can tolerate and safely wear a mask, but a “narrow subset of students with disabilities” may be unable to do so and should not be required to wear one.

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Fairfax County’s logo on the government center (via Machvee/Flickr)

Fairfax County could send over $24.4 million in federal money to small businesses recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic through its PIVOT grant program.

The money, which doesn’t have to be repaid, is intended to help economic recovery efforts. After an application period ran from June 23 to July 9, county officials gave updates on the program to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors during an economic initiatives committee meeting this morning (Tuesday), stressing the timing and scope of the support.

“Our retail services and amusements businesses really did need this funding,” said Theresa Benincasa, economic mobility manager with the county’s Department of Economic Initiatives. “They stepped up and requested it in large numbers.”

Nearly 1,600 applicants for Fairfax County’s small business PIVOT grant program are eligible to get the money based on an initial eligibility check, while 921 applicants are ineligible, county staff reported.

During the meeting, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay asked if the county had flexibility on an eligibility requirement that a business have a commercial storefront. He said two businesses approached him about the issue, one of which was a catering business tied to a closed office building.

Benincasa said officials could work with him on that issue.

Most of the applicants that were ineligible didn’t meet the threshold for economic injury. Over 300 didn’t have a commercial storefront, and nearly 200 secured a Small Business Administration Restaurant Revitalization Fund grant, which provided $283,000 on average, according to the county.

Recipients had to have at least a 15% loss in annual revenue. Eligible applicants averaged a 46% reduction in revenue and 25% reduction in employees, according to county data.

Benincasa noted that applications are still moving through a three-step process to obtain the money. The first step involved using a web portal to determine initial eligibility, and the remaining steps could last from August to November.

The grants are being funded with $25 million that the county received from the American Rescue Plan Act. If demand surpassed that threshold, the county had prepared to prioritize funding to hotels and then create a lottery system for other applicants, but because it didn’t, that randomization element will be scrapped, the county said Tuesday.

The breakdown of awards is projected to be the following:

  • $14.1 million to 1,178 applicants with an average of four employees in the areas of retail, services, and amusements
  • $5.4 million to 309 applicants with an average of eight employees in the food service sector
  • Nearly $4.5 million to 61 applicants with an average of 25 employees in the lodging sector
  • $415,000 to 49 applicants with an average of four employees in the areas of arts organizations, museums, and historical sites.

The awards range from $1,500 to $18,000 per business, which all had to have 500 employees or fewer.

Hotels could receive $400 per room if they had 10 rooms or more. In January, the American Hotel and Lodging Association released a report on the “sharp and sustained” drop in travel due to COVID-19 in 2020 and projected that the travel industry won’t fully recover until 2024.

Benincasa said that most of the hotels in the county are getting PIVOT money, but that didn’t include all of them, possibly because of the 500-employee cap.

“The need is immediate,” said Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust, who chairs the economic initiatives committee, noting the county’s work isn’t finished in helping small businesses.

Photo via Machvee/Flickr

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A group of parents submitted over 5,000 signatures yesterday (Monday) to the Fairfax County Clerk of Court in a petition to recall Fairfax County School Board member Elaine Tholen, who represents the Dranesville District, over school closings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Open FCPS Coalition formed in the fall to protest Fairfax County Public Schools going virtual during the pandemic and has been campaigning to recall Tholen and two other school board members, Member-at-Large Abrar Omeish and Springfield District Representative Laura Jane Cohen.

“I look forward to continuing to earn my constituents’ trust and support as we prepare to welcome all students in person five days per week,” Tholen said in a statement. “As a former classroom educator and now a school board member, I have always worked for my students’ well-being and to help them reach their utmost potential. I will continue to put our students’ best interests first.”

Recall supporters have a different perspective.

The petitions that citizens signed argue that, in supporting an all-virtual start to the most recent school year, the school board was not acting in children’s best interests. The petitions also allege the school board violated state and local laws and regulations guaranteeing students with disabilities a free, appropriate education.

“Just how far behind are our students? How will these deficits be met?” Zia Tompkins, a coalition board member and former school board candidate, said, raising questions about staffing and other issues. “Parents have been left in the dark about these issues and…as such have real doubts as to whether the Fairfax County school system is even serious about opening full-time in-person for the fall.”

The group met outside the Fairfax County Courthouse before a dozen supporters and leaders went inside to deliver the signatures.

While the Open FCPS Coalition describes itself as a grassroots, bipartisan group concerned with keeping politics out of schools, its largest funding contributions have come from former Republican gubernatorial candidate Pete Snyder and N2 America, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing center-right policies in the suburbs.

The coalition’s largest expenditure has been for signature collection services from a center-right door-to-door voter contact firm, Blitz Canvassing LLC, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

The group hopes a judge will review the signatures as part of a trial that could ultimately lead to Tholen being removed from her position.

Open FCPS Coalition says only one school board member, Megan McLaughlin, advocated for reopening in a way it felt was consistent and a priority. But only three school board members were chosen for recall efforts because of the group’s limited resources.

Coalition board member Nellie Rhodes said Monday that work to recall Cohen and Omeish continues.

The coalition’s website says it has over two-thirds of the 4,000 signatures needed to recall Cohen, which if obtained, would represent over 10% of the total number of people who voted in her election — the threshold required for a recall to be considered in Virginia.

After shifting entirely to virtual learning on March 13, 2020, FCPS began phasing in some in-person learning in October, but the process was put on hold when COVID-19 cases started to surge around Thanksgiving.

Students began 2021 in remote settings before the school board approved the return of a hybrid model — where students could opt for two days of in-person classes or to remain all-virtual — starting on Feb. 16. FCPS expanded its in-person offerings to four days for some students in April.

Open FCPS Coalition board member and Vienna resident Hemang Nagar says he ended up taking his daughter, who is on the autism spectrum, out of school in the fall because of the distress virtual classes caused her. He said she used to love school but would cry whenever he opened the computer.

“Virtual learning was an utter disaster for her and so many like her,” he said.

His daughter, who is now 10, returned to her elementary school when in-person classes restarted in February.

“They pretend to care but never put their words into action that does any good for any students,” Nagar said of the school board members that the coalition is targeting for recalls.

FCPS plans to resume a five-day in-person week for students this fall.

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Morning Notes

Lake Anne Plaza fountain turned off (via vantagehill/Flickr)

Fairfax County Police Officer Shoots Woman — A woman was taken to the hospital in critical condition yesterday (Monday) after a Fairfax County police officer fired their weapon and shot her during a confrontation at a group home in Springfield. Police say they responded to the 8000 block of Gosport Lane by a disturbance call about a woman reportedly assaulting people. [The Washington Post]

Former Fairfax County Police Chief to Head Capitol Police — J. Thomas Manger, who served as Fairfax County’s chief of police from 1998 to 2004, will take over as chief of the U.S. Capitol Police in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection by supporters of former President Donald Trump. Manger will be named to the position following an extensive search, according to The Associated Press. [Patch]

Herndon Business Park Acquired — The San Francisco-based real estate investment company Shorenstein Properties LLC has acquired Monroe Business Center, a 19-acre site at 539 Herndon Parkway with seven office buildings. The property’s location near the future Herndon Metro station “provides Shorenstein with a rare opportunity to create a more mixed-use environment over time.” [PR Newswire]

Two Fire Department Personnel Positive for COVID-19 — Two personnel in the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department are currently COVID-19 positive. 175 people in the department are known to have been infected by the novel coronavirus at some point during the pandemic. With cases increasing in the county, the department urged people to get vaccinated if they haven’t done so already. [FCFRD]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Coronavirus (via CDC on Unsplash)

If there were any doubts that the novel coronavirus is experiencing a resurgence in Fairfax County, the past week put those to rest.

With an additional 39 cases reported today (Monday), the county is now averaging 36.6 COVID-19 cases per day for the past week — the highest since May 15, when the seven-day average was 37.4 cases, according to Virginia Department of Health data.

The 48 cases recorded last Thursday (July 15) were the most in a single day since May 27, but the 78 cases that came in that day were an anomaly, whereas this appears to be part of a gradual increase in transmission after a month-long lull in June.

The Fairfax Health District, which also includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, has now reported 78,567 COVID-19 cases over the course of the pandemic. 4,161 people have been hospitalized, and four more people have died from the virus since last Monday (July 12), bringing the death toll up to 1,151 people.

Fairfax County COVID-19 cases over the past 90 days as of July 19, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)
All Fairfax County COVID-19 cases as of July 19, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)

Fairfax County is hardly alone in seeing a rise in COVID-19 levels.

Virginia as a whole has gone from a weekly average of 129 cases on June 20 — its lowest since the initial days of the pandemic in March 2020 — to a weekly average of 376 cases today. Nationwide, community transmission remains substantial, particularly across the South, lower Midwest, and Mountain West, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Benjamin Schwartz, director of Epidemiology and Population Health with the Fairfax County Health Department, says the more infectious delta variant “is likely a major contributor” to the county’s recent increase in COVID-19 cases.

As of Friday (July 16), the Fairfax Health District has confirmed 13 infections stemming from the delta variant, which hasn’t become as prevalent in Virginia as it is elsewhere in the U.S. In some areas around the country, that variant accounts for more than 70% of new cases.

However, infectious disease experts with Virginia Commonwealth University say “it’s not a matter of if but when” the delta variant will become widespread here.

“The key messages are, we can’t let down our guard, and everyone who isn’t vaccinated should be vaccinated as soon as possible,” Drs. Gonzalo Bearman and Michael Stevens said in a VCU Health news release.

As with the rest of the country, COVID-19 appears to now be mostly spreading in Fairfax County among people who have not been vaccinated. According to the VDH’s dashboard, which is updated every Friday, 99% of the cases, hospitalizations, and deaths recorded in Northern Virginia since Jan. 1, 2021 have involved people who were not fully vaccinated.

“While we can’t predict future case numbers, we do know that the delta variant increases the risk of infection for people who are not vaccinated,” Schwartz said in a statement. “Vaccination is the most important step someone can take to not only reduce their chance of being infected with the delta variant but also protect others in their family and community.”

While demand has started to level out in recent weeks, the Fairfax Health District has administered 1.3 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to 759,473 residents, including 76.2% of all adults. 64.2% of the district’s overall population has received at least one dose.

664,007 residents are now fully vaccinated, which amounts to 67.7% of adults and 56.1% of the total population.

“While we have done well — vaccinating about 3 of every 4 adults in the county — we need to do even better vaccinating people 12 years and older if we are to stop the increase in infections,” Schwartz said.

He encourages people who remain hesitant about getting vaccinated to consult their health care provider or the Fairfax County Health Department, which has a call center at 703-324-7404, to discuss their concerns.

“People for whom getting vaccinated just hasn’t been a priority should be aware of the increase in infections as added motivation to get protected,” Schwartz said. “With over 300 sites in Fairfax County providing vaccinations, many accepting walk-ins, vaccination never has been easier.”

Photo via CDC on Unsplash

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The Fairfax County School Board approved a framework yesterday (Thursday) to seek federal COVID-19 money, with the stipulation that it gets increased oversight and input on how the money will be spent.

The roughly $189 million plan would start with the upcoming school year and extend to June 2024. It is intended to help Fairfax County Public Schools respond to issues stemming from the pandemic.

“While we did have a public hearing about where people would like us to target our monies, we have not had the opportunity to get the greater details from the superintendent and his team,” Braddock District Representative Megan McLaughlin said.

The school board thanked district administrators for developing the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) framework after learning about the incoming funds in May, but several board officials questioned whether the proposal was sufficiently detailed and provided enough accountability.

“The ESSER funds are unlike other funding by the federal government in that it has a requirement to have extensive community input and outreach,” Mount Vernon District Representative Karen Corbett-Sanders said.

The ESSER III money will support school operations, cover increased workloads for Individualized Education Program (IEP) staff, aid academic interventions, address students’ social and emotional needs, help with translation services for students, and more.

The largest costs, as identified by district staff so far, would involve:

  • $54.9 million for academic intervention
  • $46.2 million for special education teacher contracts
  • $23.3 million for social and emotional learning needs
  • Nearly $20.2 million for summer 2022 learning
  • Nearly $14 million for afterschool programming and transportation

According to an FCPS presentation about the program, the ESSER money should address the impacts of the pandemic especially for students who have been disproportionately affected, and at least 20% must be used to address learning loss, among other rules.

The money will come through the Virginia Department of Education from the American Rescue Plan Act that was passed by Congress and signed into law in March.

Corbett-Sanders said FCPS faces an Aug. 1 deadline for submitting a general framework to the state before giving a more specific plan for how it will spend the funds by Sept. 1.

“Rather than just greenlighting, ‘They’re giving us $188.6 million, we’re going to put it in a line item list,’ we felt that it was important to have a little bit more comprehensive planning around the ESSER funds grant,” Corbett-Sanders said.

With the board’s initial approval, Superintendent Scott Brabrand will present an official ESSER III plan prior to the board’s Aug. 26 business meeting. He will present more detailed information, including targeted goals, operational timelines, and accountability metrics in a September work session.

The board’s motion also stipulated that state-filed amendments to the plan that reach $100,000 or more must be authorized by the board.

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Morning Notes

Wayne Schiffelbein Art Studio and Gallery (via vantagehill/Flickr)

Medically Fragile Task Force Vaccinates Homebound Residents — “For the past six months, a dedicated group of Fairfax County Health Department staff and Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department firefighter/paramedics have been working to bring the COVID-19 vaccine to those who need to be vaccinated but cannot leave their homes. Through this the successful partnership, nearly 600 homebound residents of the Fairfax Health District have been vaccinated!” [FCHD]

Energy Use Surges Amid Heat Wave — “This week’s heatwave and high temperatures mean a higher demand for power, with Dominion Energy reporting more than double the demand it typically sees during moderate weather. For Dominion Energy’s service area in Virginia and parts of North Carolina, Porter said demand averages 8,000 megawatts a day during moderate weather. But so far this week, it has more than doubled, exceeding 19,500 megawatts a day.” [ABC7-WJLA]

Herndon Residents Surprised by Tree Removal — Town of Herndon residents raised “a furor” when an old oak tree was removed on Tuesday (July 13) during construction on Elden and Center Street improvements. Town Manager Bill Ashton said the tree’s removal was approved as part of the project design back in 2015 because it contributed to visibility issues at the intersection. [Patch]

County Prosecutor Launches Data Program — Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano announced yesterday (Wednesday) that his office will partner with criminal justice reform and data analysis experts to develop a “state-of-the-art data program to track and mitigate racial disparities in Fairfax County’s justice system.” The office will also join a national “Motion for Justice” program to reduce racial disparities in local legal systems. [Fairfax County CA/Twitter]

Reston IT Company to Sponsor Cybersecurity Competition — “Leidos, a Fortune 500 information technology, engineering and science solutions and services leader, has joined as a top sponsor of the inaugural US Cyber Games…Through its sponsorship, Leidos is helping to equip, train and send the first-ever US Cyber Team to compete in December at the inaugural International Cybersecurity Challenge (ICC) in Athens, Greece.” [PR Newswire]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Fairfax County will hold more summer classes for students with disabilities later this month after staffing issues put the program in jeopardy.

After families were informed that a teacher deficit was delaying the Extended School Year program, the school district adjusted it into two blocks, the first of which is already underway, to allow it to keep class sizes low but do more with less staff.

“We’re in a special education crisis,” Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand said Tuesday (July 13) during a work session with the school board.

He noted around half of the 400 job openings that the district currently has involve special education, but according to the school district, a second Extended School Year block is “almost fully staffed.”

“There is a full commitment that we will have a fully staffed second session of the ESY,” Mount Vernon District School Board Representative Karen Corbett-Sanders said, adding that FCPS notified families and provided a timeline for transportation, food services, and more.

Earlier this month, FCPS apologized for communications that suggested the “administration was faulting teachers for failures of the system to supply optimum programming.”

“Our staff members have gone far beyond ordinary expectations and we are grateful for their professional dedication,” the district said on social media.

While officials praised teachers and administrators for making services work this summer, FCPS is looking to build within its own ranks to help address long-term faculty shortages.

School officials are working to apply for COVID-19 relief from an ESSER III fund (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief). The money comes from the $1.9 trillion stimulus in the American Rescue Plan Act, passed by Congress and signed into law in March.

Previous federal COVID-19 relief plans included ESSER funds administered by state education departments, though local school districts had to apply to obtain the funds.

The school board was slated to vote on a plan for how to spend the roughly $189 million that FCPS is seeking when it meets tomorrow (Thursday).

The money would cover a three-year span, starting with the upcoming school year through June 2024. Intended to help schools safely open after a challenging year due to the pandemic, the funds can be used to support school operations and address students’ social and emotional needs.

The proposed plan would allocate $46.2 million to special education staff, which amounts to a 7% salary increase to cover the extra 30 minutes needed each day to file Individualized Education Program paperwork due to the pandemic, according to FCPS.

The funding sought would also involve around $2.5 million for professional development. According to Tuesday’s presentation to the school board, that effort would involve two new employees each year. It isn’t immediately clear if that’s all for salaries or if other expenses are involved.

Other requests include $54 million for academic interventions, $2 million for cybersecurity, $15.9 million for after school programming and transportation at high schools, and $20.1 million for a summer 2022 learning program.

Board members pressed FCPS officials for more accountability and strategic planning in its plans for the federal funds. Community members previously weighed in through focus groups in May and June, online feedback, and a June 7 public hearing.

Wilda Smith Ferguson, a parent of a child with special needs in the district, said during the June meeting that the school system’s decisions regarding protocols haven’t taken children like hers into consideration.

“She is totally dependent on her teachers and the support staff at the high school that she attends,” Ferguson said. “I would like to see some of the money in the grant go to, basically, instead of ‘trickle down,’ trickle up. Figure out what is best for the most vulnerable and work up.”

The deadline for FCPS to apply for ESSER funds is Sept. 1.

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While Fairfax County’s COVID-19 vaccination rate has only incrementally crept up over the last several weeks, county officials believe their campaign to get as many people vaccinated as possible still has a ways to go before it hits a ceiling.

About 75.5% of people over 18 have had at least one vaccine shot in the Fairfax Health District, which includes the county and the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church. About 67% of all residents over 18 are considered fully vaccinated.

Both those numbers are above the national and state rates, but they have only gone up a couple of percentage points over the last month.

“Vaccination numbers are increasing more slowly than previously but we would not define it as ‘plateauing,'” Dr. Benjamin Schwartz, Fairfax County’s director of epidemiology and population health, told Reston Now.

Schwartz says national data suggests that about 15% of the population say they definitely do not want to get a COVID-19 vaccine, but that percentage is “likely much lower here.”

“So there still are many in the county who are open to getting vaccinated,” writes Schwartz. “The challenges are addressing people’s concerns about the vaccine and making vaccination easy for people who may be less motivated [and] for whom vaccination just isn’t a priority.

Messaging is key, says Dr. Amira Roess, a professor of epidemiology at George Mason University, when it comes to local jurisdictions concentrating their efforts on helping those folks get vaccinated.

“75% of folks being vaccinated is really good…and higher than the national average,” Roess said. “But…we have to shift to look at which groups have lower vaccination rates…find out why they haven’t gotten vaccinated and what are their questions.”

County data shows that, in terms of age, those over 55 years old have gotten their vaccine at a higher percentage than those in their 20s and early 30s. About two thirds of adults from 25 to 34 years old have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine compared to more than 80% of those over the age of 55.

While older folks becoming eligible for the vaccine earlier due to their increased vulnerability to the virus is likely a factor in that difference, it remains a concern that younger residents are less likely to get the vaccine than the county average.

To address that gap, county officials say they are doing targeted outreach at venues like barber shops, fraternities, sororities, and hair salons as well as placing ads on Tiktok and other social platforms.

Additionally, the county enlisted MC Bugg-Z of cicada rap fame for a new hip-hop song and video about the need to get vaccinated.

Health data also indicates that Black and Latinx county residents have gotten vaccinated at lower rates than white residents.

Roess says it’s on officials to better understand the concerns that have produced racial and ethnic disparities in who has received the vaccine.

“For a lot of African-American populations, they are part of this culture, this decades-long experience of being experimented on in really unethical trials,” Roess said. “So, there’s some real legitimate concerns there because of the history.”

She also notes that many folks work all day and are only available at night.

Fairfax County officials say over 300 sites currently offer the vaccine, including pop-up clinics every day of the week at schools, libraries, and apartment complexes. The county also employs 18 “vaccine navigators,” who go out into communities, food distribution events, and places of businesses to address concerns and help people sign up to get the vaccine.

However, in recent weeks, some services that were previously offered have ended, including a free shuttle service to the Mount Vernon Square vaccine equity clinic as well as several community clinics.

In addition, the clinics are only open to 7:30 p.m. at the latest. Most close between 5 and 7 p.m.

With nearly all COVID-19 cases, deaths, and hospitalizations now occurring among unvaccinated people, health officials are racing to expand vaccinations to counter the growing prevalence of variants that could spread more easily and cause more severe illness.

Of particular concern is the Delta variant, which is thought to be more contagious. As of Friday (July 9), Northern Virginia had reported 617 infections stemming from variants of concern, including 23 cases linked to the Delta variant.

Roess says the fear of the Delta variant may lead to more people getting vaccinated, but it could already be too late.

“It’s a…race between the Delta variant spreading and the vaccination rate,” Roess said. “What we might end up seeing is that by the time [more] people end up getting vaccinated, they are already exposed or infected by the Delta variant.”

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Coronavirus (Photo via CDC on Unsplash)

While case numbers are still much lower than any other point in the pandemic, Fairfax County has started to see a definite uptick in COVID-19 transmission over the past couple of weeks compared to earlier in the summer.

A month ago, the rate of incoming cases had slowed to the point that the county’s weekly average dipped into negative numbers, but after reporting double digits six out of the past seven days, including 16 new cases today (Monday), the county is now averaging 16.7 cases a day for the week.

The Fairfax Health District, which also encompasses the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, has recorded a total of 78,318 COVID-19 cases. 4,145 residents have been hospitalized by the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and 1,147 people have died, including two people since last Tuesday (July 6).

New Fairfax County COVID-19 cases over past 90 days as of July 12, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)
All new Fairfax County COVID-19 cases as of July 12, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health

However, a new dashboard launched by the Virginia Department of Health on Friday (July 9) suggests that COVID-19 is now spreading almost exclusively within the state’s unvaccinated population.

According to the dashboard, which will be updated every Friday, 99.6% of the 290,770 cases reported in the Commonwealth so far this year have involved people who were not fully vaccinated. That trend is even more pronounced in Northern Virginia, where 99.8% of the 69,315 cases recorded since Jan. 1 are among people without the protection of a vaccine.

In comparison, there have been just 173 breakthrough cases in Northern Virginia among fully vaccinated people, representing 0.004% of that population.

In addition, 99.6% of the region’s COVID-19-related hospitalizations and deaths this year have been people who weren’t fully vaccinated. There have been six reported hospitalizations of individuals who were vaccinated and two breakthrough deaths.

Northern Virginia COVID-19 cases by vaccination status from Jan. 1 to July 9, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)

Health officials say the data illustrates the overwhelming effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines that are available in the U.S.

“I applaud those who have chosen to protect themselves and the community by getting vaccinated, and we appreciate the work of all who are helping to vaccinate Virginians,” State Health Commissioner Dr. M. Norman Oliver said in a press release last week. “I continue to encourage everyone who is able to get vaccinated to do so.”

Vaccination rates, however, have flattened out as COVID-19 case numbers have fallen and public health restrictions have lifted, pushing officials to adopt a more targeted approach to get the vaccine to people who have not received it yet, either due to hesitancy or a lack of access.

According to the Fairfax County Health Department’s dashboard, 750,982 Fairfax Health District residents — 75.5% of adults and 63.5% of the overall population — have gotten at least one vaccine dose. 658,221 residents — 67.3% of adults and 55.6% of the overall population — are now fully vaccinated.

Virginia has administered more than 9.1 million doses. 59.3% of the state’s population, including 71.1% of people 18 and older, have received at least one dose, and 51.7% of residents, including 62.8% of adults, are fully vaccinated.

Top photo via CDC on Unsplash

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Morning Notes

Reston Town Center West (via Sam Moon Sami/Facebook)

Virginia Expected to Lift Mask Requirement in Schools — Virginia is reviewing updated federal guidance saying that in-person learning should be prioritized even if not all mitigation strategies can be adopted. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says masks should still be worn indoors by anyone not fully vaccinated, especially when social distancing isn’t possible. [Richmond Times-Dispatch/Danville Register & Bee]

Fairfax County Police Investigate Herndon Stabbing — A dispute between “three juvenile acquaintances” on July 3 in the 2000 block of Huston Place resulted in one of the individuals stabbing another in the upper body. The victim was taken to a hopsital for injuries that were not life-threatening. [FCPD]

New County Public Works Director Begins Job — Starting today (Monday), the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services has a new director, as Christopher Herrington succeeds Randy Bartlett, who retired in June. Herrington’s past experience includes serving as senior environmental policy officer for the City of Austin in Texas. [Fairfax County Government]

Herndon Police Chief Appointed to State Board — Herndon Chief of Police Maggie DeBoard has been appointed to Virginia’s Forensic Science Board, one of several new appointments announced by Gov. Ralph Northam on Friday (July 9). The Department of Forensic Science provides laboratory services to law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, medical examiners, and other agencies that conduct criminal investigations. [Office of the Governor]

Photo via Sam Moon Sami/Facebook

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