Reston, VA

Following statewide trends, the number of daily COVID-19 cases continues to dip in Fairfax County.

As of Feb. 22, the number of new cases stood at 113 with a rolling weekly average of 193 cases — the lowest number of daily reported cases this year.

The number of new cases has continued to fall since cases peaked with an all-time high of 1,485 on Jan. 17, according to data released by the Virginia Department of Health.

So far, 134,359 people have been vaccinated by Fairfax County, a number that includes first and second doses, according to the county’s data dashboard.

The county’s health department is currently scheduling appointments for people who registered on Monday, Jan. 18. A little over 96,900 people remain on the county’s waitlist.

While county officials have touted progress with the vaccination system, the jurisdiction’s decision to opt-out of the state’s new COVID-19 vaccine pre-registration caused confusion late last week.

Since then, the county’s health department has addressed common concerns and questions in a recent blog post. The county is still encouraging residents to use the county’s online form to register for vaccines.

Across the state, 1.1 million have received at least one dose and 481,297 people have been fully vaccinated.

Image via VDH

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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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COVID-19 case rates in Fairfax County have leveled off over the past week after appearing to trend downward since mid-January, when a record 1,485 cases were reported in a single day.

As of today, the county’s seven-day average is at 312.4 cases and has been hovering between 290 and 337 cases since Feb. 4. While the anticipated post-winter holiday surge seems to have tapered off, case levels are still higher than the pandemic’s initial spring peak, when the highest recorded seven-day average was 303 cases on May 31.

With 194 new cases today, the Fairfax Health District has now reported 64,950 COVID-19 cases, 3,482 hospitalizations, and 849 deaths, according to data from the Fairfax County Health Department.

Today also marked the launch of Virginia’s new statewide COVID-19 vaccine registration system, though Fairfax County is not participating for the time being.

Based on a registration data dashboard that went live on Feb. 12, Fairfax County has made slow but discernible progress in its efforts to vaccinate older adults, some groups of essential workers, and other eligible populations.

The Fairfax County Health Department has whittled its waitlist of people who have registered but haven’t been given an appointment yet down to 105,268 people, as of 10 a.m. The list had around 180,000 registrants as recently as last Thursday (Feb. 11). In total, 229,185 people have registered with the county to get the COVID-19 vaccine so far.

The health department is currently making appointments for more than 42,000 people who registered on Jan. 18, which saw particularly high demand since it was the day when the county expanded eligibility for the vaccine to people between the ages of 65 and 74 as well as people with high-risk medical conditions.

People who have registered for an appointment through the county health department can now see where they are in the queue with a registration status checker, though the rollout of that tool was not without its challenges.

Fairfax County has delivered 110,098 of the 114,923 vaccine doses that it has gotten from the Virginia Department of Health so far. About 68% of those doses were adminstered by the county health department, while the remaining 31% were distributed to other providers, like Inova.

According to the VDH, 48,404 people in Fairfax County have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19, and 163,200 total doses have been administered in the county. That number includes residents and staff at long-term care facilities that have been getting the vaccine through the federal government rather than the local health department.

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The Virginia Department of Health launched a new, statewide registration system for the COVID-19 vaccine today, but Fairfax County won’t be taking part.

The county is encouraging residents to continue using its own registration system. Local health districts have been directed to close their existing registration forms so that data can be cleaned up, consolidated, and transferred to the new system.

The FCHD says it will not participate in the statewide system at this time and will instead continue to manage vaccine appointments for everyone in the Fairfax Health District, which includes Fairfax County, the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, and the towns of Vienna, Herndon, and Clifton.

“For those already on the waitlist, do not register again on the new statewide system,” the county health department said.

Fairfax County’s vaccine call center at 703-324-7404 will also continue to be operational, even with the state launching a new call center.

Fairfax County decided to stick with its own registration system because officials believed it would be less confusing for residents, and because the county has “invested a lot of resources” into the system, Fairfax County Health Department spokesperson Tina Dale said.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay also noted that the county invested resources and time into working out the kinks of its current system.

“At this point, I am glad we can maintain our system that residents are familiar with to cut down on confusion. We will continue to have conversations with the state about registration as the vaccine process rolls out,” he said.

The news comes as Fairfax County’s promised dashboard with COVID-19 vaccine and registration data goes live.

So far, the county is currently making appointments for people registered on Jan. 18. Residents can verify if they are registered to receive the first dose of the vaccine online.

Roughly 228,145 people have registered for the vaccine in the Fairfax Health District and 106,371 people remain on the waiting list as of data released Sunday night.

The health department cautions that it may take several weeks to schedule appointments for registered residents due to limited vaccine supply. The county has received 114,923 doses from VDH.

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More than 180,000 people are on the county’s waiting list for the COVID-19 vaccine.

In order to improve transparency, Fairfax County plans to launch a new queuing system that would provide information about vaccine registration status tomorrow.

At a Fairfax County Board of Supervisors meeting earlier this week, County Executive Bryan Hill said the system would be followed by a dashboard with real-time information about vaccine distribution.

The improvements come after Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust and Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn called on the county to move forward with the dashboard and queuing system through a formal board matter.

They know that the county has information about where they are in the queue and that the county currently is not sharing that information with them. They believe the county should be more transparent. They want to know, and I believe they deserve to know, how many people are ahead of them to be called to be vaccinated,Foust said at a board meeting on Feb. 9.

While the registration process is relatively smooth, Foust said that residents ought to know where they are in the registration line. Currently, the health department only sends a notification confirming registration.

As of Wednesday, 131,479 in Fairfax County have received the first dose of the vaccine and 31,421 people have been fully vaccinated.

Officials continue to caution that vaccine supply is extremely limited. Roughly 11 percent of the total population has been vaccinated with at least one dose.

The queuing system would confirm if registrants are in the queue, describe progress made so far, and inform registrants of where they are in the line.

The county also plans to launch a self-cancellation form if people receive a vaccine from another health care provider, as well as a registration validation form for residents to confirm their registration and see where they fall in the queue.

Hill said that his staff and the county’s health and IT departments began working on improving the process in early January, but the process was stalled by coordination with the Virginia Department of Health.

“A lot of our delay is predicated on working and talking with the state’s systems,” Hill said, adding that the state’s protocol is the ‘Bible for COVID vaccinations.

Board Chairman Jeff McKay also noted that coordination with the state has been “frustrating” to the county’s efforts.

“It is not acceptable for someone to register for a vaccination and go an entire month with ought hearing potentially anything from the county,’ he said.

Through improvements to its system, the county determined that roughly 20,000 duplicate registrants on the waiting list. The county was able to weed out duplicates and trim down the waiting list to around 180,000 registrants.

Still, other board members lauded the county for developing a smooth administering system for vaccines.

Penny Gross noted that some residents who were frustrated with the registration process said the actual administration of the vaccine was easy and well-done.

The county’s vaccine dashboard will likely go live on Friday, but it could take up to Tuesday, Feb. 16 to iron out any issues, Hill said.

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Updated at 7 p.m. with comment from Harmony

Several local assisted living and senior centers are advertising vaccinations if seniors make reservations for residencies, a marketing tactic that is raising concern among county and elected officials.

Reston Now has found at least three businesses have advertised either through social media or on their website that if an individual pays to become a resident of the assisted living or senior center by a certain date, they’d receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

This comes as regional localities continue to have immense challenges with distributing COVID-19 vaccines to all who are eligible. In Fairfax County, everyone 65 or older is currently eligible to sign up for the vaccine. The vaccine is also free to all.

But supply remains severely limited, leading to canceled appointments and seniors waiting in long lines in Arlington.

Notably, up until late last week, Tall Oaks Assisted Living in Reston ran a Facebook aid promoting a “vaccination staycation,” as reported by the Washington Post.

The local assisted living facility was advertising a $5,000 all-inclusive month-long stay in a studio apartment where residents would also receive two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. It was accompanied by a 30-second video and a photo of a senior receiving a shot in the arm.

That post was taken down on Friday, according to the Post.

However, Tall Oaks Assisted Living isn’t the only local business that has advertised this type of message.

On Jan.13, Harmony in Chantilly promoted on their Facebook page “priority vaccine access” to those who become residents prior to Feb. 9.

Screenshot via Facebook

Sunrise Senior Living at Reston Town Center also posted on their website’s landing page that “vaccine clinics are now available” and new “eligible” residents can learn more by calling the facility. Towards the bottom of the page, however, it explains that “no respite or short-term stays” are eligible to get the vaccine.

Screenshot via website

Fairfax County officials are worried about what these messages are promoting.

“The main concern is the promotion could be interpreted as needing to pay money to get the vaccine, which is not the case,” Jeremy Lasich, Fairfax County Health Department spokesperson, writes to Reston Now in an email.

Lasich notes that long-term care facilities, like those mentioned, are receiving their vaccine allotment directly from the federal government and not the county. He says Fairfax County has allocated roughly half of the weekly doses to people 65 and over, per Virginia guidelines.

While Lasich does understand the frustration since it could be weeks or even months to get a vaccine appointment, he emphasizes that those 75 and over were able to sign up a week earlier than those over 65. Meaning, those residents’ appointments should come sooner.

The advertisements do “raise some concerns as both a promotional strategy and from a safety perspective,” Lasich writes.

Ken Plum is the Virginia House Delegate for the 36th District. Both Tall Oaks and Sunrise at Reston Town Center lie in his district. He also shares considerable concern about these promotions.

“It sends the message that you can get in front of the line for the vaccine by paying for an expensive [residency] package,” Plum tells Reston Now.

There’s already a high level of anxiety and frustration with how the vaccine is being distributed, he says, and this type of advertisements are playing off of those fears, particularly aimed at seniors and their loved ones.

“It’s misleading and inappropriate,” says Plum.

Reston Now has reached out to the three assisted living and senior centers noted asking about the decision-making process behind the promotions and advertisements.

Tall Oaks Assisted Living responded to a request for comment from Reston Now.

Executive Director George Winters admitted that promoting in such a way could be seen as “insensitive.”

“At Tall Oaks, we believe in the many positive benefits of short-term respite care for both seniors and their families. Moreover, we are delighted to be able to do our part to help seniors within our communities get vaccinated and to protect their health as well as that of their families via our vaccination clinic,” Winters writes to Reston Now. “At the same time, we recognize that demand for the vaccine is considerable and that marketing our respite-care program as we did may have been seen as insensitive to the individuals awaiting their vaccines. We are grateful to our residents, our staff, and our neighbors for their understanding.”

It remains unclear how effective the promotions and advertising were in bringing in new residents.

Winters told the Washington Post that only one person responded to the ad prior to it being taken down on Feb. 5. That person had previously taken her mother out of the Reston facility last year due to fears about the pandemic.

Reston Now has followed up with Winters if it remains the case that only one person has responded to the ad, but has not received a response.

Harmony in Chantilly, in an email response to Reston Now, said that their residents were first vaccinated in late Jan. and were among the first to receive vaccinations in Virginia.

This statement is disputed since more than 10,000 Fairfax County residents received the vaccine weeks earlier. The assisted living center says they have follow-up vaccine clinics set-up for residents later this month and in March.

They declined to comment specifically on county officials’ concern over the appropriateness or potential misleading nature of the Facebook post

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Tuesday Morning Notes

Local Police Conduct Mock Travel Stops — The Fairfax County Police Department conducted mock traffic stops for drivers with disabilities. Police and community members came together to learn how to safely interact with one another during traffic stops. The goal was to ensure that drivers with disabilities are well-versed in what happens during traffic stops. [Local DVM]

Health Department Hires Staff to Help with Pandemic Response — The county’s health department is looking for nurse practitioners, physician assistants, registered nurses and licensed practical nurses to join its vaccination team on a part-time, temporary basis. The plan is to hire 100 people. [Fairfax County Government]

In-school Learning to Resume Next Week — Fairfax County Public Schools will bring back its first group of students for in-person instruction on Feb. 16. Students who have already selected to return to in-person instruction will still be able to do so two days a week. [FCPS]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Fairfax County’s online registration form for COVID-19 vaccine appointments will be offline for 12 hours starting at 7 p.m. today (Wednesday).

The form will be inaccessible until 7 a.m. tomorrow so that the county can conduct scheduled, routine technical maintenance and updates, according to the Fairfax County Health Department.

“We apologize for any inconvenience,” the FCHD says in an alert on the registration page. “This will not affect anyone who already has a scheduled appointment or anyone who is currently on the waitlist to get an appointment.”

Fairfax County staff told the Board of Supervisors yesterday that they are continuing to work on issues with the county’s online vaccine registration system, which has been plagued by technical issues and overwhelming demand.

“We’re actually engaged with the health department looking at making improvements to the overall scheduling and registration system,” Fairfax County Information Technology Director Greg Scott said during the board’s health and human services committee meeting. “We’re working on that right now.”

The county is also working to improve its approach to communications and ensuring that vaccine doses are distributed equitably.

Photo via Fairfax County Health Department

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Fairfax County has made progress in its efforts to vaccinate priority groups for COVID-19, but challenges remain as officials contend with still-limited supplies while attempting to improve communications and outreach, particularly to minority and disadvantaged communities.

According to a presentation delivered to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Tuesday morning, 53,731 of the 58,825 first doses that the Fairfax County Health Department has received since late December have been administered by either the health department or its partners, which include Emergency Medical Services, the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center, pharmacies, and other healthcare providers.

The county health department has also received 25,800 second doses of the Moderna vaccine. 7,875 of those doses have been administered.

With its weekly allocation from Virginia currently limited to 13,600 doses, Fairfax County has scaled back the number of available vaccination sites. The health department is now only providing first doses at the county government center, reserving local health district offices for second doses.

However, the county has also started working with more partners over the past week, including Kaiser, the first private healthcare provider to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and George Mason University’s Mason and Partners (MAP) clinics.

Fairfax County Health Director Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu says partnerships like those will be critical to getting the vaccine to more people in Fairfax County, since not everyone can easily travel to the Fairfax County Government Center and other established vaccination sites.

“The ideal thing would be for us to be able to engage clinicians, private providers when we have sufficient vaccine,” Addo-Ayensu said. “…We do know for sure that more vaccine is coming our way, but we just don’t have dates and timelines. All we’re doing right now is building that capacity by engaging with our partners.”

While acknowledging that supply constraints remain the biggest challenge facing the county’s vaccine program, several supervisors shared frustrations that they have heard from constituents who have registered for a vaccination but have no clear sense of when it will actually be their turn to get an appointment. Read More

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About 40% of Fairfax County residents 16 and older are now eligible to register for a COVID-19 vaccine appointment after Virginia expanded phase 1b to include anyone 65 and older as well as people with medical conditions or a disability that puts them at high risk of severe illness if they contract the disease.

Eligible populations now include:

  • Healthcare workers and long-term care facility employees
  • People age 65 and older
  • People who are 16-64 years old and have high-risk medical conditions
  • Essential frontline workers, including school staff, corrections and homeless shelter workers, grocery store workers, and police, fire, and hazmat first responders

However, the Fairfax County Health Department’s registration system has been plagued by technical issues and struggled to keep up with the high demand for the vaccines. In addition, limited supplies mean that even people who are able to register might have to wait weeks to secure an appointment.

While the process has been less than ideal so far, Fairfax County has administered more than 45,000 vaccine doses, and 4,620 residents have been fully vaccinated, as of Jan. 20, according to Virginia Department of Health data.

Have you been able to successfully register for the COVID-19 vaccine yet? Have you tried to register but been frustrated by the county’s system? If you’re not eligible yet, are you planning to get vaccinated once you are?

Photo by Karen Bolt/Fairfax County Public Schools

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Fairfax County set a new single-day record for new COVID-19 cases over the three-day weekend leading up to Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The county’s daily caseload rocketed to 1,485 cases on Sunday (Jan. 17), topping the previous high of 897 cases recorded on Dec. 21 by 588 cases.

The new record was part of a statewide surge that saw Virginia nearly reach 10,000 new cases in one day for the first time since the novel coronavirus was confirmed in the Commonwealth last March. 9,914 cases were reported in the state on Jan. 17, followed by 7,245 cases on Monday, which represented the second-highest daily caseload of the pandemic.

Unlike with previous jumps in new cases, the two-day spike could not be attributed to a lag in reporting.

“This increase is likely due to exposures during the holidays, similar to after Thanksgiving,” the Virginia Department of Health said in a statement reported by Inside NoVA and other news outlets. “VDH reminds Virginians to be vigilant and use the recommended guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

With an additional 313 cases coming in today (Tuesday), the Fairfax Health District has now recorded a total of 55,534 COVID-19 cases, 749 deaths, and 3,191 hospitalizations.

This weekend’s surge came as Virginia expanded eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccines to new populations, including people who are 65 and older or have high-risk medical conditions or a disability.

Fairfax County continues to outpace other jurisdictions in the state in administering vaccinations, delivering 43,161 doses as of this morning. 4,393 people in the county have been fully vaccinated, meaning they have received the required two shots of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

However, limited supplies and technical issues have complicated the vaccine distribution process.

In the week since Fairfax County opened appointments to residents in phase 1b, the online pre-screening registration system and phone hotline set up by the county health department have been overwhelmed by demand multiple times.

As of Jan. 16, more than 40,000 people had registered online or by phone to get a vaccination in the past week, but the vaccine supply “remains very limited,” and not everyone who has registered has been able to secure an actual appointment yet, according to the Fairfax County Health Department.

“We ask for your patience as it may take months to get through these priority groups,” the department said. “There are plans to increase options for vaccine in pharmacies and health care provider options, which over time will give people more choices.”

According to the VDH, Virginia has administered 341,388 vaccine doses total and distributed 943,400 doses. The state is administering 17,464 doses every day, still well shy of the 25,000 vaccinations-per-day goal set by Gov. Ralph Northam.

Image via CDC on Unsplash, chart via Virginia Department of Health

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The first day of pre-screening and vaccine registration for Fairfax County residents between the ages of 65 and 74 and those with high-risk medical conditions began with a bumpy start after the county’s system went down for most of the morning on Monday.

Now, as the system returns to normal and vaccine registration resumes, county officials are urging residents to remain patient. Instead of contacting the county through the health department’s vaccine hotline, officials encourage residents to complete an online pre-screening form and appointment questionnaire instead of calling the county’s hotline.

Still, some residents — including frontline healthcare workers who received the first dose of the vaccine in December — say they’re still receiving uncertain answers about when to schedule their second dose.

A local healthcare worker told Reston Now that she and several others she knows have had trouble receiving any information from the health department on when the second dose will take be administered. All residents receive a vaccination card and are required to receive a second dose of the two-course vaccine roughly four weeks after the first dose.

But some say they haven’t received any information on when the second dose will be available.

“I have called the department hundreds of times to attempt to schedule the second required vaccine,” a healthcare worker told Reston Now. ‘A week ago, I literally called 50 times and was unable to get through to speak to someone.”

When residents were able to get someone on the line, the information provided was scant, the source told Reston Now.

“A system that is already overloaded is becoming even more overwhelmed.”

Tina Dale, a spokesperson for the Fairfax County Health Department, told Reston Now that residents do not need to call the health department to schedule the second dose of the vaccine. The health department will provide residents with a link to schedule their next appointment by email.

The earliest the second dose can be administered by the health department is late this week.

But it may be weeks before registered residents receive information from the health department to register an appointment.

Within the first few hours of pre-registration opening on Saturday, the county received more than 33,000 new registrations. Gov. Ralph Northam recently expanded the number of eligible Virginians who can register for the vaccine.

Now, more than 40 percent of the county’s total population is eligible to register for a vaccine. The Fairfax County Public Schools System began vaccinating employees on Jan. 16. Vaccinations for FCPS are offered through the Inova Center for Personalized Health in Fairfax.

Once all residents are pre-screening through the online form or by phone, they will be contacted by the health department for scheduling. The county has also launched a webpage with commonly asked questions about the vaccine.

“There is a very limited supply of vaccine from the Virginia Department of Health and the county is constantly working to get more,” said Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn in a statement. “This process will take months, not days.”

Technical difficulties with the county’s IT vendor prompted delays on Saturday morning. The county’s phone lines were once again overwhelmed with an influx of calls.

Alcorn said that while he understands the issues were unforeseen, challenges so far are “still not acceptable.”

“We need to do better.”

Photo via FCPS

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More than 40 percent of Fairfax County’s population can now receive the COVID-19 vaccine following Gov. Ralph Northam’s expansion of eligibility requirements.

Now, people age 65 and above and people between the ages of 16 and 64 with high-risk medical conditions to a disability can register to receive the vaccine as part of phase 1b. Prior to Northam’s announcement yesterday, these groups were part of the next phase of the vaccine’s administration.

But county officials it may take months to get through phase 1b, which prioritizes people age 75 and above and essential frontline workers like school staff, police, and grocery store workers.

The availability to schedule appointments will depend on the supply of vaccine available,the county wrote in a statement yesterday. The vaccine supply in the U.S. is still very limited and is expected to increase gradually over the next months.

Although it may take weeks before vaccines are formally administered, the Fairfax County Health Department will begin registering individuals in the newly-eligible group on Jan. 18.

Northam expects all Virginians to be vaccinated by the middle of the summer.

“This means about half of Virginia is now eligible to receive the vaccine. That’s a major logistical effort, and it’s not going to happen overnight,” he said.

So far, the state has received 943,000 doses of the vaccine and administered roughly 242,000 doses. On average, the state is administering 12,000 doses daily — far from the governor’s long-term goal of 50,000 doses. Overall, the state is receiving 110,000 doses of the vaccine per week.

Northam is also encouraging schools to reopen, noting that six months of data from schools around the state suggests that school can reopen if appropriate safety protocols are in place. The newly-released guidance creates a five-step program to guide decision making on reopening.

The county plans to launch an online form to register for the vaccine today via its vaccine webpage. Residents should be able to schedule a time themselves based on eligibility, availability of appointments, and vaccine interview, according to Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn.

The health department previously launched a pre-screening form on Monday to allow people to pre-register for the vaccine. Residents can also call the county’s vaccine hotline at 703-324-7404 on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. and on weekends between 9;30 a.m. and 5 p.m. The department will contact individuals who complete the pre-screening form depending on vaccine supply and appointment availability.

Demand for the vaccine flooded the county’s call lines on Monday, prompting local elected officials to encourage the county to improve its communications strategy.

Meanwhile, Walgreens is offering rapid antigen testing across select locations in the state. The new partnership with the Virginia Department of Health, which was announced yesterday, allows adults and children age three and above to receive a test. Walgreen’s testing site is located in Centreville at 13926 Lee Highway.

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As the population pool eligible to receive vaccinations expanded in Fairfax County on Monday, some local pregnant women are mulling whether or not to receive the vaccine amid limited data on its safety during pregnancy.

So far, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have stated that pregnant women who are groups recommended to receive the vaccine — including healthcare personnel and frontline essential workers — can choose to get vaccinated. Pregnant women with COVID-19 have an increased risk of several illness.

But with limited data available on the effects of the vaccine on pregnancy, local obstetricians and hospitals are leaving the decision to expectant mothers.

Tina Dale, a spokeswoman for the Fairfax County Health Department, said that getting vaccinated is a “personal choice” for people who are pregnant.

“People who are pregnant and are eligible because they are in Phase 1a or 1b should consult with their OB/GYN in order to help make the best decision,” Dale told Reston Now.

The CDC has offered only general considerations for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

A Herndon woman, who asked to remain anonymous because she has not announced her first pregnancy yet, says she is not convinced there is enough research about the possible risks associated with the vaccine.

For now, she’s buckling down on wearing a mask in all social settings and at the small business she owns. She plans to deliver at Reston Hospital Center.

“I am working in my business under limited hours. It is very challenging because as a business owner, you want to be hands-on, by now my role has to shift a bit and more responsibilities go to my staff.”

Reston Hospital Center is also encouraging pregnant women to turn to doctors for advice. Some offer clear-cut answers while others leave the final decision to their patients.

“The hospital would recommend that pregnant women seek input from their personal OB/GYN and primary care physician,” wrote Todd McGovern, the hospital’s communications director, in a statement to Reston Now.

Kathryn Wiard, a Reston mother, says her doctors have recommended getting the vaccine. Although she says she’s on the fence, her ‘gut instinct’ says that she should get it.

I am less worried since the vaccine is mRNA based, and not a live virus strain. I will have an April delivery and with the covid numbers increasing, I am very anxious about going to the hospital in general, and while the vaccine isn’t perfect- it does provide a little bit more peace of mind,” Wiard said.

She plans to deliver at Reston Hospital Center in April. Whether she ultimately gets the vaccine or not, she plans to go through labor and delivery without the presence of her husband to protect her husband and toddler from COVID-19.

Her bigger worry is the safety risks associated with hospitals.

Regardless of the vaccine, the entire pandemic has me very wary of medical facilities, she says.

The CDC plans to formally study the effect of the vaccine on pregnant and lactating women in the coming weeks. 

Photo by Aditya Romasa/Unsplash

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At a virtual town hall on Wednesday night (Jan 6), Fairfax County Health Department Director Gloria Addo-Ayensu answered a number of questions about COVID-19 vaccine distribution.

Most of the inquiries revolved around the timeline of the different phases and when certain groupings of people will be eligible to get the vaccine.

Right now, the county – like other neighboring localities – remains in phase 1a of distribution, meaning that frontline healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities are the only ones currently eligible. This covers about 75,000 county residents in total.

In total, so far, Addo-Ayensu says that about half of those eligible in the county have been vaccinated so far.

Vaccinations are being done by the health department, Reston Hospital Center, INOVA hospitals, and at the long-term care facilities in partnership with CVS and Walgreen pharmacies.

But there have been challenges already in getting the vaccine.

For those not affiliated with a hospital, getting a vaccine requires making an appointment with the county by calling the health department. But residents have described being on hold for hours.

“We have a call system that’s been completely overwhelmed, people weren’t just getting through,” said Addo-Ayensu. “That’s just very unfortunate… We really do apologize for that inconvenience.”

She said that the county is working to fix this and starting on Monday (Jan 11), there’ll be an online system in place where folks can go to start the process of booking an appointment.

These complications are not unique to Fairfax County.

At a press conference on Wednesday (Jan 6), Virginia Governor Ralph Northam acknowledged that the state could be going faster in administering vaccines.

It’s unclear at this moment when, says Addo-Ayensu, when the county will move to phase 1b, which includes residents over the age of 75 and frontline essential workers.

“I don’t have an exact date of 1b, but I can say it’s going to happen very soon,” said Addo-Ayensu. “We haven’t gotten the green light to start vaccinating phase 1b just yet.”

When that does happen, though, it will be a very large effort.

More than 1.2 million Virginia residents are theoretically eligible for the vaccine in phase 1b, Addo-Ayensu said. Fairfax County is about 1/7th the population of the commonwealth, so quick math shows that about 171, 500 county residents could be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in phase 1b.

Then, there’s 1c which includes residents over 65, those with high-risk medical conditions, and remaining essential workers.

As for a timeline, it all depends on vaccine supply – which is being filtered down from the federal government to the state to the county.

“If we have sufficient vaccine… we could be going through 1a and 1b [in] March. And in spring, looking to do 1c and moving into the summer, doing the general public.”

Another important note is that, at this point, children are not being vaccinated due to the lack of data and studies.

Overall, Addo-Ayensu admits it’s going to be a challenge to provide all 1.17 million Fairfax County residents a COVID-19 vaccine as quickly as possible.

“That’s quite a heavy lift,” she said.

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