Morning Notes

Lake Anne housing (Photo by vantagehill/Flickr)

Reston Resident to Lead County Park Authority — Jai Cole, a Restonian, has been named the executive director of the Fairfax County Park Authority. Cole has more than two decades of leadership experience with recreation and park agencies. [Fairfax County Government]

Finland-based Company Choses Reston for North America Headquarters — Cloudpermit, a software company, has selected Reston as its North American headquarters. The company’s CEO says that Virginia was the right choice because of the “the highest concentration of tech talent in the U.S.” [PR Newswire]

Health Department to Improve COVID-19 Contact Interviews — The county’s health department is working on improving how to expedite contact with students who have been exposed to COVID-19 but haven’t been notified by health department staff. [Fairfax County Government]

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Coronavirus (Photo via CDC on Unsplash)

After hovering in the “substantial” category throughout August, Fairfax County is officially seeing high levels of COVID-19 spread within the community, putting it in line with almost all of Virginia.

The county went from orange to red when the Virginia Department of Health updated its dashboard this morning (Monday) for the week of Aug. 22-28. Manassas Park is now the only locality in the state not reporting high community transmission, a dot of “moderate” yellow amid a sea of crimson.

The Fairfax County Health Department attributes the continued rise in virus cases to the prevalence of the Delta variant, which spreads more easily between people than previous strains and is now the most common strain in Northern Virginia.

“We continue to do all we can to educate, vaccinate, and limit the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” Fairfax County Health Director Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu said in a statement. “…The level of community transmission in Northern Virginia — and the rest of the Commonwealth — is now classified as “High”, emphasizing the importance of prevention wherever we live, work, play and learn. We urge everyone to continue to be vigilant about layered prevention strategies and for all those who are eligible to receive vaccination to do so.”

Fairfax County now has high levels of COVID-19 community transmission (via Virginia Department of Health)

Following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s metrics, VDH determines the level of community transmission based on the total number of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 persons and the percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive over the last seven days.

While Fairfax County’s weekly testing positivity rate actually dropped from 6.2% during the week of Aug. 15-21 to 5.1% this past week, which would still be considered moderate transmission, the number of new cases per 100,000 people jumped from 99.2 to 109.5 over that same time frame, putting the county over the 100-case threshold for high transmission.

With one day left in the month, the Fairfax Health District has reported fewer than 100 new COVID-19 cases in a day just twice in August. Another 116 cases came in today, bringing the weekly average up to 182.6 cases — the highest mark since April 14, when the county averaged 184.3 daily new cases over the previous seven days.

The district, which includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church as well as Fairfax County, has now recorded a total of 83,902 COVID-19 cases over the course of the pandemic. 4,253 residents have been hospitalized with the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and 1,164 residents have died, including eight since last Monday (Aug. 23).

Fairfax County COVID-19 cases over the past 180 days as of Aug. 30, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)

According to the VDH, the vast majority of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths statewide continue to occur in unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people, who have contracted COVID-19 at 13.3 and 2.6 times the rate of their fully vaccinated counterparts, respectively.

The Fairfax Health District has administered a total of 1.46 million vaccine doses so far, though the federal government’s approval of the Pfizer vaccine on Aug. 23 doesn’t appear to have spurred a sudden uptick in demand.

787,408 residents — or 66.5% of the district’s total population, including 78.7% of people 18 and older — have now gotten at least one shot, according to the Fairfax County Health Department’s vaccine dashboard. 6,369 more people joined the club over the past week, roughly on par with the 6,257 people who got their first inoculation in the week before that.

712,389 residents are fully vaccinated, which amounts to 71.6% of adults and 60.2% of the overall population.

Photo via CDC on Unsplash

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Coronavirus (Photo via CDC on Unsplash)

The U.S. has its first officially approved COVID-19 vaccine.

The Food and Drug Administration announced this morning (Monday) that it has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for individuals 16 and older based on updated data from clinical trials that showed the vaccine is 91% effective at preventing the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

That is lower than the 95% effectiveness rate reported on Dec. 11, when the Pfizer vaccine became the first innoculation authorized for emergency use in the country, but the FDA says the vaccine meets its standards for safety, quality, and effectiveness, including against hospitalization or death due to a COVID-19 infection.

“While millions of people have already safely received COVID-19 vaccines, we recognize that for some, the FDA approval of a vaccine may now instill additional confidence to get vaccinated,” Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock said in a statement. “Today’s milestone puts us one step closer to altering the course of this pandemic in the U.S.”

The Pfizer vaccine also remains authorized for use by adolescents between 12 and 15 years of age. Moderna started the process to get full approval of its vaccine, which is currently authorized for adults 18 and older, on June 1, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is still available for adults after a brief pause this spring.

The full approval allows Pfizer to advertise its vaccine and continue selling it after the federal public health emergency for the pandemic ends, but local and state officials hope it will also convince more people to get vaccinated, as COVID-19 cases continue to climb due to the highly infectious Delta variant.

“Today’s news is yet another reaffirmation that vaccines are safe and effective,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said in a statement. “Though all three COVID vaccines are approved for emergency use, the FDA’s official approval of Pfizer’s vaccine is good news for our community. We have been distributing Pfizer since day one and have plenty on hand for those who would like one. Anyone who is not vaccinated, or who was waiting for this FDA action, should go get vaccinated to protect themselves and their loved ones against COVID-19.”

According to Virginia Department of Health data, Fairfax County reported 206 new COVID-19 cases on Friday (Aug. 20), the first time its single-day caseload surpassed 200 since April 13. With another 336 cases coming in over the weekend and 124 cases added today, including from the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, the Fairfax Health District has seen a total of 82,600 cases since the start of the pandemic.

4,227 people in the district have been hospitalized, and 1,156 people have died from the virus.

The county is now averaging 178.9 cases per day over the past seven days, a tick down from 182.9 cases yesterday (Sunday), which was the highest weekly average since April 14.

With more than 80 cases per 100,000 people reported in the last week and a testing positivity rate of 4.4% as of the week ending on Aug. 14, the county’s community transmission level remains substantial. Read More

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Coronavirus (Photo via CDC on Unsplash)

Fairfax County is still seeing substantial levels of COVID-19 community transmission, necessitating the continued use of masks as the county hopes to get the coronavirus back under control with schools set to reopen next week.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Virginia Department of Health measure community transmission levels using the total number of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people and the percentage of positive tests in the past seven days.

Fairfax County’s testing positivity rate for the week of Aug. 8-14 was 4.5%, up from 3% at the end of June but still in the threshold for “low” transmission. However, the county has recorded 76.2 cases per 100,000 people in the past week, which is high enough to be considered substantial transmission.

With the addition of 103 cases today (Monday), the Fairfax Health District, including the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, has recorded a total of 81,427 COVID-19 cases during the pandemic. 4,213 people have been hospitalized, and 1,154 people have died, including one person within the past week.

The county is now averaging 136.4 new daily cases for the past seven days — the highest weekly average since April 23, which had a seven-day average of 141.6 cases, according to VDH.

Fairfax County COVID-19 cases over the past 180 days as of Aug. 16, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)

The Fairfax County Health Department had not noticed a “discernable” increase in vaccination rates over the four weeks since the Delta variant-fueled rise in cases began, a department spokesperson told Reston Now last Monday (Aug. 9), but since then, an additional 9,697 Fairfax Health District residents have gotten their first vaccine dose.

In comparison, just 4,627 people obtained their first shot between Aug. 2 and 9.

Overall, 774,782 Fairfax Health District residents have received at least one vaccine dose. That is 65.5% of the total population and 77.6% of residents 18 and older, according to the county health department’s vaccine data dashboard.

699,412 residents — 70.6% of adults and 59.1% of the total population — are now fully vaccinated.

VDH announced on Friday (Aug. 13) that it will provide third doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to people with moderate to severe compromised immune systems in accordance with a new recommendation by the CDC.

“Studies have shown that people with a compromised immune system can have a weak response to the standard vaccine regimen, and that a third dose is needed to strengthen immunity in these persons and protect them from serious COVID-19 complications,” VDH said in its news release.

According to CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky, immunocompromised people have accounted for 40 to 44% of the hospitalized breakthrough cases reported in the U.S.

As of Friday, Virginia has recorded 4,056 breakthrough COVID-19 cases, including 233 hospitalizations and 52 deaths. However, 240,980 cases, 8,383 hospitalizations, and 2,786 deaths have involved a person who is only partially vaccinated or not vaccinated at all.

98.3% of all cases, 97.2% of hospitalizations, and 98.2% of deaths are people who are not fully vaccinated.

Photo via CDC on Unsplash

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Morning Notes

Tiger swallowtail butterfly at Lake Fairfax Park (photo by Marjorie Copson)

Virginia Requires Masks in Schools — Gov. Ralph Northam issued a public health order yesterday (Thursday) requiring universal mask-wearing in all K-12 schools in response to concerns about the COVID-19 Delta variant. Fairfax County Public Schools announced a mandate on July 28 that had some exemptions for fully vaccinated individuals, but the district updated its policy on Wednesday (Aug. 11) to require masks indoors for everyone. [The Washington Post]

Fairfax County Opens for Vaccine Site Requests — “Businesses and community event organizers can now request to host a vaccination team to provide COVID-19 vaccines or education/outreach services so that people can learn more about the vaccines. Requests will be reviewed and matched with an outreach or nursing team from the Fairfax County Health Department.” [FCHD]

Route 7 Traffic Changes Coming Next WeekUtterback Store Road in Great Falls will be closed from 9:30 a.m. on Monday (Aug. 16) to 2 p.m. on Friday (Aug. 20) while crews remake the intersection for the Route 7 Corridor Improvements Project. Construction, which will continue until 2024, will also require westbound Route 7 lane shifts from Reston Parkway to Reston Avenue on Aug. 17 and between Utterback Store and Springvale roads on Aug. 19. [VDOT]

Senate Infrastructure Bill Boosts D.C. Area — Metro would receive $150 million annually for capital improvements over the next eight years from the $1 trillion infrastructure funding bill that the Senate approved 69-30 on Tuesday (Aug. 10). The bill allocates more than $8 billion to Virginia for highway and bridge repairs, public transit support, and expansions of the state’s broadband and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. [DCist]

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The nearly invisible oak leaf itch mite (via James Kalisch/University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

(Updated at 3:45 p.m.) Fairfax County residents are itching to understand the culprit behind weird skin reactions, possibly linked to bug bites, that have been reported throughout the D.C. region this summer.

As first reported by Reston Now’s sister site ARLnow, people in Northern Virginia and beyond are finding itchy red marks on their skin that are not quite mosquito bites and may be linked to oak leaf itch mites, an arachnid that’s nearly invisible to the naked eye.

Dr. Amir Bajoghli, a dermatologist who sees patients in McLean and Woodbridge in his Skin & Laser Dermatology offices, says he has seen an increase in the number of patients with this kind of issue, often involving raised red bumps or tiny blisters. The bumps can look like acne and be intensely itchy, similar to poison ivy.

“Because of all the cicadas we had, [the mites] were basically feasting on the eggs,” Bajoghli said, noting the mites can fall from the trees and be carried by wind. “Patients have even been telling me it’s worse than their experience with poison ivy.”

Oak leaf itch mites might cause red welts and affect people not only outdoors, but also indoors, potentially entering through window screens.

They typically feed on the larvae of small flies that form on leaves in oak trees. But local health officials suggest this year’s cicada emergence may be a factor, giving oak leaf itch mites another source of food from the cicada eggs laid in trees.

Still, Fairfax County health officials stressed that there’s no confirmation that the oak leaf itch mite is the cause of the bites, saying “it’s only a suspected cause at this time.”

“Although we are not certain what may be causing these bites, one of the suspected causes is the microscopic Oak Leaf Itch Mite,” Joshua Smith, the environmental health supervisor of the Fairfax County Health Department’s Disease Carrying Insect Program, said in a statement. “This mite has been presumptively associated with itchy bites in other regions of the U.S.”

States from Illinois to Texas have observed apparent outbreaks of the mite throughout recent decades.

“Most puzzling was the lack of any insect being seen or felt during the act of biting,” a research paper on a 2004 outbreak in Kansas noted.

Bajoghli, the dermatologist, recommends hydrocortisone as a starting point for treatment, which people can obtain without a prescription.

If that’s insufficient, doctors and dermatologists can provide prescription-strength remedies. He said over-the-counter antihistamines are also somewhat helpful.

“People can best protect themselves by limiting their time from under infested trees and by immediately removing and laundering clothing and then showering,” Penn State Extension researcher Steve Jacobs wrote in a patient-focused guide.

Whether the skin reactions involve that mite or something else, the Fairfax County Health Department has several recommendations for steps people can take to prevent problems with mosquitoes, ticks, and other pests:

  • Use repellents. Products registered with the Environmental Protection Agency and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have active ingredients that include DEET, IR3535, picaridin, and more.
  • Wear long pants and long-sleeve shirts outdoors.
  • Shower after outdoor activities, washing away crawling ticks as well as doing a tick check.
  • Launder clothes worn for outdoor activities. Ten minutes in the dryer on high heat will kill ticks on clothing.
  • Avoid scratching bites. A cold compress or other products may help relieve itchiness.

People with questions and concerns are encouraged to talk with their health care provider.

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The Fairfax Health District has hit a key milestone in its COVID-19 vaccination campaign, even as concerns about the spreading Delta variant of the novel coronavirus keep the area on edge.

According to the Fairfax County Health Department’s vaccine data dashboard, 70% of district residents 18 and older are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, meaning they have received both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Overall, 692,049 Fairfax Health District residents — 58.5% of the total population — are fully vaccinated. The district includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church as well as Fairfax County.

765,085 residents — 64.6% of the populace — have gotten at least one vaccine dose, including 76.8% of all adults.

Fairfax continues to see a higher vaccination rate than the state as a whole, which has fully vaccinated 65.7% of adults and 54.6% of its total population.

The urgency of Fairfax County’s vaccination effort has intensified in recent weeks in response to increased community transmission of COVID-19 fueled by the Delta variant, the most contagious strain of the virus yet and one that preliminary evidence suggests can be spread even by vaccinated people.

In a press release issued on Friday (Aug. 6), the Virginia Department of Health confirmed that the Delta variant is now the most common form of the coronavirus in the state, causing 80% of all infections as of the week ending July 10 — a 45% increase from June 19 three weeks earlier.

Since June 19, Fairfax County has gone from averaging essentially zero new daily COVID-19 cases in a week to a seven-day average of 16 cases on July 10 and 116.4 cases today (Monday), the highest it has been since April 25, according to the VDH dashboard.

The county health department reported 93 new cases for the Fairfax Health District today, bringing the all-time total up to 80,460 cases.

Fairfax County COVID-19 cases over the past 180 days as of Aug. 9, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)

The daily caseload differs from VDH, which reported 78 new cases for the district today, including two in Falls Church City, because the county switched on Aug. 1 to reporting the total number of new cases. The state is still reporting net new cases, taking into account cases that data clean-ups have revealed to be duplicates or assigned to the wrong health district.

“The health department is now reporting the number of new COVID-19 cases reported and does not subtract cases removed from data cleaning efforts,” said epidemiologist Ben Klekamp, who manages the county health department’s Chronic Communicable Disease Program. “Total Cases will continue to reflect the net number of total cases to account for the changes made from data cleaning.”

One Fairfax Health District resident has died from COVID-19 since last week, bringing the death toll up to 1,153 people. The virus has put 4,195 people in the hospital, including 10 people in the past week.

“The Delta variant is here in Virginia, and it is hitting our unvaccinated population especially hard,” State Health Commissioner Dr. M. Norman Oliver said in a statement. “We have a very effective tool to stop transmission of COVID-19: vaccination. There is no question that COVID-19 vaccination is saving lives and preventing and reducing illness.”

As of Friday, 98.5% of COVID-19 cases in Virginia, 97.3% of hospitalizations, and 98.2% of related deaths have been people who aren’t fully vaccinated. The VDH has recorded 218 hospitalizations of fully vaccinated individuals and 50 breakthrough deaths compared to 7,951 hospitalizations and 2,747 deaths of unvaccinated people.

In addition to urging people to get vaccinated if they aren’t already, state and local health officials advise wearing a mask when indoors regardless of your vaccination status, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, maintaining six feet of distance from people not in your household, regular hand-washing, and staying home when sick.

Fairfax County now requires face masks in county facilities, and they will be mandatory for students, staff, and visitors in school buildings when the new academic year begins later this month.

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Morning Notes

Paddleboats lined up on Lake Anne (via vantagehill/Flickr)

What to Know About the Delta Variant — The Fairfax County Health Department issued a blog post yesterday (Thursday) answering common questions about the Delta variant of the novel coronavirus. The department says evidence suggests fully vaccinated people can spread the variant to others, and a small number have gotten sick, but the COVID-19 vaccines remain overwhelmingly effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death. [FCHD]

Metro Police Chief to Retire — Metro Transit Police Chief Ron Pavlik Jr. will retire on Sept. 1, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said in an internal memo sent to employees yesterday. Assistant Chief Michael Anzallo will serve as interim police chief for the transit agency, which has faced recent scrutiny over its use of force and reported failure to investigate thousands of crimes, including armed robberies and sexual assaults. [DCist]

Volunteer Fairfax Seeks PPE Donations — The nonprofit Volunteer Fairfax hopes to collect 65,000 cloth masks, particularly children-sized ones, as well as face shields, cleaning supplies, and other equipment to support the community response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Donations can be dropped off at Fairfax County police stations, and the group accepts monetary donations online. [Patch]

New Exhibit Opens at Reston Art Gallery and Studios — The show “At Water’s Edge” by painter Sandra Dovberg is now open for public viewing through August on weekends at Reston Art Gallery and Studios (11400 Washington Plaza West) by the lakeside “ART” sign at historic Lake Anne Plaza. Highlighted by jellyfish wall hangings, the exhibit focuses on the meeting of land and water and joins work on display from seven other artists in the cooperative. [RAGS]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Woman wearing face mask with hands on head (via Engin Akyurt/Unsplash)

Fairfax County has reached “substantial” community transmission of COVID-19, and as a result, health officials are now recommending that everyone wear a face masks in public indoor settings, regardless of their vaccination status.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had rated the spread of the coronavirus in Fairfax County as “moderate” as recently as Monday (Aug. 2), but that changed when the federal agency updated its COVID-19 data tracker yesterday afternoon (Tuesday).

The shift in categorization brings the county in line with every other jurisdiction in Northern Virginia. The CDC calculates the level of community transmission based on the total number of new cases per 100,000 persons and the testing positivity rate over the last seven days.

A CDC map showing levels of community COVID-19 transmission in Virginia by county (via CDC)

The Fairfax County Health Department and Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay noted in separate statements that the new mask recommendation is in line with current CDC and Virginia Department of Health guidance.

“We will continue to follow the data and spread messaging about the effectiveness of mask wearing, particularly around populations like children who are unable to be vaccinated,” McKay said. “As I have said many times before, the most important thing anyone can do is to get vaccinated if you are eligible.”

Fairfax County has seen an exponential increase in COVID-19 cases since mid-June, when the county was seeing so few cases that its weekly average dipped into negative numbers.

In comparison, the Fairfax Health District, including the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, reported 124 new cases yesterday, matching the single-day high for this summer previously set on Sunday (Aug. 1). The seven-day average is now 92.8 cases and could eventually return to the triple digits for the first time since April 28, according to Virginia Department of Health data.

The county is averaging 8.1 new cases per 100,000 people over the past week, and the current seven-day testing positivity rate was 4.7% as of July 30, the highest it has been since April 30.

Fairfax County COVID-19 cases over the past 180 days as of Aug. 3, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)

The Fairfax County Health Department has attributed the virus’ resurgence to the spread of the delta variant, which the CDC says is especially transmissible.

Data suggesting that the delta variant can be spread by people who have been vaccinated led the CDC to amend its health guidance for fully vaccinated people on July 27 to recommend that everyone wear a mask indoors in areas with substantial or high spread.

Fairfax County’s announcement about wearing masks echoes advice from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, who said on Thursday (July 29) that people should consider wearing a mask when in public, indoor settings where there is increased risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Like Northam, the county frames its guidance as a recommendation, rather than a requirement. VDH has not yet officially updated its guidelines in response to the CDC’s revisions.

The county health department says wearing a mask indoors is “an important approach to prevent further spread of COVID-19” but emphasizes that it should be combined with other measures, including social distancing, getting tested when symptomatic, and most importantly, getting vaccinated if eligible.

“Despite some breakthrough cases, vaccination remains the most important approach to prevent COVID-19 and particularly to prevent more severe infection,” the FCHD said in its blog post.

As of 11 a.m. yesterday, 761,471 Fairfax Health District residents — 76.5% of adults and 64.3% of the total population — have gotten at least one vaccine dose. 689,700 residents — 69.8% of adults and 58.3% of the total population — have been fully vaccinated.

As of July 30, 99.5% of COVID-19 cases, 98.7% of hospitalizations, and 98% of deaths in Northern Virginia since Jan. 21 have involved people who were not fully vaccinated, according to the state health department.

The Fairfax Health District has recorded 79,735 COVID-19 cases, 4,186 hospitalizations, and 1,152 deaths.

Photo via Engin Akyurt/Unsplash

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Coronavirus (via CDC on Unsplash)

COVID-19 cases are still on the upswing, but for the first time in 16 months, the Fairfax Health District did not lose a single person in the past week to the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The last reported death occurred on July 23, according to the Virginia Department of Health. A total of 1,152 people in the district, which includes Fairfax County and the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, have died from COVID-19 since the first case was identified in early March 2020.

However, 14 more people have been hospitalized by the virus since last Monday (July 26), bringing the total up to 4,185 people, and 616 additional COVID-19 cases have come in, including 112 cases on Saturday (July 31) and 124 cases yesterday (Sunday). The last time Fairfax County reported single-day caseloads in the triple digits on consecutive days was on April 22 and 23.

With 81 new cases today (Monday), the Fairfax Health District has recorded a total of 79,640 COVID-19 cases, and the weekly average has climbed to 86.7 cases, its highest point since the district was averaging 88.3 new cases for the past seven days on May 1.

Fairfax County COVID-19 cases over the past 90 days as of Aug. 2, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)
Fairfax County COVID-19 deaths as of Aug. 2, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)

Unlike the rest of Northern Virginia, Fairfax County still has just a moderate level of community transmission, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which calculates community spread based on the total number of new cases per 100,000 persons and testing positivity rates over the last seven days.

Over the past week, the level of community transmission has been raised to “substantial” in all of Fairfax County’s neighboring jurisdictions, including Loudoun, Prince William, and Arlington counties and the City of Alexandria, suggesting Fairfax might not be far behind.

While the increasing prevalence of the delta variant has brought up case levels over the past month, Fairfax County’s relatively high vaccination rates mean infections have been less severe and less likely to lead to hospitalization and death compared to previous surges in the pandemic.

The CDC shared data last week indicating that even fully vaccinated individuals can spread COVID-19 if they’re infected by the delta variant, prompting a revision to its guidance recommending that people wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status in areas with substantial or high community transmission.

However, studies also suggest that the available vaccines remain highly effective against the delta variant, and even the Provincetown, Massachusetts, outbreak that formed the basis of the CDC’s report saw mostly mild cases with only seven hospitalizations and no deaths.

Since the beginning of this year, Northern Virginia has reported 235 breakthrough cases, where a fully vaccinated person contracts COVID-19, with 15 hospitalizations and six deaths. In comparison, there have been 53,326 cases, 1,332 hospitalizations, and 510 deaths among unvaccinated individuals.

According to the Fairfax County Health Department, 760,458 Fairfax Health District residents have now gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot. That is 76.4% of people 18 and older and 64.3% of the district’s total population.

688,992 residents — 69.7% of adults and 58.2% of the total population — are fully vaccinated.

With vaccine demand continuing to level out, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is exploring the possibility of requiring all county government employees to be vaccinated. Some prominent local employers, including Google and Inova Health System, have already established vaccine mandates.

Vaccinations are still available at a variety of sites throughout the county, including at Herndon Elementary School from 2-7 p.m. on Wednesday (Aug. 4). Appointments can be scheduled through the CDC’s Vaccine Administration Management System or directly with a provider through vaccines.gov.

Photo via CDC on Unsplash

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Coronavirus (via CDC on Unsplash)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo via CDC on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Coronavirus (Photo via CDC on Unsplash)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top photo via CDC on Unsplash

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With the Fourth of July now in the rearview mirror, community transmission of the novel coronavirus remains low in Fairfax County, but some indicators suggest COVID-19 levels could be on the rise again.

With the addition of four new cases today (Tuesday), the Fairfax Health District has reported exactly 100 new cases over the past week — almost as many as the entire month of June — bringing to the total for Fairfax County and the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church to 78,204 cases.

The weekly average has ticked back up since mid-June, climbing from zero cases over the preceding week on June 19 to 13.3 cases today, as has the testing positivity rate, which went from a moving seven-day average of 0.7% on June 27 to 0.9% as of July 2, according to Virginia Department of Health data.

These trends reflect the state of the pandemic in Virginia as a whole, which saw May’s steady decline in cases level out in June and now has a weekly average of 180 cases, up from an all-time low of 129 cases on June 20.

Fairfax County COVID-19 cases over the past 90 days, as of July 6, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)

Fairfax County’s primary metrics of a 0.9% testing positivity rate and 1.2 new daily cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days are still well within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s thresholds for a low level of community transmission, which is defined as fewer than 10 cases per 100,000 people and a positivity rate under 5%.

Fairfax Health District COVID-19 testing positivity as of July 6, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)

In addition, the severity of cases has been reduced from earlier in the pandemic. The Fairfax Health District reported one hospitalization in the past week for a total of 4,138 people and four deaths for 1,145 deaths overall.

In a blog post published on Friday (July 2), the Fairfax County Health Department attributed the continued low levels of COVID-19 transmission to its ability to identify and isolate individuals who are sick with the respiratory disease and the success of the ongoing vaccination campaign.

According to the FCHD vaccine data dashboard, 743,038 Fairfax Health District residents have gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose. That is 62.8% of the overall population and three out of every four adults (75.1%). 651,344 residents — 66.5% of adults and 55% of the total population — have been fully vaccinated.

“While we still have work to do and need those unvaccinated to continue to be diligent and wear masks, Fairfax County has made incredible strides in our vaccination efforts,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said in a newsletter on Friday, reporting that there is only one zip code in the county with a vaccination rate under 70%.

McKay announced that the county flag outside the Fairfax County Government Center has returned to full mast to reflect the end of Virginia’s COVID-19 State of Emergency at the beginning of July. The county’s state of emergency remains in place, however.

County health officials also warn that COVID-19 case levels could surge, particularly among people who have not been vaccinated, due to the spread of variants. The Delta variant first detected in India is considered the biggest current threat.

As of July 2, Northern Virginia had recorded 596 infections caused by variants of concern, including 17 cases confirmed to come from the Delta variant. That variant, which has proven especially contagious, now accounts for more than one in every five cases nationwide, according to the FCHD.

The county health department says studies suggest that the COVID-19 vaccines that have been authorized in the U.S. “remain very effective against the Delta variant.”

“Vaccination remains the best tool in preventing a Delta surge,” Fairfax County Director of Epidemiology and Population Health Director Dr. Benjamin Schwartz said in a statement. “This virus can take advantage of any cracks in our defenses. For those who have not yet gotten vaccinated, I urge you to do so. Your actions will keep us on the road to recovery from the pandemic.”

Fairfax County residents can find sites offering COVID-19 vaccinations through vaccines.gov or the Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS).

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Coronavirus (Photo via CDC on Unsplash)

A June that generally provided reason for optimism comes to a close with the Fairfax Health District almost doubling its COVID-19 case total for the month over the past week.

The district, which includes Fairfax County and the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, has added 103 new cases since June 1 for an all-time total of 78,104 cases, but 66 of those cases came in the last seven days, including four today (Monday), according to Virginia Department of Health data.

However, the district’s hospitalization total stayed flat from last Monday (June 21) at 4,137 people.

VDH data shows that two people were hospitalized by the disease caused by the novel coronavirus in the past week — one county resident and one Falls Church City resident — but both jursidictions also subtracted a case in the same time period, resulting in a net-zero increase.

Five more people died from COVID-19 in the last week, bringing the district’s overall death total up to 1,141 people.

Fairfax County COVID-19 cases over past 90 days as of June 28, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)
Fairfax County COVID-19 hospitalizations as of June 28, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)

An Associated Press analysis of national health data from May found that just 0.1% of new COVID-19 hospitalizations and 0.8% of deaths were people who had been fully vaccinated, suggesting that the mortality rate would now be almost zero if everyone eligible for vaccination got the shot.

The Fairfax County Health Department did not return Reston Now’s query about whether the county is seeing the same trend of unvaccinated people accounting for nearly all hospitalizations and deaths by publication time.

As of this morning, 1.3 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered to Fairfax Health District residents. 737,991 residents — 74.7% of adults and 62.4% of the total population — have gotten at least one shot, and 644,361 residents — 66% of adults and 54.4% of the total population — are fully vaccinated, according to the FCHD dashboard.

Statewide, about half (50.5%) of Virginia’s population is now fully vaccinated, including 61.4% of people 18 and older. 70.9% of adults or 58.7% of the overall population have received at least one vaccine dose.

In addition to lowering the risk of hospitalization and death, the COVID-19 vaccines that have been authorized for use in the U.S. can provide protection from variants of the virus that could spread more easily or cause more severe illness, according to VDH.

VDH announced last Tuesday (June 22) that it has added the Delta variant to its Varients of Concern dashboard, which tracks mutations that are considered to pose a greater risk to human health.

The Delta variant contributed to India’s devastating second wave of the pandemic and has been linked to surges elsewhere, including the United Kingdom and Australia, leading some countries to reimpose public health restrictions.

As of Friday (June 25), when the dashboard was last updated, Virginia had recorded 48 cases of the delta variant, including 15 in Northern Virginia, but VDH says the actual number of cases is likely higher since not all positive samples are tested to determine the strain of the virus.

“To protect yourself and others, get vaccinated for COVID-19,” VDH said in its news release. “Until you are fully vaccinated, continue wearing a mask correctly, stay at least six feet from others outside of your household, avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, and wash your hands often…The best way to stop variant strains from developing in the first place is to stop the spread of the virus.”

Photo via CDC on Unsplash

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