Reston, VA

Instead of his usual press briefings in Richmond, Gov. Ralph Northam headed to Fairfax County to address the coronavirus pandemic’s racial disparities in Virginia.

Surrounded by state and local elected officials, Northam held a bilingual press briefing at the Fairfax County Government Center today (Thursday) to talk about the disproportionate impacts of the virus on Black and Hispanic communities.

Northam said that 45% of the COVID-19 cases and 35% of the resulting hospitalizations affect the Hispanic and Latino communities, even though they account for approximately 10% of Virginia’s population.

The concern is not new. For the last several months, Fairfax County’s Hispanic population has been hit hard by COVID-19. Local officials working to address the growing racial disparity say the county needs more testing and increased outreach to vulnerable communities.

“Everyone, everyone in Virginia deserves to have access to testing and access to care,” Northam said.

Jeff McKay, the chairman of Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors, highlighted that the county has seen more than 69,000 PCR testing encounters so far — the highest in Virginia.

The county is now shifting to community testing sites and is continuing to hire contact tracers, who “reflect the demographics of the populations they are serving,” McKay said.

McKay also pointed to other county resources, like a list of COVID-19 testing sites and the multi-lingual call center (703-222-0880) to connect residents to housing, food, financial assistance and more.

“Our board feels strongly that the disproportionality of this pandemic affects all of our residents in this county,” McKay said.

During the press conference, Northam applauded recent news: Prince William County ending its program between local police and ICE and the Supreme Court’s decision to extend DACA protections.

“I hope that this will help set a new tone of trust and support with our Latino communities,” Northam said about Prince William County’s decision.

Phase Three 

Northam also addressed the current and future plans for rolling back more COVID-19 restrictions.

While Virginia’s COVID-19 data are “trending in a positive direction,” the state will not enter Phase Three this week, he said. He did, though, unveil what that phase will look like.

Phase Three includes:

  • safer at home recommendation
  • encourage teleworking
  • face coverings required in indoor public spaces
  • social gatherings may include up to 250 people
  • cap on non-essential retail lifted

“Just because there are more places to go does not mean you need to go there,” Northam said. “The virus has not gone anywhere. We are adapting our lives around it, but it has not changed.”

Northam said that health officials need more time to evaluate the COVID-19 data. Next Friday, June 26, is the earliest date under consideration for Virginia to enter Phase Three, he said.

“We want to make sure that we are inclusive,” Northam said in response to why he chose to hold his press briefing in Northern Virginia instead of Richmond, adding that he met with local leaders before the press briefing.

Image via Facebook

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COVID-19 restrictions have started to ease up around Fairfax County today (Friday).

Now that the county is joining the first phase of Gov. Ralph Northam’s reopening plan, here’s what people who live and work around the Reston area need to know about county-operated facilities.

Parks and Recreation 

Parks and parking lots controlled by the Fairfax County Park Authority are open with the exception of dog parks, visitor centers, playgrounds and public restrooms, according to the website.

Athletic fields will officially open for unpermitted groups of 10 or less today under phase one of plans to reopen the county.

Both publicly and privately run pools are currently not allowed to open yet, the website said, adding that certain pools might open for lap swimming during phase one. Pools run by the Park Authority will not open at all this summer.

At schools in Fairfax County, both the tracks and tennis courts have been reopened but playgrounds, basketball courts and athletic fields will remain closed for the time being, according to the website.

Fairfax County summer camps have already been canceled, according to a press release.

For people indoor entering public spaces, the Virginia Department of Public Health announced that they are required to wear a mask or protective face covering. This order will go into effect on Friday (May 29) but the Centers for Diseases Control have suggested for weeks that people cover their mouths and noses to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

Anyone with additional questions can check out the website or email staff members from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. on weekdays.

Farmers Markets

Farmers Markets will look different this year with the implementation of preorder options and social distancing guidelines.

Reston Farmers Markets opened earlier this month with new measures to guard against COVID-19 such as people being able to prepay and pick up groceries, the website said. The Reston Farmers Markets are held every Saturday from 8 a.m. until 12 p.m.

In Herndon, it is still unclear when the market will reopen for the year, according to the website.

Libraries

All Fairfax County Public Library branches will be closed until further notice, according to the website — but this doesn’t mean that libraries aren’t offering online resources for patrons.

Anyone with a library card can check out digital resources such as e-books, audio files, online magazines and videos.

People can also pick up a new hobby like learning a new language, redesign their home using tips from the library and even learn about family heritage, according to the website.

Starting Monday, patrons can take advantage of some contactless services — including picking up holds — throughout the county.

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Fairfax County announced today (Wednesday) that it will start rolling back some COVID-19 restrictions on Friday (May 29).

The announcement follows Gov. Ralph Northam saying yesterday (Tuesday) that Northern Virginia localities are ready to join the rest of the state with the first reopening phase.

“The Forward Virginia plan provides guidelines that all businesses must follow in the first phase but eases previous restrictions on restaurants, fitness facilities, barbers and beauty salons, other retail businesses and houses of worship,” according to the county.

Here’s what will happen in Fairfax County starts reopening on Friday:

  • movie theaters, concert halls, bowling alleys, indoor entertainment will stay closed
  • social gatherings of more than 10 people will still be prohibited
  • “safer at home” recommendation will still be in place
  • restaurants may reopen at 50% of indoor capacity with tables spaced 6 feet apart
  • restaurants’ bars will remain closed
  • restaurants must use disposable menus and require servers to wear face coverings
  • gyms, recreation centers, sports centers and pools may open outside
  • indoor pools and spas and outdoor basketball and racquetball courts will stay closed
  • salons and barbers can open at 50% capacity and require appointments
  • retailers may reopen at 50% capacity and employees must wear face coverings
  • houses or worship may hold services at 50% capacity, face coverings encouraged

joint letter sent Monday from officials in Northern Virginia, including Fairfax County, said that their health directors’ assessment of the pandemic supports the partial reopening.

“[The public health directors] have noted the regional attainment of four of the critical metrics and assessed the need for continued focus on expanding our contact tracing capacity and developing sustainable supplies of PPE,” the letter said.

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Local food trucks and food vendors celebrated public works crews (Wednesday) by offering 1,400 free meals throughout the county, including the Town of Herndon.

The initiative, which was made possible by funding coordinated by the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, honored public works crews who have quietly continued to perform essential services like water management and trash collection despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

County officials said the program, which was in time for National Public Works Week this week, was a win-win for local businesses and public works employees. Curbside Kitchen and Cureate, two companies that work with local food trucks and vendors coordinated services with FCEDA, which secured funding from a philanthropic couple. Meals were given from 11:15 p.m. to 1 p.m. yesterday (Wednesday).

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted local and county departments to change their operations and modes of service delivery. The Town of Herndon, for example, has shifted to more online services, including accepting engineering drawings online.

In the public works department, crews are more spread out, with one person riding a vehicle instead of two or three individuals. Shifts are now also staggered in some cases, according to Scott Robinson, the Town of Herndon’s public works director.

Robinson says he expects that some changes in how services are provided will continue in a post-COVID-19 world.

For example, the town may consider offering more online services, in addition to in-person services.

“Our town manager said it best. We want to serve customers the way they want to be served,” Robinson said.

So far, he is incredibly proud of how public works’ employees have handled their jobs amid concerns about safety and health. “These folks are literally out there keep the town running and they’ve done it happily and without complaining,” he said. “I’m really proud of the work the department has been doing.”

Photo via Town of Herndon

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Gov. Ralph Northam is allowing Northern Virginia localities two extra weeks to start reopening as the rest of the state readies for the first reopening phase this Friday.

Northam’s order that was announced today (Tuesday) delays the reopening, which is outlined in phases, for Fairfax County and other localities in Northern Virginia until midnight on May 28.

Following pressure from county officials to stall their reopening deadlines, Northam said that the decision is “to allow those localities more time to meet the health metrics.”

“While the data show Virginia as a whole is are ready to slowly and deliberately ease some restrictions, it is too soon for Northern Virginia,” Northam said. “I support the request from localities in this region to delay implementation of Phase One to protect public health.”

The localities included are:

  • Arlington County
  • Fairfax County
  • Loudoun County
  • Prince William County
  • City of Alexandria
  • City of Fairfax
  • City of Falls Church
  • City of Manassas
  • City of Manassas Park
  • Town of Dumfries
  • Town of Herndon
  • Town of Leesburg
  • Town of Vienna

More from Northam’s announcement:

Data show that Northern Virginia is substantially higher than the rest of the Commonwealth in percentage of positive tests for COVID-19, for example. The Northern Virginia Region has about a 25 percent positivity rate, while the rest of the Commonwealth is closer to 10 percent.  Further, in the last 24 hours, the Northern Virginia Region reported over 700 cases, while the rest of the Commonwealth reported approximately 270. On any given day, 70 percent of the Commonwealth’s positive cases are attributable to the Northern Virginia Region.

Northam has said he plans to provide more information on how the reopening will work for Northern Virginia on Wednesday.

Image via Governor Ralph Northam/Facebook

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People with green thumbs can now return to their rented garden plots from Fairfax County.

The county’s Park Authority reopened its 671 garden plots yesterday, according to Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust’s newsletter.

The plots are now available from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and all of the rules apply except for active gardening guidelines, according to the county.

“Gardeners must self-sanitize water hydrants after use and no tools may be shared,” according to the county.

More from the county:

Gardeners are expected to comply with all COVID 19 health and social distancing requirements.

We ask that gardeners:

  • Maintain the recommended social distance of six feet from other gardeners.
  • Please wipe the handles of the water hydrant after you use it.
  • Do not share garden tools with others.
  • Wearing gloves and a mask are recommended when interacting with others.
  • Please begin to wrap up gardening activities by 5:45 p.m. so that staff can close the gates and replace parking lot barricades by 6 p.m.

Parks and park amenities are still closed in the county. The Reston Farmers Market will open on May 9 with new social distancing guidance.

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As the coronavirus outbreak continues to take a major hit on the economy, Fairfax County leaders are bracing for the impact of the outbreak on the upcoming county budget.

At a budget meeting today (Tuesday), county leaders said they plan to revisit the proposed fiscal year 2021 budget, which was developed before the coronavirus pandemic impacted the area. A revised proposal is expected to go before the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors by April 7.

The county is expected to take a hit from losses in the following categories: sales tax, transit occupancy tax, business permits, and licensing tax, personal property tax, and state revenue, among other categories. Over three months, a 25 percent dip in the local sales tax results in roughly $12.7 million in losses.

All agencies are tightening their belts and limiting spending for critical needs only.

This year, county officials hope to set aside $11.3 million to offer help to nonprofit organizations, local businesses, manage the COVID-19 crisis, and fund licensing for the shift to teleworking.

As of today, there are 245 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Fairfax Health District, which includes Fairfax County, the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church and towns in the county — leading all other jurisdictions in the state.

Support for Businesses and Nonprofits

In addition to federal assistance, a proposed $1 million fund administered through the Community Business Partnership could help small businesses struggling financially and at-risk of closing.

“Many of them are finding it very difficult to even survive right now,” Rebecca Moudry, the director of the county’s Fairfax County Department of Economic Initiatives, said.

The microloan program, if approved, would allow small businesses to apply for a maximum of $30,000 with an interest rate of 3.75 percent. To qualify for funds, businesses must have fewer than 50 employees, demonstrate financial hardship linked to COVID-19 and be based in the county.

Moudry said the program would ensure that local dollars “stay local,” but she cautioned that micro loans are simply a “drop in the bucket.”

Lee District Supervisor Rodney Lusk said that he wants to see the county diversify its commercial tax base.

“It’s imperative today as we look at the impact on small businesses,” he said at the meeting today.

Local nonprofit organizations are struggling to raise money and need help with services and support, according to Chris Leonard, the director of the county’s Department of Neighborhood and Community Services.

More individuals are calling the department for help with unemployment, low income and financial strife.

A recent survey of local nonprofit organizations found that most organizations are seeing more requests for food, health, hygiene and financial assistance, Leonard said. Youth programming and transportation are most likely to see major reductions.

He hopes to create a program to offer financial assistance and food for individuals most in need, targeted especially for local residents making 200 percent of the area median income. Support would be provided through the county’s existing network of community-based organizations.

County officials noted that the initiatives, programs and funding will shift as the COVID-19 outbreak continues to unfold.

“We’re going to have to evolve this as we go,” Lennard said.

Next Steps For the Budget 

Once the revised budget is ready by April 7, residents can expect opportunities to testify April 14-16.

Joseph Mondoro, the county’s chief financial officer, said that the meeting today that people will be able to testify via video, phone, online forms and even in-person. Although Chairman Jeff McKay said that he would like people to only come in-person as a last resort.

McKay added that quarterly reviews, which the county already does, will will be “much more robust” for the FY 2021 budget.

Much of the discussion between the supervisors today involved ideas they had for where to cut or boost up the new budget, including suggestions from Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross to “keep first responders in mind” and Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity to delay funding the body camera program for the police department.

At the end of the meeting, McKay said there will be “shared pain” in the new budget, noting that cuts should not focus on one area.

McKay said that one of his top priorities is to keep on the county’s employees.

“We want to protect our employees,” he said.

Catherine Douglas Moran contributed to this report

Photo via Fairfax County Government

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With more Fairfax County residents social distancing in their home, the 2020 census is expected to see higher response rates than usual in the county.

So far, nearly 43 percent of households have completed the questionnaire, up from the statewide response rate of 37 percent.

In the past, Fairfax County boasted a high response rate in the 2000 count. The county, which had a population of roughly 945,717 people,  had an 80 percent response rate, up from the 76 percent response rate in 1990.

The county trailed behind Macomb, Count, Mich., which had the highest response rate of 81 percent, data show.

With more people at home, the nationwide response rate could see an increase. In the last count, roughly 67 percent of all respondents completed the 2000 questionnaire. That was the first time in history the response rate improved over the preview census.

County officials are urging residents to take part in the census. “For each resident who does not respond to the census, Fairfax County could lose $12,000 in potential funding over the course of a decade,” according to the county’s government website.

Residents should expect an invitation to participate in the census. Responses can be completed online, by phone or email.

The COVID-19 outbreak pushed the U.S. Census Bureau to alters its operation schedule. The deadline for self-response rates was extended through August 14, along with a number of changes.

Image via U.S. Census Bureau

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A man in his 60s is the second person to die from complications from COVID-19 in the Fairfax County, according to officials.

The Fairfax County Health Department announced Friday evening that the man acquired COVID-19 through travel and later tested positive for the virus.

“This is a tragic loss and our hearts go out to his family and friends,” Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu, the health department’s director, said in the announcement.

On Saturday, the county announced that a man in his 60s, who got sick through contact with a another coronavirus person, was the county’s first COVID-19 death, WJLA reported.

Earlier today (Friday), the number of known COVID-19 cases jumped to 124 in the Fairfax Health District, which includes Fairfax County, the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church and towns in the county.

Expanding testing capacity in the state could explain the increase in confirmed cases.

Inova Urgent Care locations in Chantille, Arlington and Tysons recently turned into respiratory illness clinics that offer the test.

“This most recent death, along with the increasing numbers of coronavirus cases we are seeing, is a reminder that we all need to be diligent in doing our part to help slow the spread of virus in the community,” Addo-Ayensu said.

“Please continue to practice social distancing, wash your hands and avoid touching your face, and stay home when you are sick,” she said.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved today (Tuesday) giving taxpayers more time to file and pay their taxes.

Now, individuals and businesses in the county will have until June 1 to file their personal property tax returns. Additionally, the first half of payments for real estate taxes won’t be due until Aug. 8.

“Both these resolutions are intended to alleviate the negative impact threatened by the potential spread of COVID-19,” according to county documents.

“I’ve been asked a lot about this since a lot of folks in the county have found themselves without paychecks,” Chairman Jeff McKay said.

McKay said that people won’t accrue late fees for following the new deadlines.

By pushing the deadlines, the county will likely be delayed in receiving tax revenue, according to the county. However, county staff said that the benefits to the community by pushing the deadlines outweighs potential impacts on revenue.

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Tuesday Morning Notes

New Food Pick-Up Sites — Grab-and-go-meals are available at no cost for students at 21 sites. Breakfast is served from 8-10:30 a.m. and lunch from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. [Fairfax County Public Schools]

Reston Association Discontinues All Walk-in Service — Members can no longer pay their annual membership assessment in-person and should instead conduct services online. “Amid ongoing concern about the coronavirus (COVID-19), Reston Association’s top priority is the health and safety of our employees, members and visitors,” writes RA CEO Hank Lynch. [Reston Association]

Tips on Stay Engaged During Social Distances — “Social distancing can feel isolating and tedious, but Fairfax County offers residents numerous activities and services with which you can engage while following good social distancing practices.” [Fairfax County Government]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Former Vice President Joe Biden easily notched the Virginia Presidential Primary yesterday (Tuesday), winning 53 percent of the vote.

Sen. Bernie Sanders had just under a quarter of the vote, while Elizabeth Warren had 10.8 percent and Michael Bloomberg took 9.7 percent.

In the Hunter Mill District, Biden won by 48.4 percent. Sanders won second place with 18.9 percent and Sen. Elizabeth Warren took 12.1 percent. The Hunter Mill District’s voting pattern aligns with the county overall.

Here’s how the candidates fared in the Hunter Mill District:

  • Joe Biden: 16,964 (48.4 percent)
  • Bernie Sanders: 6,626 (18.9 percent)
  • Elizabeth Warren: 4,241 (12.1 percent)
  • Tulsi Gabbard: 247 votes
  • Amy Klobuchar: 75 votes
  • Pete Buttigieg: 74 votes
  • Cory Booker: 28 votes
  • Michael Bennet: 18 votes
  • Marianne Williamson: 15 votes
  • Julian Castro: 8 votes
  • Deval Patrick: 6 votes

All but three of the state’s 133 counties were led by Biden, including Fairfax County where Biden won with more than 50,000 votes than Sanders.

The Hunter Mill District boasted the highest turnout in Fairfax County. More than 39 percent of voters cast a ballot, a few percentage points above the county-wide average of 34 percent. The Sully District had the lowest voter turnout (30 percent) in the county.

In the 2016 primary, voter turnout was 22.2 percent. Virginia was one of 14 states taking part in Super Tuesday.

Photo via Joe Biden/Facebook

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Yes, we’re at it again.

Earlier this month, we asked our readers if they’ve noticed more airplane noise in the area. Most of you told us that you have but the Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t have an explanation. They say that there have been no changes in flight paths or altitudes in the last year.

During the course of the request for reader feedback, a number of you told us that you’ve noticed more airplane noise in the last few months, especially in South Reston.

While it’s normal to hear sporadic increases in helicopter noise due to police activity or checks by Dominion Energy, there’s a chance there could be more going on.

We’d love to hear more from you on this issue. Let us know what you think in the poll below and feel free to submit what you’re experiencing by emailing [email protected].

Please include a general description of where you live, when and if you started noticing changes, and if you can spot any details about the helicopter.

Photo via FCPD

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Reston environmentalists received an award from Fairfax County last week.

The Reston Annual State of the Environment (RASER), a report compiled by nine people, won an Environmental Excellence Award from Fairfax County.

The report covers air, water, forests, meadows, wetlands, landscaping, urban agriculture, wildlife, hazardous materials, light and noise pollution and education in the Reston region, the Fairfax County website said. RASER was founded in 2017 and consists of professionals and citizen scientists who volunteer their time to synthesize the 325 data sources, the website said.

From the 2018 report, the group said Reston should focus on improving urban forests and community access to nature, which they say improves wellbeing for people in the area. The group sent in an application for the Biophilic Cities Network Program and drafted a pledge that residents can take to become more nature-friendly.

Based on other findings, they followed through on a biological diversity study in the area, called a BioBlitz, which cataloged more than 600 species of plants, animals and organisms.

“Through these and other actions, the RASER Working Group has established a strong foundation for the assessment and enhancement of Reston’s ecological resources and helped to create well-connected urban landscapes where nature and community members can thrive,” the Fairfax County website said.

In total, the report took volunteers more than 2,000 hours to complete, according to the website.

The nine members primarily responsible for compiling the report were invited to a ceremony on Tuesday (Oct. 22).

Photo via Fairfax County

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A ribbon-cutting ceremony will celebrate the completion of the Georgetown Pike Trail next week.

The new 4.2-mile-long pedestrian trail will allow passers-by to travel from River Bend Road westward to Seneca Road in Great Falls.

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust and other Fairfax County officials will be on-site at the intersection of Georgetown Pike and Falls Bridge Lane at 11 a.m. to announce the completion of the project, according to a press release.

All community members are welcome to attend the free event.

The project began in 2001 and was completed in four parts, according to Fairfax County.

Image via Fairfax County

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