Reston, VA

Fairfax County residents will soon book COVID-19 vaccine appointments through Vaccine Finder instead of the county health department, a change that officials say will “allow greater flexibility and choice of where residents receive their vaccine.”

The health department announced last night (April 14) that it will no longer manage or accept appointments through their registration system after Fairfax County moves to Phase 2 on Sunday (April 18).

The county says the new system will lead to greater access, choice, and awareness of vaccine availability as it moves to vaccinating all residents over the age of 16.

“The Open Scheduling process allows easier access to vaccine sites closer to home,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Jeff McKay told Reston Now in an email.

Developed by Boston Children’s Hospital, Vaccine Finder shows available doses from approved vaccine providers across the county, including the health department clinics, pharmacies, hospitals, and some private practices, according to the Fairfax County Health Department’s blog.

Information about the switch will be disseminated in a variety of ways, says county officials, including their blog posts, social media, English and Spanish text alerts, countywide mailers, flyers, news media, and working with the county’s outreach team.

While the Vaccine Finder is not available in other languages, McKay says the county will film videos in “at least 7 different languages” explaining how to use the system. They are also encouraging folks to change their web browser settings to their desired language.

Residents will also be able to contact the county and Virginia Department of Health call centers to get assistance when registering for a vaccination.

Earlier this week, the county implemented a new call center system (703-324-7404) that will assist residents in registering in the new appointment system. However, the county warns that wait times for callers could be long.

Fairfax County residents can also now call the state call center (1-877-829-4682) for help in multiple languages. McKay says this gives residents “an additional resource,” since the state previously routed calls about Fairfax County back to the county’s call center, which is still available to provide help in multiple languages.

The county health department says that it will still schedule appointments for everyone who is registered in their system and on the waitlist (i.e. individuals who were eligible for the vaccine in Phase 1) prior to the system closing at 11:59 p.m. on April 17.

They should expect to be contacted within approximately a week about scheduling their appointments.

As of 3:30 p.m. today, there are 24,059 people on the waitlist. Read More

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The Fairfax County Health Department will stop accepting registrations for the COVID-19 vaccine once eligibility opens up to the general adult population on Sunday (April 18).

According to a blog post published earlier this evening, county residents will instead be directed to Vaccine Finder to find approved providers, including the county health department, pharmacies, hospitals, and private practices. They will then need to schedule appointments directly with the provider.

The county says that its current registration system enabled it to prioritize residents based on the Virginia Department of Health’s established eligibility categories, but this will no longer be necessary when appointments are open to the general population in Phase 2 and the local health department no longer provides the primary commmunity vaccination sites.

“In Phase 2, the larger pool of community vaccination sites allows us to shift to this new process, which will allow greater flexibility and choice of where residents receive their vaccine,” the FCHD says.

Created by Boston Children’s Hospital with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United States Digital Service, Vaccine Finder allows users to locate clinics, pharmacies, and other sites that are providing COVID-19 vaccinations, but it does not provide appointment scheduling, which must be done through the individual provider.

Fairfax County Health Department spokesperson Jeremy Lasich tells Reston Now that the county will still be responsible for distributing vaccine supplies to its partners, and it will schedule appointments for individuals remaining on its waitlist, which has about 23,000 people left as of 8:30 p.m.

However, the county’s registration system will be retired once everyone on the waitlist has been given an appointment.

“We will continue to manage registrations for those people who are currently on our waitlist for the next week or two after April 18 until they have all received appointments and our waitlist reaches 0,” Lasich said. “We will also still manage vaccination clinics for people who sign up at one of our locations on VaccineFinder, but…we will not manage those registrations.”

Because of the need to finish vaccinating everyone on the waitlist, the health department notes that its clinics and some of its partners may not be listed on Vaccine Finder until late April or early May.

“Everyone who is on our waitlist before it closes at 11:59 p.m. on Saturday, April 17, will be contacted to schedule appointments within approximately one week,” the department said.

Photo via Fairfax County Health Department

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(Updated at 2:10 p.m.) Fairfax County will not be administering any Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccines “until further notice,” following the advice by Virginia and the federal government.

“While this action limits the amount of available vaccine, its impact on the Fairfax Health District is minimal since the Fairfax County Health Department and its partners have primarily been using Pfizer vaccine for the past several months,” the county health department wrote in a blog post.

The county health department says this latest setback does not affect any of its clinics or appointments, and the “small amount” of the J&J vaccine that was being used will be substituted with the other vaccines.

“Fairfax County did not receive any J&J vaccine this week, and we were not expecting any next week. A small amount of J&J vaccine remaining from last week and allocated for this week will be substituted with Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to avoid any cancellations at our Health Department sites,” the county said.

They also advise those who did receive the J&J vaccine to contact their health provider if they develop a severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration recommended this morning (Tuesday) that use of the J&J vaccine be paused while they review reports that six recipients, all women, developed a rare disorder involving blood clots after taking the vaccine.

In total, more than 6.8 million doses of the vaccine has been administered across the country, and the FDA is classifying the adverse, though dangerous, reactions as “extremely rare.”

The CDC and FDA say their recommendation comes “out of abundance of caution” so that further review and study can be done.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced just before 9 a.m. that Virginia would follow the federal government’s guidance and temporarily pause its use of the J&J vaccine until an investigation is complete.

“This pause is reassuring in that it demonstrates that the systems that are in place to monitor vaccine safety are working,” Virginia Vaccination Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said in a statement. “We look forward to a thorough review by federal health officials.”

Neighboring jurisdictions in the D.C. area, including Arlington, Alexandria, D.C., and counties in Maryland, have all also paused their use of the J&J vaccine.

This is the second snag that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has hit in the past two weeks after a production mess-up at a Baltimore manufacturing plant contaminated as many as 15 million doses.

As a result, many states, including Virginia, have had their vaccine orders significantly cut. Virginia was expected to receive only about one-tenth of the number of doses of the J&J vaccine this coming week than the previous week.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay told Reston Now that the county did not anticipate getting any of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine this week or next week due to that supply shortage.

“The possible side effects of the vaccine are concerning for our national vaccination efforts because they [are] significantly dependent on the Johnson and Johnson vaccine,” McKay said. “At the end of the day however, safety and efficacy is most important and we are lucky we have two great vaccine options still available.

Earlier this month, Fairfax County committed to the same goal as the Commonwealth in having everyone over the age of 16 be eligible for the vaccine starting April 18. However, that was contingent on there being a sufficient supply.

Northam reiterated during a press conference outside Metz Middle School in Manassas, which hosted a vaccination clinic today, that Virginia still hopes that all adults who want to get vaccinated will receive their first dose by the end of May.

“Hopefully, this is just a small setback that we’ll overcome,” Northam said.

Angela Woolsey contributed to this report.

Photo by Karen Bolt/Fairfax County Public Schools

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More than one-fifth of Virginia’s population has now been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Virginia Department of Health’s vaccine dashboard indicates that 1.8 million residents — or 21.3% of the state’s population — have now received both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

That puts the Commonwealth in line with the U.S. as a whole, which has fully vaccinated 21.9% of its population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Virginia is slightly ahead of the country overall when it comes to first-dose vaccinations. According to the VDH, 3.1 million people — or 36.6% of the state’s population — have gotten at least one vaccine dose, compared to 35.9% of the total U.S. population.

Fairfax County, however, seems to be a beat behind the overall state. 223,113 residents have been fully vaccinated, which is about 19% of the county’s total population of 1.1 million people. 402,129 residents have received at least one dose.

Still, the county has been delivering vaccinations at a steadier pace in recent weeks as the availability of supplies has increased.

In the initial weeks of the vaccine rollout, residents had to wait more than a month between when they signed up to get the vaccine and when they could actually schedule an appointment. That gap between registration and scheduling is now closer to a week, based on the Fairfax County Health Department’s dashboard, which says that the department is currently making appointments for people who registered on April 5.

The county received 65,710 first and second vaccine doses from the state during the week of April 5-11. There are just under 32,000 people on the health department’s waitlist, about 8% of the 418,023 people who have registered so far.

With Fairfax County aiming to join the rest of the state in opening registration for all adults on April 18, the faster pace of vaccinations has been countered by a rise in COVID-19 cases and concerns about variants that are believed to spread more quickly than the original virus.

With 196 new cases reported today (Monday), the Fairfax Health District has now recorded 74,259 total COVID-19 cases, 3,859 hospitalizations, and 1,080 deaths.

The county’s weekly average went up from 150.1 cases over the past seven days on April 5 to 181.4 cases today, and has been generally trending upward since hitting a low for 2021 of 133.6 cases on March 15.

According to CDC data, as of today, Virginia has reported 349 cases of the B.1.1.7. variant that orginated in the United Kingdom and has been associated with an increased risk of severe illness or death. There have also been 37 reported cases involving the B.1.351 variant, which was first detected in South Africa.

There is no evidence yet that the B.1.351 varient causes increased risks of severe illlness or death, but there is a “moderate reduction” in the immune protection offered by a vaccination or natural infection, according to the VDH.

The CDC estimates that the U.K. variant now constitutes about 11.5% of all COVID-19 cases in Virginia, though surveillance efforts to track the variants’ spread have been slow to ramp up.

Image via Virginia Department of Health

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(Updated at 12:20 p.m.) The Fairfax County Health Department has expanded eligibility for COVID-19 vaccine appointments to all Phase 1c workers, bringing the county one step closer to opening registration up to the general adult population.

Starting today (Wednesday), people who live or work in the Fairfax Health District and are employed in the following industries can sign up for a vaccine appointment through the health department:

  • Barbers, stylists, and hairdressers
  • Finance
  • Information technology and communication
  • Media
  • Legal services
  • Public safety engineers, including emergency communication centers and heavy and civil engineering construction
  • Other public health workers, such as public health program administrators and researchers in physical, engineering, and life sciences

The Fairfax Health District encompasses Fairfax County, the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, and the towns of Clifton, Herndon and Vienna.

Individuals who are eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccination can register through the Fairfax County Health Department’s website or by contacting the department’s call center at 703-324-7404.

This latest expansion of eligibility comes just two days after Fairfax County opened vaccine registrations up to an initial group of Phase 1c workers, including food service workers, cleaning and janitorial staff, and faculty and staff at higher education institutions.

“We expect to move into Phase 2 by April 18 in accordance with federal and state goals for the COVID-19 vaccination rollout,” the health department says.

President Joe Biden declared yesterday (Tuesday) that everyone 16 and older will be eligible to register for a COVID-19 vaccine by April 19, ahead of his previous target date of May 1.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced on April 1 that all of Virginia will reach Phase 2 — the general adult population — by April 18, though some jurisdictions could advance to that point sooner than others. Fairfax County has said it can meet that deadline as long as it receives a sufficient supply of doses.

According to its vaccine dashboard, the county received 40,950 first and second vaccine doses from the Virginia Department of Health during the week of March 29 to April 4, a step down from the roughly 55,000 doses that came in the previous week.

The Fairfax County Health Department says that it ordered 18,000 fewer doses last week, because some of its partners had unused vaccine that got carried over from the previous week, which can happen on occasion when there is a delay in a partner coming onboard or fewer people come through a particular site than projected.

“The number of vaccinations performed in the health district was not impacted,” the department told Reston Now. “This week, vaccine orders are at normal levels.”

The county health department is currently making appointments for individuals who registered on March 30. There are more than 36,000 people on the waitlist right now, 9% of the 395,096 people who have registered since December.

According to VDH data, 368,665 Fairfax County residents have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 196,304 residents have been fully vaccinated. More than 1.6 million Virginians have now been fully vaccinated — 18.8% of the state’s population.

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A pop-up vaccination clinic will be open at Southgate Community Center in Reston on Thursday (April 8) for a portion of eligible county residents.

The clinic is for residents 65 and up as well as individuals aged 16 to 64 with underlying medical conditions. It will run from 1:30-4:30 p.m. and is in partnership with the Fairfax County Health Department.

Appointments are on a first-come, first-serve basis.

To make an appointment, county residents can go to the community center at 12125 Pinecrest Road or call 703-860-0676 to sign up.

Supply is very limited, though, with only 120 doses available for those looking for their first shot.

In fact, appointments almost were already filled up, as of late Tuesday afternoon, Southgate Community Center director Richard Cabellos told Reston Now.

The community center was just alerted about 48 hours ago that it will be hosting the pop-up clinic, but few appointments remain available due to Southgate’s walkable location and demand.

“It shows how many people want vaccines in Reston,” Cabellos said.

This will be the second pop-up clinic at the community center. The first one took place on March 18 and had only 60 appointments available. Those, too, got snapped up quick.

Residents who got their first shot on March 18 are being invited back for their second in the morning of April 8.

The doses for those in need of their second shot have been set aside and do not factor into the 120 slots available for first-timers.

Cabellos says there are plans to do another pop-up clinic in the future, due to popularity and the ease in which the community center can set up a clinic on short notice.

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Fairfax County Public Schools students will offer four days of in-person instruction to select students starting this week, FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand announced yesterday (Monday).

The opportunity to get four days of in-person classes has been extended first to the pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students who have been experiencing the most significant challenges in virtual and hybrid learning.

FCPS says school personnel identified these students using the school system’s Multi-Tiered Systems of Support model, which takes into account students’ behavior and social and emotional well-being as well as their academic success.

Other students may be able to receive four days of in-person classes starting the week of April 20, but only if their families opted for in-person learning in the fall and they are currently attending two days of in-person classes.

“I am thrilled to announce that FCPS is continuing to move forward with bringing back additional students to in-person learning — particularly our students who are experiencing the greatest learning challenges,” Brabrand said. “Overall, we see this as very good news for FCPS students, families, staff, and the community and will help us prepare for five days of in-person instruction this fall.”

Brabrand told the Fairfax County School Board on March 16 that FCPS could expand in-person learning to four days on a limited basis after spring break, with the goal of providing more support to students with disabilities, English-language learners, and others who have especially struggled this year.

To ensure that there would be sufficient capacity, FCPS required students who opted for some in-person learning to confirm that they were attending school regularly by March 26, the day before spring break. If they were not in class, they risked being reverted to all-virtual instruction.

FCPS spokesperson Lucy Caldwell says that the school system does not have an exact figure for how many students were sent back to virtual learning, but those decisions were handled on school-by-school basis.

The expansion of in-person learning comes even though FCPS is instructing all staff and students at middle and high schools to maintain six feet of social distancing, citing Fairfax County’s high rate of community transmission of COVID-19.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance for schools on March 19 to recommend at least three feet of social distancing in classrooms if everyone wears a face mask. However, the federal agency also said that middle and high school students should be at least six feet apart in communities with high transmission levels.

“This recommendation is because COVID-19 transmission dynamics are different in older students — that is, they are more likely to be exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and spread it than younger children,” the CDC said.

The CDC determines community transmission levels primarily based on testing positivity rates and the number of new cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days. Fairfax County has recorded 103.4 new cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days, and 5.2% of all PCR tests have been positive, as of the week of March 27, according to the Virginia Department of Health’s school metrics dashboard.

Caldwell says that the ability of schools to accommodate four days of in-person learning varies widely based on current occupancy, the size of classrooms and lunchroom spaces, furniture, and staffing.

“Some of our schools DO have open space,” she said in an email. “Some students who were expected to come back in-person did not; school staff reached out to those families who’s students did not show up and ascertained whether or not we might have open seats through those discussions. We are addressing these open seat opportunities now.”

In-person attendance currently ranges from 20 to 80% depending on the specific school, according to Caldwell, who also noted that staffing levels could become insufficient if employees need to quarantine.

As of Monday, FCPS has recorded 1,253 COVID-19 cases since Sept. 8, including 660 cases among staff and 440 among students. Public health officials are currently investigating outbreaks at McLean High School, South Lakes High School, and the Word of Life Christian Academy, according to VDH.

Reported to the state on March 26, the South Lakes outbreak stems from 11 cases among players in the school’s football program. The outbreak led to the cancellation of two games and required almost 40 other students to quarantine.

“Each school is working within their own capacity to accommodate additional in-person opportunities for students whose families have already expressed a desire for them,” Caldwell said.

Photo via FCPS

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The Fairfax Health District has officially opened eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine to select groups of essential workers in Phase 1c, the Fairfax County Health Department announced this morning (Monday).

Individuals who can now register for a vaccine appointment include:

  • Food service workers
  • Housing and construction workers
  • Higher education faculty and staff
  • Workers who deal with water, wastewater, and waste removal
  • Workers in transportation and logistics roles, a broad category that ranges from airline pilots and taxi drivers to car mechanics and warehouse or storage employees

This applies to anyone who lives or works in the Fairfax Health District, which encompasses Fairfax County, the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, and the towns of Clifton, Herndon, and Vienna.

Fairfax County’s advancement to Phase 1c comes shortly after Gov. Ralph Northam declared on April 1 that Virginia will reach Phase 2 of its vaccine rollout by April 18, meaning that all residents 16 and older will be able to register to get vaccinated.

“We expect to move into the rest of Phase 1c later this week and move into Phase 2 by April 18 in accordance with federal and state goals for the COVID-19 vaccination rollout,” the Fairfax County Health Department said.

The remaining priority groups in Phase 1c are workers in finance, media, information technology and communications, and legal services as well as public safety engineers and barbers and hairstylists.

While vaccination efforts have been picking up in recent weeks, COVID-19 case levels have remained fairly consistent in Fairfax County and Virginia as a whole since mid-March after a two-month-long decline.

 

The Fairfax Health District reported 127 new cases today, including 123 cases in Fairfax County, one case in the City of Fairfax, and three cases in the City of Falls Church. The district has now recorded 73,175 COVID-19 cases, 3,820 related hospitalizations, and 1,072 deaths.

Fairfax County has averaged 150 new cases per day over the past seven days, a slight dip after the weekly average hovered between 160 and 180 cases throughout the latter half of March.

The plateau in case levels throughout the D.C. region has raised concerns that public health restrictions are being relaxed too quickly, potentially setting the stage for another surge in transmission before vaccines are widespread enough to curb the novel coronavirus’ spread.

According to the Virginia Department of Health dashboard, 355,871 Fairfax County residents have gotten at least one vaccine dose, and 186,701 residents have been fully vaccinated. Statewide, more than 1.5 million people have been fully vaccinated — 18.1% of Virginia’s population.

The Fairfax County Health Department vaccine dashboard indicates that the county received just 12,870 doses for the week of March 29 to April 4, a significant drop from the more than 55,000 doses that came from the state one week earlier.

An FCHD spokesperson says that the county ordered fewer doses last week because some of its partners did not utilize their full supply the previous week. The spokesperson also noted that the dashboard only includes first doses.

“Last week was also a large second dose week,” the spokesperson said. “…With first and second doses, we had a combined 40,950 doses last week.”

The spokesperson added that the dashboard will soon be updated to reflect both first and second dose supplies to provide “a more complete picture” of the county’s weekly inventory.

Graph via Virginia Department of Health

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(Updated at 2:45 p.m.) Fairfax County is continuing to partner with Giant to offer COVID-19 vaccinations at eight pharmacies, county health officials say.

Giant Food announced earlier this week that vaccines will be available at all 152 in-store pharmacies in D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware. Previously, the supermarket company was offering vaccines at about half of its in-store pharmacies.

The announcement, however, does not change the ongoing partnership between the county and Giant first established in February, in which Giant uses a portion of its vaccine supply to inoculate individuals on the county’s waitlist, county health officials confirm to Reston Now.

The eight Giant pharmacies working in partnership with the county are using the Pfizer vaccine and include locations in Annandale, Alexandria, Herndon, and Springfield, according to county health officials.

The Fairfax County Health Department’s vaccine dashboard shows that 26,395 people remain on the waitlist, meaning they are eligible, registered, and waiting for an invitation to schedule an appointment. As of noon today, the county is currently making appointments for those who registered on March 25.

Giant’s vaccine supply comes from the federal vaccination program, while the county receives allocations from the Virginia Department of Health.

There are also more than dozen other Giant locations in Fairfax County that are offering the vaccine but not in partnership with the county, which can be obtained going through the store’s appointment scheduler.

A Giant spokesperson tells Reston Now that each in-store pharmacy in the county currently has, on average, 15 to 20 appointments daily. They are using the Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vaccines.

Overall, local health departments and retail pharmacies like Giant have administered the most doses by far in Virginia. Pharmacies have administered nearly 880,000 doses, and local health departments have administered about 1.17 million doses.

While Giant notes on its website that those 65 and over will be “prioritized,” all individuals in Phase 1a and Phase 1b are eligible, including first responders, grocery workers, and public transit workers (including rideshare drivers).

Officials needed to maintain continuity of government, clergy, and janitorial staff were also added to Fairfax County’s eligibility list earlier this week.

The county announced yesterday (Thursday) that they will move into Phase 1c next week and plan to expand eligibility to all adults by April 18, per Gov. Ralph Northam’s timeline.

The county health department and its partners have administered 390,740 vaccine doses so far — an increase of 27,000 doses from yesterday and enough for approximately 34% of the county’s population, though the total includes first and second doses.

According to the VDH, 333,353 Fairfax County residents have received at least one vaccine dose, and 170,365 residents have been fully vaccinated.

Photo via Giant Food

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Fairfax County is committing to expanding COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to all adults by April 18, as long as there is sufficient supply, county officials tell Reston Now.

This comes on the heels of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s announcement earlier today (April 1) that all individuals in the Commonwealth over the age of 16 should be eligible for the vaccine starting Sunday, April 18.

“I know that our residents are looking forward to getting vaccinated and to be able to again spend time with their loved ones,” Fairfax County Board pf Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said in a statement to Reston Now. “Fairfax County is ready and prepared to move forward to meet the Governor’s and President Biden’s deadlines. I’m excited that we can continue to open eligibility and vaccinate even more people.”

The April 18 goal is ahead of the May 1 deadline set by President Joe Biden in mid-March for making all American adults eligible for the vaccine.

Governor Northam’s press release notes that this is because the state is making solid progress on delivering the vaccine to currently eligible populations.

“Nearly every Virginian in the highest risk groups who has pre-registered for a vaccination appointment has received one, and those still on the pre-registration list will receive appointment invitations within the next two weeks,” the governor’s office said.

The release also says that nearly 4 million doses of the vaccine have been administered in the Commonwealth. More than one in three adults have gotten at least one dose, and one in five are fully vaccinated.

21 out of 35 Virginia’s health districts have also moved to Phase 1c, which encompasses additional essential workers like food servers and construction workers.

After opening eligibility for all people in Phase 1b earlier this week, Fairfax County officials now say that the plan is to move to Phase 1c sometime next week to meet Northam’s target date as well as Biden’s expectation that 90% of adults in the U.S. will be eligible to get vaccinated by April 19.

To meet these goals, Fairfax County plans to open registration for Phase 1c early next week and transition to Phase 2 by the governor’s deadline,” the Fairfax County Health Department said in a newly published blog post.

The health department previously predicted that the county would enter Phase 1c in mid-April.

According to the county dashboard, 363,601 people have been vaccinated by the county health department or one of its partners — a nearly 10% jump from two weeks ago.

That’s approximately 32% of the county’s population, which is slightly lower than the overall percentage of Virginia residents who have been vaccinated based on the governor’s release.

As for when those eligible to register will get appointments and actual shots, that remains to be seen. The health department is currently making appointments for people who registered on March 24 and has gotten its waitlist down to less than 30,000 people.

Earlier in March, Virginia’s Vaccine Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said that everyone who wants the vaccine should be able to get their first dose by May 31.

However, Fairfax County could not commit to that goal at the time. A health department spokesperson Reston Now on Tuesday that the pace of vaccine administration will depend on “many factors,” including the number of doses that the county gets from the Virginia Department of Health.

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After a year spent largely cooped up inside (if you were lucky), even the most introverted individuals might feel a surge of anticipation at the prospect of mingling with a crowd in celebration or leisure.

The warming spring weather and accelerating pace of COVID-19 vaccinations suggest major communal experiences could once again be a reality. Starting today (Thursday), Virginia is easing limits on social gatherings, recreational events, and entertainment venues.

However, large, public events like ballgames and music concerts will still not be free of risk. Gov. Ralph Northam’s announcement that public health restrictions would be relaxed came amid declining COVID-19 transmission rates and increasing vaccine distribution, but cases have already started to tick back up again around the state.

As of March 31, Fairfax County was averaging 168.3 new COVID-19 cases over the past seven days. The county recorded its lowest weekly average of 2021 with 133.6 cases on March 15.

On top of health concerns, event organizers must grapple with logistical and financial challenges.

For instance, the fate of this year’s Friday Night Live! — Herndon’s annual free summer concert series — remains uncertain in part because it depends on public services that could see their funding slashed in the town’s new budget.

Chairman Laura Poindexter believes having the series live and in-person is critical to local businesses and the community, but she also told Reston Now earlier this week that it would be hard to justify the expense of putting on the concerts if they are limited to under 50% capacity.

When taking all these factors into consideration, how do you feel about the possibility of crowded, public events returning? Are you ready to take in a game at Nationals Park or a local rock concert? Or should everything wait until herd immunity is reached?

Photo by Mikey Tate

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(Updated at 1:35 p.m.) Everyone who lives or works in the Fairfax Health District and falls under a phase 1b category can now register for an appointment to get a COVID-19 vaccination.

The Fairfax County Health Department announced this morning (Tuesday) that, starting today, it is opening eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine to essential government workers, clergy and faith leaders, and janitorial and cleaning staff — the last three priority groups in phase 1b of Virginia’s vaccine rollout.

Approximately half of the Fairfax Health District’s population — which includes the county, the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, and the towns of Herndon, Vienna, and Clifton — is now eligible to register for the vaccine, according to Fairfax County Director of Epidemiology and Population Health Dr. Benjamin Schwartz.

“We anticipate those who’ve registered today will get an appointment in a few weeks,” FCHD spokesperson Tina Dale told Reston Now.

This is the third time Fairfax County has expanded eligibility for vaccine appointments this month, a pace that the health department says reflects a growing supply of vaccine doses.

The county received 55,470 doses from the Virginia Department of Health during the week of March 22-28. Its weekly shipments have been increasing by more than 10,000 doses per week over the past couple of weeks.

“We are moving through our current waitlist at a faster pace,” FCHD said in its blog post. “We expect to move into Phase 1c by mid-April and move into Phase 2 by May 1 in accordance with VDH guidance.”

Phase 1c covers remaining essential workers, including food service workers, housing and construction workers, water and waste removal workers, and media. Reaching phase 2 by May 1 would mean making vaccine appointments available to all adults, a stated goal of Gov. Ralph Northam and President Joe Biden.

Fairfax County remains cautious about committing to a timeline for when all adults will actually get at least one vaccine dose. Virginia’s vaccine coordinator, Dr. Danny Avula, has suggested that everyone who wants to get vaccinated could receive their first dose by May 31.

“We continue to add more county vaccination partners and continue to receive more doses of vaccine,” Dale said. “But whether or not everyone will have their first dose by May 31 is dependent on many factors.”

In addition to advocating for more doses, Fairfax County has been working to expand its capacity to administer the vaccines. Inova opened a mass vaccination site in Alexandria yesterday (Monday) that could accommodate at least 6,000 people per day.

According to the FCHD vaccine dashboard, which updates roughly every hour, Fairfax County is now making appointments for people who registered on March 16, when 4,412 individuals signed up. There are currently about 40,000 people on the waitlist, 11% of the 355,438 people that have registered for an appointment through the health department.

Newly eligible individuals can register to get vaccinated in Fairfax County, which is still operating its own registration system separate from the state, by filling out the health department’s online questionnaire or contacting its call center at 703-324-7404.

More than 300,000 people in Fairfax County have now gotten at least one dose of vaccine. According to VDH data, providers in the county have administered at least one dose to 309,338 people and fully vaccinated 158,541 people.

3.7 million total vaccine doses have been administered in Virginia, and 1.3 million people have been fully vaccinated — 15.5% of the state’s total population.

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The trajectory of COVID-19 cases in Fairfax County is starting to trend upward again after a roughly two-month decline.

The Fairfax Health District, which also includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, reported 154 new cases today (Monday), bringing the total to 72,111 cases over the course of the pandemic. The district has now recorded 3,752 hospitalizations and 1,066 deaths due to the novel coronavirus.

Now at 174.4 cases per day, the county’s weekly average has hovered around 160 to 170 cases since hitting a low for 2021 of 133.6 cases on March 15. That mark followed a two-month-long drop from an all-time high seven-day average of 696.7 cases on Jan. 17.

Fairfax County still has yet to return to the relative lull in the pandemic that came last summer, when the county had weekly averages of 40 to 50 cases.

The county’s plateauing case levels aligns closely with what is happening statewide. Virginia is currently averaging 1,506 cases over the past seven days, and like in Fairfax County, cases have been slightly but clearly increasing since mid-March, a potentially worrying sign as the Commonwealth prepares to further loosen public health restrictions.

Effective April 1, Virginia will increase the number of people permitted at both indoor and outdoor social gatherings and recreational sporting events, while removing caps on the number of attendees at entertainment and amusement venues, though a 30% capacity limit will remain in place.

Gov. Ralph Northam cited rising COVID-19 vaccination rates when announcing those changes on March 23, reporting that approximately one in four Virginians had received at least one dose of vaccine at that point.

While the upward trend in cases might be cause for concern, the pace of vaccinations continues to accelerate in Fairfax County as well.

The Fairfax County Health Department got 55,470 doses from the Virginia Department of Health during the week of March 22-28, the largest supply yet.

Last week, several Northern Virginia leaders urged the state to increase the region’s allocation of vaccine to match its capacity, which will further expand today with the opening of a mass vaccination site run by Inova Health Systems to serve Fairfax County and the City of Alexandria.

According to its vaccine data dashboard, the county health department is now making appointments for people who registered on March 16. As of 10 a.m. today, the county has whittled its waitlist down to 37,837 individuals — 11% of the 350,429 people who have registered since the COVID-19 vaccines became available in December.

VDH data indicates that 296,241 people in Fairfax County have gotten at least one vaccine dose, and 151,223 of them have been fully vaccinated, meaning they’ve received both shots of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Virginia has now administered more than 3.5 million vaccine doses. 1.2 million people — 15% of the state’s population — have been fully vaccinated.

Like the state as a whole, Fairfax County hopes to open registration for vaccine appointments to all adults by May 1, and after expanding eligibility to additional phase 1b priority groups, the health department anticipates reaching phase 1c by mid-April.

Images via CDC on Unsplash, VDH

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Morning Notes

Wind Advisory In Effect Today — The National Weather Service has issued a wind advisory from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. today. Gusty windows could blow around unsecured objects and some power outages may be expected. [NWS]

Work on Lake Anne Garden Plot Begins — Reston Association is installing a 10-foot black vinyl fence around the perimeter of the garden. The project is expected to be completed within two weeks. [RA]

Fairfax County Jobless Rates Dip — The county’s unemployment rate fell nearly half a half-percent from December to January as part of an ongoing but slow trend toward recovery. [Sun Gazette]

Brabrand to Host Town Hall — Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand will host a virtual town hall meeting from 6-7 p.m. on Monday, April 12. He plans to discuss Gov. Ralph Northam’s latest guidance of graduations and other school events. [FCPS]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Morning Notes

Dense Fog Advisory in Effect — The advisory is one effect through 11 a.m. today. Drivers should slow down, use headlights and leave plenty of distance between vehicles. [National Weather Service]

County Reiterates Need for Testing — The county is encouraging residents to get tested in order to perform case investigations and identify close contacts — a move that prevents the spread of COVID-19. A new strain is circulating in the United States that could be 50 percent more contagious. [Fairfax County Government]

Red Cross Blood Drives Coming to Reston Soon –The American Red Cross is hosting several blood drives in the area, including one on April 2 at the YMCA in Reston. A second blood drive is planned on April 5 at Herndon Ward LDS. [Reston Patch]

County Launches Parks Storytelling Project — ‘The Park Authority’s Healthy Strides program is launching a new storytelling project called “I Love Parks” — the theme of the annual 5K/10K/Kids Dash scheduled for Saturday, May 1, 2021. Share how parks have affected your life over this past year of pandemic shutdowns by submitting a photo and your story. Your experience could become part of a slideshow that will be showcased on the Park Authority’s website and on social media.’ [Fairfax County Government]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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