As Memorial Day approaches on Monday, May 31, a few community and government facilities will be closed or have altered schedules.

Fairfax County Government:

Fairfax County Courts:

County Libraries, Recreation Centers, Parks:

  • All Fairfax County library branches will be closed.
  • All Fairfax County RECenters will operate at their regular hours.
  • Colvin Run Mill and Sully Historic Site grounds will be open from noon to 4 p.m. for strolling, but all the buildings will be closed.
  • The E.C. Lawrence, Hidden Oaks, Hidden Pond, and Huntley Meadows nature centers  will be open from noon until 5 p.m. on May 31.
  • The Riverbend Park visitor center will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Green Spring Garden’s horticultural center will be open from noon to 4:30 p.m., and its historic house will be closed.

Public Transit:

County Trash and Recycling:

Reston

Herndon

  • The town offices and Herndon Community Center will be closed Monday.
  • Recycling normally collected on Monday will be collected Tuesday, June 1.
  • The farm at Frying Pan Farm Park will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the indoor arena will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The visitor center at the park will be closed Monday.

As a head’s up for anyone planning to renew their driver’s license soon, all DMV offices will be closed Monday.

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After a year off, the two-decade-old Ride of the Patriots in Fairfax is back and ready to rumble.

With the 2020 iteration canceled due to the pandemic, the Memorial Day weekend event and ride is returning to the D.C. area, but it will be scaled down a bit compared to previous years.

It will take place Friday (May 28) through Sunday (May 30) starting at Patriot Harley-Davidson on Fairfax Boulevard in Fairfax.

There will be vendors, food trucks, an appearance from the “Saluting Marine,” and a gathering of bikers.

There will also be two rides, each limited to 225 riders. On Saturday, the ride will begin at 11 a.m., and on Sunday, it will depart from Patriot Harley-Davidson at 11 a.m. to join up with AMVet’s Rolling to Remember in D.C. Registration to ride cost $25.

First held in 1999, the ride’s purpose is to remember and commemorate military veterans, particularly those who fought in the Vietnam War and those who remain missing in action. In recent years, there’s been a focus on veteran suicide.

An average of 17 veterans die by suicide per day, according to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

In previous years, upwards of 12,000 bikers would join in on the festivities from across Northern Virginia and even the country. But this year, there will be significantly fewer participants.

Kevin Hardy, the event’s organizer since 2017 and marketing director at Patriot Harley-Davidson, thinks there will be about 300 to 400 bikes this year.

Hardy says the constantly changing COVID-19 health regulations over the last few months made it tough to plan for more than that. He’s excited, though, that the end of most capacity limits starting May 28 will allow Ride of the Patriots to happen again this year.

“You don’t want to not have it for two years. I’m a big believer in things being front of mind,” Hardy said. “If you don’t [hold the event], it kinda fades away with time.”

Rolling Thunder, the similar, long-running Memorial Day weekend event, officially ended in 2019, leaving smaller events like Ride of the Patriots to fill the void.

Hardy believes bringing awareness to veteran issues remains of the utmost importance. He also has a personal connection to the topic, with his father being a retired military colonel who served in the U.S. Army for 27 years.

“I think there’s a lot of change going in America today and a lot of what [these veterans] did enabled people to speak their mind and protest certain things,” Hardy said. “A lot of what America is and those rights were fought for by veterans.”

After starting in Fairfax, the Ride of the Patriot will proceed down Route 50 towards the District.

The Fairfax County Police Department confirmed to Reston Now that they will temporarily close Route 50 between Patriot Drive and I-495 “to allow safe passage” for the riders starting around 11 a.m. on Saturday and at 10 a.m. on Sunday.

The hope is that next year’s event will be back to 2019 attendance levels with thousands of bikers making their way down Route 50 to pay their respects to those who have served.

“We’ll be ready to go in 2022 for thousands and thousands of bikes heading from here to D.C. in honor of veterans,” Hardy said.

Photo courtesy Kevin Hardy

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Local restaurants are getting help from DoorDash and a statewide association for the hospitality industry.

The Virginia Restaurant, Lodging & Travel Association gave $3,500 awards to businesses after over 690 restaurants in Virginia applied for relief. Egg Karne, Pho2000, Spice Town, and Sully’s Pour House in Herndon as well as Sprout Café in Reston were among the nine recipients in Fairfax County.

According to a county news release, Qaiser Aziz of Spice Town said the restaurant lost nearly 30% of its revenue during the pandemic, noting a big chunk of its lunchtime business decreased due to physical distancing as well as business and office closures.

“These restaurateurs are building businesses and community, and they continue to give back in spite of the hardships they have faced over the past year,” the VRLTA said in a news release. “Many have adapted and pivoted to offer online ordering, takeout, delivery and outside dining, and they are looking forward to a better year in 2021.”

The association joined forces with the online food ordering platform DoorDash to give out money to small restaurants that had operations disrupted, saw reduced revenue, or experienced financial stress between March and December 2020.

The 2021 DoorDash Restaurant Operator Relief Grant program was part of DoorDash’s Main Street Strong Pledge and did not require businesses to be a DoorDash partner to be eligible, the VRLTA said.

To be eligible for the grants, businesses had to have no more than three locations with 50 or fewer employees and annual gross revenue of $3 million or less for the specific location that was applying.

VRLTA and DoorDash allocated a total of $450,000 in grants to 128 restaurants in Virginia.

Fairfax County noted eight of the local recipients also received money from the Fairfax Relief Initiative to Support Employers that the Board of Supervisors established last year to give financial assistance to local businesses and nonprofits.

With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issuing new mask guidance for fully vaccinated people, Virginia has eased its mask mandate, and major retailers such as Starbucks and Walmart have also lifted restrictions in stores for vaccinated customers, but businesses can still impose restrictions.

Under Gov. Ralph Northam’s current public health order, restaurants and other food service venues are limited to 100 people indoors and 250 people outdoors, and different groups of patrons must be kept at least six feet apart. However, the state will end those and other capacity and distancing restrictions on May 28.

Photo via Griffin Wooldridge/Unsplash

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When early voting began at the North County Government Center in Reston on Saturday (April 24), the crowd of electioneers assembled outside the building dwarfed the number of people casting their ballots inside the building.

The absence of lines contrasted sharply with the 2020 general election, when Fairfax County sometimes saw hour-long waits at early voting sites. This time, the biggest hold-up was the few extra seconds election volunteers needed to sort through 16 different ballots and match them with the right voters.

While not surprised by the relatively muted turnout for the first days of early voting for the June 8 Democratic primary, which started on April 23 at the Fairfax County Government Center before expanding to two satellite locations a day later, Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn says it’s too soon to make any confident projections about what early voting will look like in the future.

“Going through a couple of election cycles, I think we need to do that before we can come to any long-term conclusions about how early voting is best done, how to staff it, what resources are necessary,” he said.

Even with a crowded gubernatorial contest on the ballot, the 2021 election cycle likely won’t match the high turnout for last year’s general election, which was buoyed by an especially heated presidential race, but there is already evidence that the Virginia’s new laws permanently expanding the accessibility of absentee voting are paying off.

According to the nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project, 63,508 voters have requested mail ballots, and 709 people have voted in person, as of April 24. In comparison, there were just 35,390 early voters in the 2017 primaries, the last time that Virginia had a governor’s race, and that includes 8,815 people who requested mail ballots but never returned them.

Fairfax County has gotten 11,222 mail ballot requests and 68 in-person voters. In 2017, 3,109 people voted early in person, and 1,919 people voted by mail.

Fairfax County Office of Elections spokesperson Brian Worthy attributes this uptick to recent legislative changes made by the Virginia General Assembly, particularly the introduction of no-excuse absentee voting that took effect last year.

“Since the last gubernatorial election, voting by mail has become easier in Virginia,” Worthy said. “Not only can any registered voter do so without needing a reason as was required in the past, but also the law now makes it easy to vote by mail permanently. As a result, the Office of Elections expects to see an increase in voting by mail over time as has happened in other states that have implemented similar laws.”

Legislators took further action to make early voting more accessible during a special session in March, including requiring localities to offer ballot drop-off boxes, permitting absentee voting on Sundays, and suspending witness signature requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic, though those laws don’t take effect until July 1.

Early voting is also “way up” in Falls Church City compared to the last gubernatorial primary, according to Director of Elections and General Registrar David Bjerke.

Bjerke told Reston Now on Friday (April 23) that the city had sent out 315 ballots so far, including 176 mail ballots and 139 email ballots to overseas voters, and three people showed up to vote in person that day. The 2017 primary saw just 240 early voters total, even though the Democratic and Republican parties both held elections that summer.

“It’s a huge increase,” Bjerke said. Read More

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If the prospect of trillions of cicadas emerging from the earth fills you with excitement, Fairfax County’s official tourism organization has just the game for you.

Visit Fairfax has introduced a Cicada Stroll Bingo card where participants can mark off squares when they take photos of a cicada at certain locations for a chance to win insect-inspired prizes.

“While some may view the arrival of the Brood X cicadas as a nuisance, we here at Visit Fairfax choose to look at it as an exceptional opportunity for visitors and residents to witness one of Earth’s most remarkable natural occurrences – and have fun at the same time!” Visit Fairfax President and CEO Barry Biggar wrote in the press release.

Suggested sites to spot cicadas range from pieces of public art like Patrick Doughtery’s “Bird in Hand” in Reston Town Square Park to the Sully Historic Site in Chantilly. Other boxes to check include county hiking trails, shopping centers, a brewery or winery, near water, and at a restaurant (hopefully, not on your food).

Anyone who fills out two squares in their bingo card, plus the traditional “free” square in the center, can upload the card and accompanying photos for a chance to get a Cicada Care package with items like a custom cicada facemask.

Winners will be announced in May, and some of the best photos will be featured on the county’s blog and social media.

Cicada Stroll Bingo Card (Photo courtesy of Visit Fairfax)

The Cicada Bingo Card was conceived as a way to showcase “road trip travel” and encourage folks to visit outdoor county attractions safely in a “quirky kind of way,” Visit Fairfax spokesperson Ali Morris says.

She adds that this is also another way to encourage residents to visit and support their favorite local business as they recover from an extremely rough last year.

The D.C. region is expected to be the epicenter for the emergence of Brood X, a brood of cicadas that emerge only every 17 years. They spend their larva years underground, which is anywhere from two to 17 years, chowing down on tree roots.

There could be millions of them buzzing around in the area in the early summer. They’re extremely loud, thanks to the sound that the males produce by rubbing their legs together to attract potential mating partners.

While they are also big as far as insects go, they’re completely harmless. In fact, their long life cycles and the fact that they are so numerous are really their only defense mechanisms from predators.

The Brood X cicadas are expected to hit peak emergence in Northern Virginia in late May through early June. While they’ll be visible and audible everywhere, parks and other natural settings will be the best place to see and hear them.

They are also edible, to an extent.

“A few are not likely to hurt pets but too many could cause digestive issues,” Fairfax County Park Authority naturalist Tammy Schwab told Reston Now last month. “They are edible by people if you’re brave enough to try it.”

Photo courtesy Visit Fairfax

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Fairfax County officials are meeting tomorrow (March 16) to discuss two programs aimed at helping small businesses recover from the pandemic.

The “Pivot Grant” will be smaller amounts of money given to a larger group of businesses with the aim of supporting them as they continue to operate. The intended effect is to “mitigate… business closures” due to not being able to afford operational costs.

Proposed funding needed for these grants is about $13.5 million.

The hoped-for timeline, according to pre-meeting materials, is to get the grant approved by the Board of Supervisors in April or May, open applications in May or June, and grant monies actually go out to businesses in June or July.

The “Thrive Program” will provide technical assistance and counseling to entrepreneurs and businesses trying to grow.

As opposed to individual businesses, providers would apply for this and they would assist businesses. $500,000 is being proposed as the amount given to each provider. That program could launch in the summer and run through the year.

According to research, three industries with highest job losses in the county through December – not surprisingly and similar to September – are hospitality and food service, health care, and retail. They make up more than 50% of the jobs lost in Fairfax County.

A recent survey also suggested that 93% of small businesses would use any additional money provided towards operating expenses and rent/mortgage support.

In November, research was also presented that showed the greatest economic impact of the pandemic has been in the Falls Church, Annandale, and Baileys Crossroads areas.

Those areas as well have the highest concentration of COVID-19 cases in the county and the highest share of communities of color.

A number of specific recommendations and proposals are also being discussed. They include:

  • Launching a “Buy local” marketing campaign focused on goods made in the county and minority-owned businesses.
  • Setting up an online permitting process aimed at alterations to keep businesses open.
  • Advocating for state legislation that prioritizes local purchasing.
  • Expanding access to affordable child-care, housing, and internet service for workers and their families.
  • Strengthening job and training programs by piloting a neighborhood job center.
  • Leveraging county to hire local workers for pandemic recovery efforts.
  • Starting a “Local Business Marketplace Pilot”

These discussions are taking place at the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Economic Initiative Committee public meeting. It starts at 9:30 a.m. and will be streamed online.

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Monday, March 15

  • Fly Bessie Fly (2 p.m.) — In 1921, Bessie Coleman became the first Black woman to earn a pilot’s license in the United States. This virtual one-woman show presented by the Fairfax County Public Library and American Historical Theatre tells her story by bringing the famed pilot to life. All scouts who attend earn a FREE women make history patch.

Tuesday March 16

Wednesday, March 17 

  • St. Paddy’s Day at Home (9 a.m.-3 p.m.) — On St. Patrick’s Day, Reston Association is offering a fun-filled, low-contact egg hunt to members. Their good friend Lucky the Leprechaun will personally deliver and hide two dozen eggs in your yard for all to find. For those who are not members, there is an option for Lucky to simply drop off eggs to be hidden by those at home.
  • Two By Sea Outdoors (6 p.m.) — Join local folk and country rock band Two by the Sea for an outdoor St. Patrick’s Day concert at the State Theater in Falls Church. This is an all-age show entirely outdoors to lower the risk of COVID-19 spread. It will have very limited capacity. Admission is free, but the venue is asking for a donation or a food purchase.

Thursday, March 18

  • Viola, Harp, and Flute (2:15 p.m.-3:30 p.m.) — Meet the artists of Beau Soir, a trio of musicians who play viola, harp, and flute. Known for their “unique audience interaction,” the ensemble will perform live, both to a limited audience at the Hunter Woods Community Center and virtually on Facebook.

Friday, March 19

  • Women’s Storytelling Festival (4:00 p.m.) — Friday is the first evening of the 2021 Women’s Storytelling Festival, which will feature more than 30 performers. Presented by Better Said Than Done, a community of storytellers based in Fairfax, this year’s edition is all virtual. “Is it kid-friendly?,” the website asks. “Probably not,” it answers.

Saturday, March 20

  • Spring Equinox Celebration (11 a.m.) — After a pandemic winter, spring is finally here. Join Fairfax County Parks for a spring equinox celebration at Turner Farm Park in Great Falls. Look through a sun telescope and take a (socially distant) walk to learn more about what an equinox is.
  • A Drive-In (6:45 p.m.-9:45 p.m.) — The Reston Association is holding their first-ever drive-in movie. The film will screen at the Isaac Newton Square parking lot starting at 7:30 p.m., though the lot entrance will open at 6:45 p.m. Admission also includes one free bag of popcorn per person. The featured film is still to be determined, but it will be family-friendly.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons/Cygnus921

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Morning Notes

Silver Line Phase 2 to Open January 2022 At the Earliest — “During a Thursday briefing, before the Metro Board’s Safety and Operations Committee, Laura Mason, vice president of capital delivery for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, said at least 10 Silver Line construction items remain unresolved before Metro will be satisfied with the work by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and its contractor.” [WTOP]

New Fairfax County General Registrar Appointed — “The Fairfax County Electoral Board appointed Scott O. Konopasek as the county’s new general registrar and director of elections at its March 11, 2021, meeting. He will lead the Fairfax County Office of Elections following the retirement of the current registrar Gary Scott who has worked in the office for the past 24 years. Konopasek’s tentative starting date is April 19.” [Fairfax County Government]

Reston Contractor Working with Space Force — The Reston-based contractor SAIC is working with the U.S. Space Force to develop a virtual reality training platform that lets workers “interact with full-scale digital replicas of national security satellites. The platform lets the armed forces practice responding to missile warning scenarios and collaborate in cyberspace.” [The Washington Post]

Comscore Closes Investment Transactions — Reston-based media measurement and analytics company Comscore Inc. announced Thursday that it has secured $204 million in cash investments from the companies Charter Communications Inc., Qurate Retail Inc., and an affiliate of New York-based Cerberus Capital Management LP. The investments came in exchange for shares of convertible preferred stock, and proceeds were used to retire Comscore’s debts. [Virginia Business]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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While residents wait for permanent improvements at a dangerous intersection in the Hunter Mill District a temporary traffic signal will be installed this summer.

A temporary traffic signal to the intersection of Fox Mill Road and Pinecrest Road will be operational by this summer, a Virginia Department of Transportation spokesperson confirmed to Reston Now. This traffic signal plus future permanent improvement plans will be discussed at a virtual public information meeting next week.

The planned changes include adding a permanent traffic signal and left-hand turn lanes.

In September, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the plan for the county’s transportation department to work with the VDOT on the implementation of the improvements.

The meeting takes place on March 15 but the public will have until March 25 to provide comments. The project’s aim is to relieve congestion and improve safety at the intersection, according to the release.

While temporary measures are being taken this summer, residents will still have nearly four years for all improvements to be completed. The intersection has long been a community concern, with hundreds signing petitions and signaling support in recent years for changes and improvements.

Construction is estimated to begin in the fall of 2024 and it is expected to take a year to complete – meaning fall 2025.

The improvements are estimated to cost $5.7 million and will be financed by the county.

From 2013 to 2019, 44 accidents occurred at the intersection with two being severe. 30 of the accidents caused property damage.

There are also congestion issues. The intersection averages about 15,500 vehicles a day, according to VDOT, with most being on Fox Mill Road. Long back-ups occur on Fox Mill Road during peak hours, notes a May 2020 presentation, due to vehicles waiting for a break in traffic to make a left turn.

The intersection is near a couple of pedestrian-friendly businesses, including a swim and tennis club and a church. It’s also relatively close to several schools.

Interim improvements have been made, though, including re-stripping and painting to provide turn lanes, installing a concrete island with a stop sign to create a yield, and removing foliage for better sightlines.

Beyond the proposed permanent fixes, the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan also addresses safety and congestion issues on Fox Mill Road.

The plan calls for the widening of Fox Mill Road to four lanes from Reston Parkway to Monroe Street, constructing a sidewalk adjacent to northbound Fox Mill Road, and installing a bike lane.

Image via Google Maps

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Hispanic residents of Fairfax County are seven times more likely to die from COVID-19 than their white, non-Hispanic counterparts when adjusted for variations in age, county data suggests.

Fairfax County Director of Epidemiology and Population Health Dr. Benjamin Schwartz reported that sobering trend to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors during its health and human services committee meeting yesterday (Tuesday) as part of a broad overview of the county’s efforts to implement an equity-focused strategy to distribute COVID-19 vaccines.

Knowing that the pandemic has disproportionately affected communities of color, especially Black, indigenous, and Latino people, Fairfax County staff calculated the relative risk levels for infection, hospitalization, and death faced by different races and ethnicities, using white, non-Hispanic individuals as the control group.

According to the county, the results show that the risk of contracting COVID-19 is 1.8 times greater for Black people than for white people and four times greater for Latino or Hispanic people, who are also seven times more at risk of hospitalization.

In Fairfax County, Black people are being hospitalized at more than three times the rate of white people and are almost three times as likely to die from the disease.

Schwartz says the data focuses on community transmission, excluding long-term care facilities, and it has been adjusted for age, meaning it eliminates variances in age across different populations. It shows, for instance, that Latinos are more likely to die from or be hospitalized by COVID-19, even though the county’s Latino population is generally younger and older people are considered more at risk.

“This really highlights the social, economic, and medical risk factors pertaining to different groups in our county,” Schwartz said, mentioning large households, exposures through work, and underlying health conditions among the factors that have made some populations more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Fairfax County Chief Equity Officer Karla Bruce says the county is utilizing its COVID-19 Vulnerability Index as well as data showing the disease’s spread to identify areas that need a targeted approach for vaccine outreach and distribution, often because residents have limited access to medical care, transportation, and other public services.

“There are a lot of intersecting factors which are preventing people’s access to resources or access to the vaccine,” Bruce said. “So, we want to understand and look at how we might be better able to connect people to what will enable them to then connect to the vaccine.”

The county has been working with different community partners, including nonprofits and faith-based organizations, not only to counter vaccine hesitancy with education and trust-building, but also to identify people who are currently eligible to get vaccinated and register them for an appointment.

To improve the accessibility of the vaccine, the Fairfax County Health Department has been developing a network of community-based partner clinics that is expected to grow in the coming weeks, as seen in the slide below:

Schwartz says the Neighborhood Health federally qualified health center at the Bailey’s Community Center and the Safeway community clinic at the James Lee Community Center in Falls Church will start administering vaccinations this coming weekend.

The health department is also looking at sites in Lorton, Springfield, and Centreville, but the agreements are still being finalized.

“It will take a couple of weeks to have our clinics established, to confirm medical and non-medical staff for those clinics, and to get into a rhythm with the vaccinations,” Schwartz said. “But we are anticipating making substantial progress to reduce disparities in who receives vaccination in the county.”

Photo via Fairfax County, slides via Fairfax County Health Department (1, 2)

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Eight Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Service infrastructure projects have received awards from the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the American Public Works Association.

Five of those projects were named “project of the year” in their respective categories, including the renovations done at the Reston Community Center Aquatics Facility and the Innovation Center Metro Station parking garage in Herndon.

Three other projects were named as “honorable mentions.”

DPWES received more accolades from APWA than any other municipality in the Mid-Atlantic Chapter.

“Having Mid-Atlantic APWA recognize the work of DPWES and our partners with these awards acknowledges the excellence in the building and enhancement of the county’s infrastructure,” said DPWES Assistant Director Juan Reyes.

Renovations at RCC’s Aquatic Facility (Terry L. Smith Aquatics Center) were completed early last year. They included the installation of a new lap pool, warm water pool, zero entry pool with water features, mosaic artwork, updating ADA accessibility, and a new roof.

In total, the project cost about $5 million.

The work earned the department an award for “project of the year” for structures costing between $5 million and $25 million.

The parking garage at the Innovation Center Metro Station was also completed in the first quarter of 2020 and was a more expensive project.

Costing $52 million, the eight-level, 2,100 space parking garage was built with the intention of serving the Innovation Center Metro Station in Herndon. That station is part of Silver Line Phase 2 which is not yet operating due to delays.

The project actually came about 10% under budget despite the garage having problems with it “sinking” back in 2018.

It won “project of the year” for structures costing between $25 to $75 million.

Other Fairfax County projects to win awards include Scott’s Run Trail in McLean, a sewer emergency construction project at Backlick Run in Springfield, and Tertiary filter rehabilitation project at the pollution control plant in Lorton.

Photo courtesy of Fairfax County

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Fairfax County employees are now prohibited from providing information about a person’s immigration or citizenship status to federal immigration authorities unless required by law or court order.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted 9-1 to adopt the new Public Trust and Confidentiality Policy yesterday (Tuesday) as part of a board matter introduced by Chairman Jeff McKay, Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust, and Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik.

While Fairfax County has long maintained that it does not assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) unless mandated, McKay, Foust, and Palchik say the need to turn those guidelines into a formal policy has been heightened the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately affected local Latino communities in particular.

“While there are no known instances of General County employees voluntarily sharing information about a resident’s immigration status, such policies are no doubt critical steps forward in building community trust and transparency,” the board matter said. “They also help quell fear in our community and ensure everyone feels comfortable getting the assistance they need from local government.”

The immigrant rights groups ACLU People Power Fairfax and CASA hailed the trust policy as “a major victory” after a four-year campaign urging Fairfax County to bar agencies from voluntarily disclosing information to ICE.

Advocates have argued that information-sharing with ICE can undermine public safety, as fear of detention or deportation discourages immigrants from reporting crimes, seeking medical attention, going to school, accessing basic needs assistance, and utilizing other critical local government services.

CASA says Fairfax County’s new policy is the first of its kind in Virginia.

“For four years, we have marched, spoken out and stood up for our rights as immigrants, and now we can finally breathe easier,” Luis Aguilar, CASA’s Virginia state director, said. “We are grateful for the leadership of Chairman McKay and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, who stood strongly in support of immigrant families by voting through this critical county policy change.”

The Board of Supervisors directed staff to draft the new policy last year. McKay credits ACLU People Power Fairfax and CASA with helping develop the policy.

According to the board matter, the trust policy is intended to complement a Fairfax County Police Department general order that established more robust guidelines regarding the FCPD’s role in civil immigration cases and interactions with immigrants.

Implemented on May 6, the general order expanded on an existing directive that instructed officers against taking individuals into custody or reporting them to ICE solely on the basis of an outstanding civil administrative warrant.

Under the new trust policy, Fairfax County employees are now prohibited from:

  • Disclosing personal identifying information about individuals, such as their citizenship or immigration status, unless required by law or the individual has given their permission
  • Providing access to county facilities, records, or funds not accessible to the public unless mandated by law, court order, or a criminal warrant
  • Using county resources to provide information to federal immigration enforcement officials
  • Threatening, coercing, or intimidating individuals based on their actual or perceived citizenship or immigration status
  • Participating in civil immigration enforcement operations

The policy also directs county agencies to accept driver’s licenses, passports, and other photo documents issued by a state or foreign government or an approved nonprofit as sufficient to verify an individual’s identity or address.

“The Trust Policy breaks new ground in Virginia by prohibiting voluntary cooperation with ICE,” ACLU People Power Fairfax Lead Advocate Diane Burkley Alejandro said. “…ICE has exploited the weaknesses of Virginia privacy laws to obtain contact information to track down its ‘targets.’ Thanks to Chairman McKay and the Board, Fairfax now has guardrails in place to prevent this happening here.”

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Hotel rooms have suddenly become difficult to come by in Fairfax County ahead of Inauguration Day on Wednesday.

That is a welcome problem for the lodging sector of the hospitality industry, which has been in a downward spiral since the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a slew of travel restrictions and stay-at-home health guidance.

But this inauguration will be unlike any other in recent political history. The general public’s ability to attend President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s Oath of Office ceremony has been sharply curtailed due to the pandemic, but hotels are hosting another large group of guests: the National Guard.

Up to 21,000 members of the National Guard have been authorized to come to D.C. and secure the city ahead of potential attacks, after Trump supporters stormed Capitol Hill on Jan. 6. Fairfax County hotels are reportedly housing some of the 15,000 guard members already in the D.C. metropolitan area.

“We are indeed hearing anecdotally from hoteliers that there has been an uptick in reservations compared with the past 11 months, but we are unable to ascertain whether those reservations are directly related to the inauguration and/or the National Guard or people who are visiting for leisure or business travel,” Visit Fairfax President and CEO Barry Biggar said in a statement.

The pandemic and ensuing shutdowns devastated the hospitality industry across the U.S. In Virginia, COVID-19 has resulted in the loss of about 100,000 jobs, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

In November, the AHLA found that 71% of its member hotels said “they won’t make it another six months without further federal assistance given current and projected travel demand.” 47% of respondents said they would be forced to close hotels.

Many hotels were forced to layoff more staff this winter, even as access to the second round of the Paycheck Protection Program has expanded to all lenders.

But the employees who remain taking the sudden surge of guests in stride, Biggar explains.

“What we do know is that our hotels have been working tirelessly, even with staff shortages and for long hours, to ensure that our guests are treated with the utmost hospitality,” he said.

Photo courtesy Sheraton Reston

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Fairfax County will receive an additional $34 million to provide emergency rental assistance to residents experiencing economic challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a budget policy committee meeting yesterday (Tuesday), Fairfax County Department of Management and Budget Director Christina Jackson told the county board of supervisors that the department has submitted a certification for the award, and the amount is expected to be confirmed today.

The money comes from a $25 billion emergency rental assistance program that the U.S. Treasury Department established using funds from the COVID-19 relief package that Congress passed at the end of December.

“This will be huge,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “I know we feel good about it, but obviously, there are a lot of folks out there struggling, and this will be a great opportunity to help those folks.”

Under the treasury program, renters may be eligible to receive assistance if at least one or more people in their household has experienced financial hardship due to the pandemic, are at risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability, or have a household income at or below 80% of the area median income.

Applicants can receive up to 12 months of assistance, with the possibility of an additional three months if needed to ensure housing stability and funds are still available.

The treasury is allocating the funds directly to states and local governments with more than 200,000 residents.

Jackson says the treasury is required to disperse all of the program funds by the end of January, so the county should have “dollars in hand” by the end of the month.

“We’re working with staff to try to incorporate this funding with other awards that we’ve received to make sure we’re using all the resources to our advantage,” Jackson said.

Because of the incoming grant, the Fairfax County Department of Management and Budget is recommending that the county increase its COVID-19 grants reserve by $50 million as part of its Fiscal Year 2021 mid-year budget review.

To offset anticipated revenue losses, the county plans to take $9.1 million out of a general fund reserve that the board of supervisors set up in May to support its coronavirus response efforts.

If the adjustment is approved, the COVID-19 reserve will have $16 million remaining, including roughly $12 million that the county mostly plans to use for Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursements.

As part of the mid-year review, Fairfax County staff are also recommending that the county create 13 new positions in the health department to boost its pandemic response, especially when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccination program. The positions would be initially covered by federal stimulus funds.

“We’re in constant contact with the health department relative to the continuous pivoting in response to COVID,” Fairfax County Chief Financial Officer Joe Mondoro said. “There are a number of other activities that they’re undertaking to respond to…whether that’s the need for additional contact tracers, whether that’s the escalation of the vaccination requirements.”

The board of supervisors will hold a public hearing and take action on the FY 2021 budget mid-year review when it meets on Jan. 26.

Photo via Fairfax County government/Facebook

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