Reston, VA

Morning Notes

Fairfax County Reconfigures COVID-19 Call Center — “The Health Department has implemented a new call center system to better meet the needs of our residents during the upcoming transition to Phase 2 and beyond. As we work to implement this new system, wait times for callers may be longer than expected.” [Fairfax County Health Department]

Virginia Woman Died After Receiving Johnson & Johnson Vaccine — “Virginia health officials say a woman who died a few weeks after receiving the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is among six cases nationwide that prompted a pause in use of the one-dose shots. The woman’s death last month had similarities to the blood-clotting problem that halted distribution of the vaccine Tuesday, said Dr. Danny Avula, the state’s vaccination coordinator.” [Inside NoVA]

U.S. Labor Secretary Visits Reston Business — Labor Secretary Marty Walsh held a discussion at Vantage Point Consulting’s Reston office on Friday (April 9) to talk about President Biden’s jobs plan and how it could help recent veterans and others transition back into the workforce. Vantage Point provides career readiness services and is owned by a veteran. [Patch]

Herndon Police Welcomes Support Dog — “Herndon Police Department is proud to announce K9 Bragg has joined the family, serving as HPD’s first certified facility dog. Bragg, a Labrador Retriever, was graciously gifted to HPD from Mutts With A Mission, a 501(c)(3) based in Portsmouth, VA, that specializes in training dogs to serve the needs of first responders, veterans, and wounded warriors.” [Herndon Police/Facebook]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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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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Morning Notes

Metro Board Debates Lowering Fares — “During the transit authority’s bi-monthly board meeting Thursday, four board members voiced support for a flurry of proposals that would simplify or reduce rail fees, including lower fares and eliminating rush hour peak pricing.” [DCist]

Paycheck Protection Program Deadline Extended — The deadline for small businesses to apply for forgivable loans from the federal COVID-19 relief program has been extended to May 31. The new PPP application period includes a 14-day window exclusively open to businesses and nonprofits with fewer than 20 employees. [Fairfax County Economic Development Authority]

Virginia to Overhaul Police Shooting Investigations — “Virginia’s attorney general and the state’s NAACP announced Wednesday that they are launching a collaborative effort to bring more transparency, impartiality and public confidence to the way police shootings are investigated across the commonwealth.” [The Washington Post]

Hunter Mill Supervisor to Assist with Potomac River Cleanup — “Help clean up our beautiful communities! This Saturday, April 10 is the Potomac River Watershed Cleanup. I’ll be participating in events in Reston and the weather looks good, so please consider joining us!” [Supervisor Walter Alcorn/Twitter]

Federal Assistance Available to Shuttered Venues — The Small Business Association’s Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program is now accepting applicants seeking assistance with payroll, rent, and other expenses. Supported by $16 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act, the program is open to live venue operators, promoters, theatrical producers, live performing arts organizations, museums, zoos, aquariums and theaters. [Fairfax County Government]

RCC Unveils Plans to Celebrate Earth Day — Reston Community Center’s 2021 Earth Day activities will include a photo scavenger hunt, play-dough making, storytelling, and supplies for a home herb garden. Advance registration and face masks are required for the Green Reston program on April 24. [Patch]

Photo via Mary Dominiak/Twitter

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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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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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Morning Notes

Nats Season Opener Canceled Due to COVID-19 Cases — At least three Washington Nationals players have tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the team to postpone their Opening Day game. The Nats were supposed to play the New York Mets in their first regular-season game in front of fans since they won the World Series in 2019. [WTOP]

Faraday Park Apartments Now Leasing — Leasing recently began for apartments in the West Tower of the mixed-use project near the Wiehle-Reston East Metro station, with the East Tower expected to be complete in May. When finished, Faraday Park will have about 400 apartments total, along with a rooftop pool, lounges, a fitness center, maker’s workshop area, and other amenities. [The Washington Post]

Reston Telemedicine Company Makes Major Acquisition — “Reston-based SOC Telemed Inc. announced this week it has purchased Texas-based medical practice Access Physicians for $194 million in cash and stocks. The acquisition will create the largest acute care telemedicine provider in the United States.” [Virginia Business]

April Is Alcohol Awareness Month — “Governor Ralph Northam has officially recognized April as Alcohol Awareness Month in Virginia. In issuing a proclamation, the governor emphasized the need to increase public awareness and understanding about the dangers associated with alcohol misuse.” [Virginia ABC]

What’s Open and Closed in Herndon on Easter — “Another pandemic Easter calls for a low-key day with close family. Whether you’re skipping the big meal, heading to a movie, or crossing items off your spring to-do list, it’s helpful to know which libraries, restaurants, and stores are open before you head out.” [Herndon Patch]

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South Lakes High School’s varsity and junior varsity football teams have paused all activities through April 4 — one day before spring break ends — after 11 players tested positive for COVID-19, Fairfax County Public Schools confirmed to Reston Now.

ABC7’s Scott Abraham first reported the teams’ activities had been put on hold due to positive COVID-19 cases. The Seahawks’ March 26 home game against Washington-Liberty and April 1 game at Langley were both canceled.

South Lakes Principal Kim Retzer alerted families to the multiple positive cases of COVID-19 at the school in an emailed letter on March 25, stating that the cases appeared to be “confined to a contained group of students (such as a sports team or a club).”

“In an abundance of caution, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) will be temporarily transitioning all affected classroom cohorts to distance learning and all on-site activities involving this group have been paused as the Fairfax County Health Department (FCHD) completes contact tracing and investigation,” Retzer wrote in her letter.

She added that FCPS “will be implementing all cleaning and disinfecting protocols as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the FCHD.”

“Our school remains open to staff and all other in-person cohorts at this time,” Retzer said.

FCPS spokesperson Lucy Caldwell confirmed that 11 of the 99 student athletes in the high school’s football program reported testing positive as of March 31.

“The FCHD determined transmission of COVID-19 occurred during team activities,” she said.

Caldwell noted that the student athletes who tested positive have the ability to participate in virtual learning while in isolation.

Almost 40 additional student athletes have been moved to virtual learning to quarantine because the county health department identified those students as “close contacts to the reported COVID-19 positive cases,” according to Caldwell.

In accordance with CDC guidance, the health department defines a close contact as “persons with [more than] 15 cumulative minutes of exposure in a 24-hour period within 6 feet of an infectious COVID-19 case.”

FCHD Senior Communications Specialist Tina Dale told Reston Now that the department does not comment on outbreaks unless it needs assistance finding people to complete contact investigations.

“As is the case with facilities, such as schools, we are able to conduct a thorough investigation since everyone involved can easily be identified and contacted, which is the goal for our investigations,” Dale said.

According to Caldwell, almost 13,000 FCPS students and staff have participated in athletics activities since winter sports began on Dec. 7, and just under 2% of participants reported testing positive for COVID-19.

“FCPS paused activities as advised by the FCHD,” Caldwell said. “All teams are paused following the initial report of a positive case. Any close contacts identified by the FCHD are instructed to quarantine and the rest may resume normal activities.”

As more students have returned to school buildings for classes and other activities, FCPS has launched a Stop the Spread campaign to combat COVID-19 by promoting “layered prevention strategies,” Caldwell says.

The campaign emphasizes registering for a vaccine, wearing masks in public, practicing social distancing, washing hands while covering sneezes and coughs, cleaning and disinfecting, and answering any potential calls from the county health department.

Caldwell says FCPS will not enforce any additional protocols related to travel during spring break, but all students, staff, and visitors will continue to complete a daily questionnaire about possible symptoms before arriving to school or work. Individuals who answer “yes” to any questions on the screening are directed to stay home.

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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

Document Shredding Schedule Set for Fairfax County — The county’s solid waste management program has set the schedule for document shredding. The next shredding date is this Saturday. [Fairfax County Government]

COVID-19 Vaccine Form Now Available in Spanish — The county’s vaccine registration form is now available in Spanish. Users can toggle between the English and Spanish versions of the form by selecting language on the top right of the screen. [Fairfax County Government]

Drive-In Movies Take Place in Isaac Newton Square Parking Lot — Reston Association is holding its first drive-in movie event at 7:30 p.m. this Saturday. The event is $40 per car for RA members and $50 for all others. [RA]

Northern Virginia Reports Rise in COVID-19 Cases — “The Virginia Department of Health reported 674 new cases in Northern Virginia on Thursday, the most since Feb. 13.  The region’s seven-day average of new cases, which peaked Jan. 18 at 1,628.4, had fallen as low as 318.4 on Saturday, but now stands at 407 cases per day.” [Inside NoVA]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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The COVID-19 vaccination process has been ramping up in Fairfax County in recent weeks, as supplies increase and more partners come on board to help administer the vaccines.

While eligibility for the vaccine has not expanded since mid-January, Fairfax County’s allocation of vaccine has grown over the past month or so from 13,000 to 19,220 first doses per week, and the size of shipments are expected to continue increasing throughout March, allowing the county health department to get through its existing waitlist more quickly.

As of 5 p.m. yesterday (Thursday), more than 111,000 people were waiting for appointments to get vaccinated. A total of 307,659 people have registered through the Fairfax County Health Department, which administered 21,791 first doses during the week of March 1-7.

The authorization of a third vaccine manufactured by Johnson & Johnson helps increase supply, giving providers another option on top of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that have been available since December, according to the Fairfax County Health Department.

Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which both require two shots separated by three or four weeks, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine needs only one dose. It is also easier to store and seems to less apt to trigger strong side effects.

The J&J vaccine is slightly less effective at guarding against severe disease caused by COVID-19, with an 85% efficacy rate compared to 95% and 94.1% for Pfizer and Moderna, respectively. However, differences in how clinical trials were conducted make comparisons inexact, and all three are considered “extremely effective at preventing severe disease, hospitalization, and death,” FCHD says.

Fairfax County currently doesn’t offer a choice between the vaccines, since the health department has been primarily utilizing Pfizer for first doses. The county has been sending its J&J allocation to Inova, which expects to double its capacity later this month with the launch of a new mass vaccination center in Alexandria.

The FCHD says it anticipates starting to use the J&J vaccine by the end of March, though the number of doses is unknown at this time. For now, officials say people should take whichever vaccine becomes available to them.

If you were given a choice, though, which would you prefer? Would you want to get the process over with in one shot, or do you have more confidence in the two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccines?

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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(Updated at 11:05 am on 3/12/21)  The Fairfax County Health Department decided to send their initial allotment of 3,800 doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to local Inova hospitals, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

The county’s allotment comes from the Commonwealth’s current supply of 69,000 doses that it received from the federal government last week.

Fairfax County Health Department spokesperson Jeremy Lasich confirms this and tells Reston Now that the county sent its J&J vaccine doses to Inova, because the county currently only has the capacity to give out a certain amount of doses. As supply picks up, the county will rely more on partners like Inova.

The hospital system is planning to use this supply for a vaccination clinic for residents 75 and over, Lasich says.

Nearly 110,00 Fairfax County residents remain on the waitlist for a vaccine appointment, though the pace of vaccinations has been picking up, according to the county’s dashboard, which indicates that residents who registered on Jan. 22 are now able to make appointments.

The county did say they expect to receive a fresh supply of J&J vaccine doses by the end of March. It’s unknown at this time exactly how many doses, Lasich says.

Additionally, a number of pharmacies in Fairfax County received the J&J vaccine through the federal partnership program, the Virginia Department of Health confirms to Reston Now.

The health department for nearby Arlington County opted to allocate 1,500 doses of the J&J vaccine for a mass vaccination event this past weekend.

D.C. got doses of the J&J vaccine that were used at high-capacity vaccination sites last week. The city is also asking residents which of the three available vaccines they’d prefer when they pre-register. A city official said on Twitter that it’s for data collection to understand demand.

However, Fairfax County is not asking this question or providing a vaccine option because it is “primarily using Pfizer for first-dose appointments right now.”

Lasich says that this is a change from earlier in the year, when the county health department was primarily using Moderna. Exactly which vaccine is used depends on the amount of doses received, he notes.

There’s evidence that some prefer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only one-shot, rather than the two shots needed for both Pfizer’s and Moderna. This potentially could simplify and quicken the pace of vaccination.

In addition to lowering the commitment from patients, the J&J vaccine is easier to store, and it appears that recipients have been less prone to severe side effects.

One potential drawback to the J&J vaccine is that trials have shown that it is less effective than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines at preventing illness, though it still has an 85% efficacy against severe forms of COVID-19 and 100% efficacy against hospitalization and death from COVID-19.

Even though that means it still offers strong protection, health officials are putting a lot of effort in convincing people that the J&J vaccine is not the “inferior” vaccine.

VDH tells Reston Now that it expects the J&J vaccine to make up close to 20% of the state’s supply in April, increasing to about 30% in May.

In Fairfax County, conversations are ongoing about giving registrants the option to choose which vaccine they will receive, but it will all depend on supply availability.

“The best vaccine is the one available to you at the appointment,” says Lasich.

In Fairfax County, though, that isn’t yet the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Updated to further clarify that the initial allotment of J&J doses sent to the county are going to Inova hospitals, which is a partner of the county.

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(Update: 10:45 a.m.) Thanks to federal and state partnerships, some local retail locations of CVS, Walgreens, Safeway, and Harris Teeter are all offering no-cost vaccine appointments separate from the county.

But appointments remain extremely hard to come by even as the one-dose Johnson & Johnson begins to roll out. Demand far exceeds supply.

Virginia is currently in Phase 1b, meaning those 65 or over and those with 16 to 64 with underlying medical conditions are eligible to receive the vaccine.

The Virginia Health Department tells Reston Now that more than 80,000 doses are being given to retail pharmacies state-wide for distribution, an increase from last month.

The 69,000 J&J vaccine doses announced last week started coming in yesterday, VDH confirms, and clinics across the state are expecting to start using it today (March 5).

VDH also says that they’ve directed retail pharmacies to “prioritize” those 65 and over to “make significant progress in vaccinating that vulnerable population.” All of this provides hope that more vaccines and more appointments will soon become available for those that are eligible.

Early last month, CVS began offering vaccine appointments at its local stores.

Currently, 41 CVS pharmacies are offering the vaccine in Virginia with appointments booked through their website. But that includes only one location in Fairfax County. The location is in Fairfax, but is listed with no exact address.

CVS spokesperson Amy Thibault tells Reston Now there are roughly 41,580 appointments per week available at the 41 locations statewide. Most of them are using the Moderna vaccine. Basic math says that’s about 1,000 appointments per store per week.

However, as of March 4, all appointments are booked at that one Fairfax location.

“In most (if not all) states, the number of individuals who are eligible to receive the vaccine under the state’s rules far outnumber the state’s available doses,” she says.

Currently, in Fairfax County, more than 100,000 people remain on the county’s waitlist. About 183,000 county residents have already been vaccinated.

Thibault confirmed that CVS is receiving a “one-time allocation” of 212,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week which will be spread across their stores in 17 states. Scheduling for that began yesterday (March 4) on the CVS website and administrating begins today (March 5).

She says that CVS has the capacity to administer 20 to 25 million doses a month nationwide, assuming there’s an adequate supply of not only the vaccine but also supplies.

At the other retail pharmacies offering vaccines in Fairfax County, challenges are similar.

Safeway, and its parent company Albertsons, are also offering appointments to those 65 and over. According to their online scheduler, the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine is also now being offered.

Locations in the county include one on Elden Street in Herndon, South Lakes Drive in Reston, Georgetown Pike in Great Falls, and West Ox Road in Fairfax.

So far, no appointments are currently available at least through March 13 at any locations.

“Store supply is based on allocations from state and local health departments. New appointments are added to the online scheduler as more vaccine become available,” writes Andrew Whelan, Albertsons spokesperson, to Reston Now. “Demand is high and appointments are often claimed very quickly. As dose allocations increase, so too will the opportunity to secure an appointment.”

Walgreens announced their participation in the federal partnership and started administering vaccines in Virginia. But, at least as of March 4, there are no appointments available within 25 miles of Reston, Fairfax, or Tysons.

Harris Teeter’s website notes that they were to start distributing vaccines this week in Virginia, but a company spokesperson writes to Reston Now that this hasn’t happened yet.

“Harris Teeter is expected to receive limited quantities of the vaccines soon at nine pharmacies in and around Northern Virginia… appointments will be released as vaccine allocations arrive.”

Giant has taken another approach. Instead of creating its own appointment system, the grocery chain is using the vaccine supply allocated to them by the federal government to help the Fairfax County Health Department vaccinate their waitlist.

“People invited from the queue will be able to select from several Giant locations within the Fairfax Health District,” reads the health department’s blog. “Locations and details will be included in the appointment scheduler email.”

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The Fairfax County Health Department has completed sending out vaccine appointment invitations to 42,000 eligible residents who signed up on Jan. 18 and are now hopeful they’ll be able set up appointments at a faster clip.

“Now that we have got thru [Jan. 18 registrations], we anticipate that we will move more quickly through the other dates,” Tina Dale, a spokesperson for the Fairfax County Health Department, writes Reston Now. “In addition, we are working with more vaccination partners, so this, too, will assist us in moving through our registration list faster.”

If residents registered on Jan. 18 or before and have not received an invite, Dale says they should check their spam folder. If there’s no email with the subject line “Schedule Appointment,” residents should call the COVID-19 Vaccine hotline at 703-324-7404 and a call taker should be able to assist.

The county’s dashboard now says they are currently making appointments for those who registered on Jan. 19.

Six weeks ago, the county first allowed residents who qualified for Phase 1b to register for COVID-19 vaccine appointments. Phase 1b includes residents 65 years old and over and those 16 to 64 with underlying medical conditions.

COVID-19 vaccine rollout based on VDH guidance (Graphic Provided by Fairfax County Health Department)

On that first day when vaccine appointments opened to those in Phase 1b, Jan. 18, more than 42,000 eligible signed up and registered – far exceeding another other day.

In fact, as the dashboard shows, the 42,000 registrations on Jan. 18 alone were approximately the same number of combined registrations over the next four days.

The county acknowledged that sending everyone an invitation to schedule a vaccine appointment who signed up on Jan. 18 would take “several weeks.”

Nearly 94,000 residents remain on the waitlist, which means they are awaiting an invitation to schedule an appointment.

The county says they don’t have an estimated timeline for when those remaining 94,000 people will be sent an invitation to sign up for a vaccine appointment or when the county will move to sign up those in Phase 1c for appointments.

However, the Virginia Department of Health expects the vaccine supply to increase over the next two months, says Dale, and the Commonwealth has said they expect to get through all of those who are eligible and want the vaccine in Phase 1b by mid to late April.

Essentially, demand still far outweighs supply – a continued issue since the vaccine first started being distributed in December.

Overall, about 176,700 residents have been vaccinated in Fairfax County, which represents just over 15% of the total population in the county.

That’s comparable to Virginia and the country as a whole, which has vaccinated about 16% and 15% (respectively) of the population according to the Washington Post.

Additionally, on Friday, the county acknowledged that there issues with about 2,800 registrations “not being correctly captured in the system due to technical errors.”

Dale says that these registrations have been corrected and were a result of a combination of issues, including both “user error and system error.”

Since then, the county has added new features to the registration to reduce the possibility of user error, like providing two fields for email addresses and limiting the number of characters for phone number and zip code.

The county is also asking people to review the spelling of their names and email addresses as well as ensure their date of birth is accurate to make sure there are no errors.

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(Update 2:05 p.m.) Fairfax County opted out of Virginia’s new COVID-19 vaccine pre-registration system, but the decision seems to be causing confusion among some county residents.

The Virginia Department of Health tells Reston Now, the day after the launch (Wednesday), 542 calls from Fairfax County zip codes to the statewide COVID information line asking questions about vaccines were rerouted back to Fairfax County’s call center.

When asked about this, the Fairfax County Health Department admits that they understand the confusion.

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

As recently as Wednesday, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay told Reston Now that forgoing the Virginia appointment system to continue with the county-only system would help out in this regard.

“I am glad we can maintain our system that residents are familiar with to cut down on confusion,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

If Fairfax County residents do end up registering through the state system, the information does end up eventually going back to the county. But those residents will be added to the end of the waitlist, notes the county.

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

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

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

This is in addition to those in previous groups, including health care personnel, childcare workers, and K-12 teachers or staff members living or working in the county.

Check your eligibility status here and to register, visit the county’s vaccine registration page. Fairfax County residents can also call 703-324-7404 for more information.

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

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

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

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

“We continue to ask for your patience,” the county spokesperson writes. “We promise you will get an appointment if you are on our list.”

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Metrorail is now operating at the same frequency during peak and off-peak hours on weekdays after budget changes prompted by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic took effect yesterday (Monday).

Under the revised Fiscal Year 2021 budget, trains are running every 12 minutes on the Orange, Silver, Blue, Green, and Yellow lines, while Red line trains operate every six minutes. Service after 7 p.m. and on weekends has not been altered.

The reduction of rail service during weekday rush hours was recommended as part of a revised FY 2021 budget that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Board of Directors approved when it met on Nov. 19.

“The changes bring rail service in line with ridership demand while managing costs amid pandemic-related budget constraints,” WMATA said in a news release. “Rail ridership remains down nearly 90 percent from pre-pandemic levels.”

In contrast, WMATA says Metrobus ridership is only down 55% on weekdays and less on weekends compared to pre-pandemic levels, so service will expand to accommodate additional capacity starting on Mar. 14.

“Customers will see more buses, more often on the 125 lines of service currently operating, and more routes will be added to expand bus service on weekends,” WMATA said.

More details about the March Metrobus service changes will be provided at a later date, the transit agency says.

Photo by Chuck Samuelson/Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project

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