Reston, VA

Fairfax County Public Schools has decided to delay bringing more students back into in-person learning due to rising COVID-19 cases — a decision made after previously stating they would prepare to bring back 6,800 students on Nov. 17.

A Return To School Town Hall will be taking place on Thursday, Nov. 19 to discuss the decision and next steps. The town hall will take place virtually on the FCPS website from 6-7 p.m. Participants can submit questions to [email protected] or call in to 1-800-231-6359.

The Fairfax Education Association, alongside other Northern Virginia education associations, has urged Gov. Ralph Northam to fully return to virtual learning. The association also wrote a letter to FCPS on Nov. 12 demanding virtual learning. 

Gov. Northam, however, exempted educational settings from his new 25-person limit on social gatherings in his tightening of restrictions on Nov. 13. 

Do you believe trying to maintain the current hybrid learning is the right decision? Or do you believe FCPS should return to a virtual model? Was delaying the return of students the wrong call?

Photo via the FCPS website 

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Fairfax County recorded a massive jump of 400 COVID-19 cases today (Monday), up from 174 yesterday, due to a backlog in data reporting on the part of the Virginia Department of Health.

The Fairfax Health District added 1,366 cases over the past week for a seven-day average of 195.1 cases, the highest rate since the district saw an average of 197.7 cases over seven days on June 8.

Fairfax County also reported three deaths from COVID-19 over the past week, raising the county’s death toll to 625 people. The county has now reported 27,095 total cases, and 2,440 people have been hospitalized since the Fairfax Health District identified its first presumptive positive case in early March.

The Fairfax Health District currently has a total testing positivity rate of 8.3% out of 392,064 testing encounters, according to the VDH.

Because of the data reporting backlog, the 2,677 cases that the VDH reported today statewide are the most that Virginia has recorded in a single day at any point during the pandemic.

While Virginia’s COVID-19 infection rate remains one of the lowest in the U.S., the clear upward trend in cases that the state has seen over the past 90 days led Gov. Ralph Northam to tighten restrictions on social gatherings and businesses in an effort to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“While cases are not rising in Virginia as rapidly as in some other states, I do not intend to wait until they are,” Northam said when announcing the new measures on Nov. 13. “We are acting now to prevent this health crisis from getting worse.”

Effective as of midnight on Sunday (Nov. 15), the cap on public and private in-person gatherings has dropped from 250 people to 25. The revised executive order defines gatherings as indoor and outdoor parties, celebrations, and other social events, but the limit does not apply to educational settings.

Religious services can also have more than 25 people in attendance if they adhere to health and social distancing protocols, including having at least six feet of separation between individuals and practicing routine cleaning and disinfection of frequently-contacted surfaces.

A mask mandate requiring all individuals 10 and older to wear face coverings in indoor public settings that has been in place since May 29 has been expanded to include all individuals aged 5 and over.

Northam has also prohibited the on-site sale, consumption, and possession of alcohol after 10 p.m. in any restaurant, bar, or other food and beverage service establishment.

Finally, violations of social distancing, mask-wearing, and cleaning guidelines by essential retail businesses, including grocery stores and pharmacies, are now punishable by the state health department as Class One misdemeanors.

Photo via Governor of Virginia/Facebook, Virginia Department of Health

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As it approaches its 60th anniversary, Lake Anne Fellowship House is proactive aiming to limit the spread of COVID-19 at the independent living facility. So far, the fellowship house has had only five COVID-19 cases across four of its Fellowship House communities.

The recent diagnosis of a vendor in late October, however, concerned some residents who told Reston Now they were anxious to find out who the vendor may have had close contact with.

Staff say they have proactively handled the situation and ensured all necessary steps are taken, including identifying staff who came in contact with the vendor. Shelley Ducker, the organization’s communications coordinator told Reston Now, residents were notified of the case promptly on Oct. 29.

“We reminded residents that ‘in addition to our adoption of aggressive precautionary measures to avoid COVID-19 at Fellowship House… we also proactively developed an action plan to manage a diagnosed case,'” Ducker wrote in a statement.

Ducker says staff are working hard to protect residents and follow guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Residents are recommended to stay in their apartments or limit trips in and out of the building to avoid contact with others. Residents can also contact the organization’s service coordinator if they are in need of food or other necessities.

While it is important to note that Fellowship Square Foundation is independent living (as opposed to assisted care facilities), we have not only made safety a key priority, we are also supporting residents to ensure they have the essentials they need. We help to ensure that independent does not mean alone,” Ducker said.

As the pandemic continues, staff hope to celebrate Fellowship Square’s 60th anniversary in pandemic-friendly ways. Staff has delivered cupcakes to each resident. And given out goodies like hand sanitizers. A “Stay Home and Celebrate” anniversary event is planned for Dec. 2.

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Like many other parts of Virginia and the U.S., Fairfax County is seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases as the weather gets cooler.

The county has a rolling seven-day average of 133.9 cases as of Nov. 2, the highest since mid-June when an average of 137 cases was recorded on June 12.

After adding 937 cases over the past seven days starting on Oct. 27, including 167 new cases just on Nov. 2, Fairfax County now has a total of 24,642 COVID-19 cases and 2,317 hospitalizations.

The latest data from the Virginia Department of Health shows that the Fairfax Health District, which includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church as well as Fairfax County, now has a total of 620 COVID-19 deaths, with 605 deaths in Fairfax County, eight in Fairfax City, and seven in Falls Church.

Fairfax County’s case rate of 2,120 cases per 100,000 people is roughly in line with those of surrounding localities, surpassing Arlington (2,012) but remaining under the City of Alexandria (2,718) despite its significantly larger population.

Virginia’s northern region as a whole saw a steady upward trend in cases throughout October, but it has become more pronounced over the past week, when the region’s seven-day moving average rose from 234.3 cases on Oct. 25 to 322.3 cases today.

While that still falls far short of the 685.3 seven-day average recorded when the pandemic was peaking in Northern Virginia at the end of May, the upward trajectory reflects an overall surge in reported COVID-19 cases throughout Virginia.

The 1,306 seven-day moving average that Virginia reported today is the highest that the state has ever seen since the novel coronavirus first emerged in the Commonwealth in March.

The regional and statewide climb in COVID-19 cases will continue to draw scrutiny as Fairfax County Public Schools plans to bring more students back into physical classrooms throughout November.

FCPS started returning small cohorts of students to in-person instruction at the beginning of October, and students in early Head Start through second grade, along with students in special education and students with intensive support needs, are all tentatively scheduled to return to school by Nov. 30.

117 employees and 26 students have reported contracting COVID-19 to principals, program managers, or administrators since early September, according to a weekly COVID-19 case dashboard compiled by FCPS.

Because the case count is based on self-reporting, FCPS notes that the data “should be interpreted with caution…and may not be aligned to future epidemiological investigations.”

Staff Photo by Jay Westcott; image via Virginia Department of Health

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Tandem Product Academy is looking for 20 existing Northern Virginia technology companies to guide and help succeed in the COVID-19 economy.

Amplifier Advisors, as well as a group of university, government and community partners, helped Tandem Innovation Alliance’s Academy launch a new cohort mentoring these technology companies on Sept. 14.

The academy will help the selected businesses find a business model that will sustain them throughout the pandemic and long after, according to a statement from the Academy. The program will commence on Oct. 21, 2020.

The professionally-run program will run virtually over a four-month period, alternating between all-cohort classes and individual company mentor sessions, according to the statement.

“The post COVID-19 economy is punishing for technology businesses that do not have the right product market fit, but as we can see from regional and national successes, when a technology business has the right fit, this is a great time to be in the technology industry,” said Jonathan Aberman, the founder of Amplifier Advisors.

“We want to help a group of promising technology businesses find their best opportunities to pivot what they have built into a market that will be rewarding for the current economy and what’s next,” said Aberman.

Amplifier Advisors is an innovation business led by Aberman, George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis and Marymount University’s Marymount Intrapreneurship Initiative, according to the statement.

The cohort’s teaching team includes Marymount University faculty and well-known technology entrepreneurs and investors, including Mark Walsh, Gene Riechers, Ben Foster, Erich Baumgarter, Tien Wong, Pat Sheridan, Elizabeth Shea and Jonathan Aberman.

Participants must be senior leaders of a business that has a technology product that has achieved some commercial adoption, according to the statement, and whose company has done any of the following over the past year:

  • Had gross revenue of $500,000;
  • Obtained at least $500,000 in capital from sources other than the founder’s immediate friends or family; or
  • Received at least $500,000 in federal research and development funding.

Those interested can view more information and apply at the Tandem Innovation Alliance website.

Photo by Alesia Kazantceva/Unsplash

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Housing options have been limited, but local agents say the real estate market in Fairfax County is staying active as it continuously adapts to the pandemic

While COVID-19 is having an impact on the market in a variety of ways, housing inventory was already limited in the area before the pandemic.

“It’s really hard to find a single-family home or even townhouse. Many of the homes get multiple offers because inventory is so low,” said Laura Schwartz, a real estate agent with McEnearney Associates, Inc.

Schwartz – whose focus is in Northern Virginia – describes a market in which buyers have to be “willing to get aggressive” in their efforts to win a bid for a home. She also points out that the pursuit of homes has resulted in a fair number of ‘coming soon’ properties receiving pre-market offers, sight unseen.

Preparation has taken a key role in entering a seller’s market. Having a pre-approval in hand, pre-offer inspections, escalation clauses and other ways of making an offer competitive have become crucial necessities.

The buyer’s activity is something echoed by Dave Adams, a realtor for Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate. Adams, who, along with his wife JoAnne, specializes in northern Virginia and the DC Metro area, continues to see homes coming onto the market without COVID-19 seriously impacting home availability or supply.

Adams has witnessed buyers remain active, as low-interest rates have settled in. As a result of the rates and limited housing supply, Adams said that most listings have seen multiple offers above the list price, as well as many contingencies being waved.

After three months of decreased sales compared to last year in Fairfax County, the county has enjoyed a resurgence of home buying as sales increased in July (+4.52%) and August (+14.55%), according to the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors (NVAR).

“The traditional spring market has been delayed to the summer months, and the pent-up buyer and seller demand that began in in late spring continued full force into July,” NVAR 2020 President Nicholas Lagos said in August.

Supply or buying tactics are not the only affected areas of the market. The methodology of showing homes to prospective buyers has taken on new challenges.

On the seller’s side, there is no general rule of thumb for behavior. Each seller will maintain their own particular reasons and inclinations for how homes are shown, as well as how long the property is listed.

Adams points to the cultivation of a greater digital presence in aiding the home buying process – specifically, increased virtual showings and video conferencing to ensure the safety of all parties.

“The highlight of our year was quickly adapting and setting up our business to thrive in a pandemic,” Adams said.

“We have always embraced state-of-the-art technology; however, the way we used it changed.”

Schwartz highlighted the restrictions of physical showings. Many instructions curtail the list of individuals allowed to tour inside homes to those on a contract and the agent. This has restricted kids or other family members from joining home tours, and has resulted in parents having to take turns touring homes.

Remote learning responsibilities and people working from home have also required a greater bit of flexibility on all parties to allow for homes to be shown to prospective buyers.

“You just need to be prepared to act, be in constant communication, and know your must-haves so you’re comfortable taking action,” Schwartz said.

File Photo

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When Gov. Ralph Northam issued his stay-at-home order in March, Maura Williams, a social worker at a Reston homeless shelter said she knew “this is going to change everything that we’re doing.”

Williams, who is the division director for housing and community services for Cornerstones, a non-profit that runs the Embry Rucker Community Shelter on Bowman Towne Drive in Reston, said when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, staff had to scramble to stay open.

As businesses were closing their offices and sending employees home, Embry Rucker which houses 24 single adults and 11 families, did not have the option to send its residents elsewhere — not without a plan at least.

“The homeless don’t have the option of staying at home,” said Greg White, chief operating officer of Cornerstones. “So I believed that we always have to provide staff to work with our unsheltered and homeless population.”

With much of the country still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic and the recession it caused, things have remained steady at Embry Rucker, staff said. The demand for their services has remained the same, even with the economic downturn, and staff has found ways to keep the shelter open during the pandemic.

Like many homeless shelters, Embry Rucker has had to implement social distancing measures including housing about half of their residents at a nearby hotel and having some staff work from home. Those who do work at the shelter are required to wear masks.

As is increasingly becoming the norm in many places, the shelter now requires temperature checks for those who enter and has contracted with an outside company to test residents who have symptoms for COVID-19. Residents who test positive, self isolate at a nearby hotel the shelter has partnered with.

Thanks to funding from the federal CARES Act, which Congress passed back in March to give temporary relief to Americans affected by the pandemic, the shelter has used the federal funds to provide rental assistance to those struggling to pay the bills in the pandemic induced recession.

But the ease in which the shelter has handled the pandemic could change quickly Williams said, whenever state and federal eviction moratoriums are lifted and landlords start removing tenants who have not paid their rent. So far, the shelter has seen an increase in its rental assistance program — something that has become a point of emphasis as many people in Fairfax County are out of work and are past due on their rent payments.

The federal funding the shelter received from the CARES Act will only last until the end of the year, a spokesperson for the shelter said, meaning it could become harder to help the ever-growing list of people behind on their rent and mortgage payments.

“I think we are maintaining now. I think we’re holding on, but I think we are all anticipating when the eviction moratorium is discontinued that we are defiantly going to see a very huge housing crisis,” Williams said.

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