Morning Notes

A remote-controlled sailboat glides across Lake Anne (via vantagehill/Flickr)

Flash Flood Watch in Effect — The National Weather Service has issued a Flash Flood Watch for Fairfax County and the rest of the D.C. area through 10 p.m. today (Wednesday). Multiple rounds of heavy showers and thunderstorms could drop up to one to two inches of rain per hour, leading to rapid rises in streams, creeks, and poor drainage areas. [NWS]

Transportation Mask Mandate Extended to Next Year — “The Transportation Security Administration said Tuesday that it will extend a federal mask mandate for airline, bus and train passengers into next year, requiring the face coverings until Jan. 18, 2022…While a CDC order imposing the transportation requirement has no end date, TSA enforcement rules had been set to expire Sept. 13.” [The Washington Post]

Fairfax County Sends Out Jury Questionnaires — Approximately 60,000 Fairfax County or City of Fairfax residents might soon receive a jury duty questionnaire in the mail. The survey is the start of a screening process to determine an individual’s eligibility, which could lead to a summons and a call to report for service. The Fairfax County Courthouse has started hosting more in-person proceedings but renewed its mask requirement earlier this month. [Fairfax County Government]

NOVA Partners with AT&T on IT Training — “AT&T has created an IT apprenticeship program with Northern Virginia Community College and the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry, the company announced Tuesday. The two-year program will offer students information technology training and 2,000 hours of on-the-job training in technical, soft skills, lab work and related skills…Those selected will work as part-time AT&T employees and train at NOVA’s Reston complex and AT&T’s Oakton facility.” [Virginia Business]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Morning Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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Inside NextStop Theatre in Herndon (courtesy NextStop Theater Company)

Due to the resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic, NextStop Theatre in Herndon has announced new guidelines in order to keep patrons and performers safe.

Fairfax County has been labeled a “substantial” transmission area for COVID-19 by the CDC since last week.

NextStop Theatre announced yesterday (Tuesday) that it will join other local theatre companies in requiring proof of vaccination from all patrons who attend any live performance at its theater (269 Sunset Park Drive) through at least December 2021.

The theater says it already had a vaccination mandate in place for all of its staff, contractors, and volunteers.

Other policy changes intended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus include requiring that everyone wear masks inside at all times, except for on-stage performers. The theater’s capacity will be reduced by 50% to a maximum of 60 seats per performance.

NextStop will also postpone the opening of their upcoming production of “An Act of God” from Aug. 12 to Aug. 20 to give the company time to adjust to the new procedures and communicate the new policies to those who have already bought tickets. Those who purchased tickets for the first week of “An Act of God” will be contacted by NextStop to reschedule their tickets.

In addition, NextStop will push back its previously announced fall shows of “Sherwood: The Adventure of Robin Hood” and “Disaster (the Musical)” until 2022. Those productions are larger in scale, resulting in more challenging casting, technical, and financial requirements, according to the theater company.

A revised fall 2021 schedule will be announced in the next few weeks.

NextStop will issue refunds to those who purchased season ticket packages, as well as extending them special discounts for “An Act of God” and other shows in the 2021 season.

“We recognize and apologize for the significant disruption that these changes represent,” NextStop Producing Artistic Director Evan Hoffmann said. “We remain passionate about honoring both our mission of creating high-quality theatrical performances for the community and keeping an unwavering commitment to do everything in our power to protect the health and well-being of all those who honor us with the gift of their labor, their creativity, and their patronage.”

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Morning Notes

A tree looms behind a wooden fence in Reston’s Hickory Cluster (via vantagehill/Flickr)

Emergency Alert Test Coming Today — Expect an alert message “accompanied by a unique tone and vibration” on your mobile phone around 2:20 p.m. today as part of a test of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. FEMA and the Federal Communications Commission regularly test the nationwide system to ensure the infrastructure works in case of an emergency. [Ready Fairfax/Twitter]

Herndon Reinstates Mask Requirement — “Effective Wednesday, August 11, all members of the public over age two are required to wear masks indoors in town facilities…Masks are required for all visitors to town facilities, regardless of vaccination status. Masks are also required for attendees at public meetings, including public hearings of the Herndon Town Council, boards and commissions.” [Town of Herndon]

COVID-19 Vaccines Could Be Fully Approved Soon — “The head of Virginia’s vaccination program said on Tuesday that next month, the Food and Drug Administration will likely fully approve the COVID-19 vaccines, and approve their use for children ages 5 to 11 as well…Currently, the COVID-19 vaccines distributed in the U.S. are authorized but not approved.” [WTOP]

New Traffic Signal Installed at Fox Mill Road — A temporary traffic signal is now active at the Fox Mill Road (Route 665) and Pinecrest Road intersection in Herndon to address safety concerns before construction begins on a long-term project in fall 2024. That project will include a permanent signal, new left-turn lanes on Fox Mill, crosswalks, sidewalks and curb ramp reconstructions, and an eight-foot-wide walkway and curb ramp at the southeast corner. [VDOT]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Morning Notes

Cattails by a lake (via vantagehill/Flickr)

Masks Now Required in County Facilities — “Beginning Monday, Aug. 9, all employees and visitors — regardless of vaccination status — will be required to wear a mask while inside all Fairfax County facilities to help stop the spread of COVID-19…The rise in COVID-19 cases has resulted in the Fairfax Health District moving from moderate to substantial community transmission. This is due to the on-going spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus.” [Fairfax County Health Department]

Former FCPS Student Gets Olympic Gold — The U.S. finished first in the men’s 4×400 meter relay at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on Saturday (Aug. 7), besting the Netherlands and Botswana. Former South County High School student Trevor Stewart helped Team USA reach the finals by leading the qualifying round on Friday (Aug. 6). He was not in the final heat but will still bring home a gold medal. [Olympics]

General Assembly Reaches Deal on COVID-19 Relief Spending — Virginia’s Senate and House will vote today (Monday) on a deal that negotiators reached late Friday for how to spend $4.3 billion in American Rescue Plan funds. Changes from Gov. Ralph Northam’s original plan include the addition of one-time bonuses to sheriff’s deputies, a boost to Medicaid rates for workers who serve individuals with disabilities, and a requirement that the Department of Motor Vehicles reopen for walk-in services that had been halted during the pandemic. [The Washington Post]

NoVA Science Center Eyes 2022 Groundbreaking — The Fairfax-based Children’s Science Center hopes to break ground next year on its long-planned Northern Virginia Science Center in Loudoun County. The project has expanded from its original design, necessitating a relocation to a site that will accommodate an “expansion wing with a dome theater for large-format films and potentially even a planetarium contemplated for a future phase.” [Washington Business Journal]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Morning Notes

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

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

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

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

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

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Fairfax County Courthouse (via Google Maps)

(Updated at 2:30 p.m.) The Fairfax County Courthouse is renewing its mask policy once again even as the judicial system tries to inch back to normal amid a backlog of cases.

The Fairfax County Circuit Court issued an amended order today (Wednesday) stating that, effective immediately, masks will again be required to enter the judicial complex and in all public areas in the courthouse, though judges have the authority to let individuals take off their masks in their courtrooms.

At the same time, courts are starting to resume more in-person procedures. Plexiglass barriers have been installed to keep jurors socially distanced, and defense attorneys as of last month have been able to meet with clients in the jail rather than trusting in Zoom to meet confidentially.

But amid the safety efforts, many cases have been delayed, putting a pause on justice.

“The backlog remains a major factor in our operations and is unlikely to be fully resolved for years,” said Ben Shnider, a spokesperson for Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano.

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that vaccinated people wear masks indoors in areas with high or substantial COVID-19 transmission, which now includes Fairfax County.

That reversed a loosened CDC policy that began May 13 — prior to the highly transmissible delta variant making up over four out of five coronavirus cases in the U.S.

The Fairfax County Courthouse says its reversal was due to the CDC update but noted that a presiding judge may direct otherwise in individual courtrooms.

Inside the courthouse, there’s yet to be a criminal trial with the new plexiglass format for the county’s chief public defender, Dawn Butorac, who wonders if the changes will influence jurors’ perceptions.

“It’ll be interesting to see how a witness is perceived in that environment,” she said. “It’ll be closer to normal.”

Under a transition plan that was last adopted on July 7, the Fairfax County Circuit Court restarted in-person hearings for all civil trials and non-Friday motions on July 1.

The courthouse installed the plexiglass changes this summer to increase the number of criminal trials, but backlogs remain throughout the system.

During the pandemic, arrests continued, but courts scaled back operations. Notably, in early 2020, the Virginia Supreme Court suspended a state law that adds another level of protection to one’s constitutional right to speedy trials. The suspension was renewed in September.

Even as operations ramp back up, citizens still have the option to postpone jury duty when summoned to court. COVID-19 questionnaires allow people to postpone their legally required obligation, depending on individuals’ circumstances regarding the virus. Exemptions include health conditions such as cancer, obesity, heart issues, and asthma, as well as pregnancy and smoking.

While the backlog in cases will still be a challenge, Fairfax County’s most recent budget enabled the commonwealth attorney’s office to add 15 positions, increasing its staff to 83.

That means there will be 50 prosecutors compared to 25 attorneys in the public defender’s office, according to Butorac.

“In theory…we have progressive prosecutors that should be prosecuting less,” Butorac said.

Descano and his office have sought to adopt a progressive approach that seeks alternatives to jail sentences when possible, arguing that diversion efforts can keep people from being unnecessarily criminalized and help prevent recidivism.

According to Descano’s office, it will continue to prioritize alternatives to incarceration when a case “best meets the safety and justice needs of the community.” In a statement, Shnider said prosecutors are trained to avoid reflexively seeking the most punitive outcome in every case.

Photo via Google Maps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo via Engin Akyurt/Unsplash

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Masks (via Mika Baumeister/Unsplash)

(Updated at 4 p.m.) Virginia recommends that even vaccinated individuals wear masks indoors in certain circumstances, but with different locations experiencing different levels of COVID-19 transmission, the state has stopped short of issuing a mandate.

While some states revised their mask rules shortly after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s announcement on Tuesday (July 27), Virginia had not indicated how it will approach mask-wearing amid rising COVID-19 case levels, with officials saying only that they were reviewing the new guidance.

Gov. Ralph Northam issued the first official statement on the issue via social media on Thursday (July 29), writing that “all Virginians should consider wearing a mask in public indoor settings where there is increased risk of COVD-19  transmission, as the new CDC guidance recommends.”

“This is not a requirement, but a recommendation,” he said.

These situations include masking indoors at K-12 schools and in areas of the Commonwealth that have “substantial” community transmission of the virus.

Northam noted in further tweets that there has been a dramatic rise in COVID cases in Virginia over the last month due to the delta variant and that “over 98%” of hospitalizations and deaths are residents who are unvaccinated.

When asked why the state is recommending but not requiring indoor mask-wearing, a Virginia Department of Health spokesperson told Reston Now the department “doesn’t have anything to add at this moment” beyond Northam’s statement.

When explaining the decision to revise its guidelines, the CDC cited new scientific evidence showing that vaccinated people infected with the delta variant could potentially spread the virus to others. While the available vaccines effectively protect against severe illness and hospitalizations, the findings concerned officials enough to prompt a reversal of sorts after mask requirements were eased in May.

“This new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update to our recommendations,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky said.

With case numbers climbing locally, as they have elsewhere around the country, Fairfax County has moved to put new rules in place in the hopes of slowing the virus’ spread without jeopardizing plans to reopen workplaces and schools.

Fairfax County Public Schools announced yesterday (Wednesday) that it will require universal masking in school buildings regardless of an individual’s vaccination status, and the Board of Supervisors approved a motion on Tuesday (July 27) to evaluate whether to implement a vaccine mandate for 12,000 county employees.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said in a statement that he supports a shift back to wearing masks indoors for places with high COVID-19 transmission and around people who are unable to get vaccinated:

With the delta variant surging in unvaccinated communities, I support masking in areas with more people vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 who aren’t able to be vaccinated (such as schools) and areas with a high risk of transmission. In Fairfax County we will continue to follow state guidelines on masking and sharing the effectiveness of masking to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Currently, 76% of Fairfax Health District residents over the age of 18 have received at least one dose of the vaccine and 69.4% are fully vaccinated, according to the Fairfax County Health Department’s vaccine dashboard.

While that’s above Virginia and national rates, those numbers have barely budged over the last several weeks as the county looks for ways to get more residents immunized.

Health experts and public officials continue to reiterate that vaccines are the best tools in the fight against the pandemic.

“The vaccine is the strongest tool we have to fight this pandemic,” McKay wrote. “For the sake of our economic recovery, sending students back to school, and returning to normal, we need even more people to get vaccinated. If you aren’t vaccinated, go to vaccine.gov to get scheduled, there are appointments available near you!”

In terms of transmission rates, Fairfax County is currently doing better than many other Virginia counties. But in all areas, case rates are ticking up.

While the CDC’s COVID tracker shows that a large swath of the Commonwealth has “substantial community transmission,” Fairfax County currently has “moderate” transmission like Arlington County. A number of nearby localities like the City of Alexandria, Stafford, and Spotsylvania counties have “substantial” or even “high” transmission.

D.C., which has substantial spread, announced today that it will require everyone 2 and older to wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status starting Saturday (July 31).

via Mika Baumeister/Unsplash

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(Updated at 11:30 a.m.) Face masks are now required when students are inside Fairfax County Public School buildings, regardless of an individual’s vaccination status, the school district announced this morning (Wednesday).

FCPS shared its plans for mask-wearing and other health protocols in an email to families and staff and on its Return to School webpage.

“Masks are an essential tool in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and protecting those unable to be vaccinated,” the message says. “To ensure a safe start to the school year, masks will be required for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, inside FCPS buildings.”

The announcement comes a week after Virginia’s health and education departments released new guidance giving local school systems discretion to determine their own mask rules, though the state recommended that elementary schools at least adopt universal masking with children younger than 12 still not eligible to get vaccinated.

A statewide mandate requiring all children 5 and older to wear masks while in school expired on Sunday (July 25).

According to a graphic on the FCPS website, fully vaccinated staff will not be required to wear masks when no students are present in a school building, and masks will not be required for either vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals outdoors.

New Fairfax County Public Schools guidelines for wearing face masks (via FCPS)

Masks will be required on school buses in keeping with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s federal mask mandate for public transportation.

FCPS says its COVID-19 health guidelines for the upcoming school year, which will begin on Aug. 23, are consistent with federal, state, and county guidance. The rules also apply to the expanded summer school programs that are continuing into mid-August.

“Universal masking is the most effective way to keep our staff and students safe and feeling confident — and also to keep our school buildings open for five days a week of in-person instruction for all students this fall,” an FCPS spokesperson said in a statement. “The universal mask policy is in line with local, state and national guidance and takes into account the fact that many of our students are not eligible for the vaccine or who have not yet been vaccinated for other reasons.”

In addition to sharing its plans for face masks, FCPS announced that it will not regularly test staff and students for COVID-19, instead asking anyone who enters a school building to “self-assess and stay home if they are feeling ill or experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19.”

Unlike last year, students will not be required to go into quarantine if they are exposed to someone who tests positive for COVID-19. The CDC updated its contact tracing guidelines earlier this month with an exemption for kindergarten through 12th grade students in a classroom setting.

After several weeks of loosening restrictions, a surge in COVID-19 cases nationwide has prompted a return of health protocols that many had hoped the availability of vaccines would relegate to the past.

The CDC officially amended its mask guidelines yesterday (Tuesday) to state that even fully vaccinated individuals should wear masks indoors in areas with high or substantial transmission, citing evidence that the delta variant can be spread by vaccinated people.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has directed County Executive Bryan Hill to evaluate the possibility of adopting a vaccine mandate for county government employees when they fully return to workplaces this fall.

FCPS did not comment when asked whether a similar approach is being considered for school staff, but it said in this morning’s announcement that “the most important thing we can all do to keep our schools safe and open all year is to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as we are eligible.”

FCPS has partnered with the Fairfax County Health Department to bring vaccination clinics to schools, including three scheduled for August:

  • Wednesday, Aug. 4: 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., Herndon Elementary School, 630 Dranesville Rd., Herndon
  • Thursday, Aug. 5: 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., Justice High School, 3301 Peace Valley ln., Falls Church
  • Friday, Aug. 6: 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., Liberty Middle School, 6801 Union Mill Rd., Clifton

According to the county health department, more than 63% of all Fairfax Health District residents have received at least one vaccine dose, including 72.8% of residents aged 12 to 17.

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Mask wearing bunny (photo by robinreston)

Months after Virginia started lifting its mask restrictions, the once-ubiquitous face masks that were a defining symbol of the COVID-19 pandemic have started becoming more scarce. But with the delta variant starting to cause a COVID-19 resurgence, some are saying masks in public should make a comeback, even for people who have been fully vaccinated.

The delta variant now accounts for 83% of new COVID-19 cases reported in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated earlier this week. The delta variant is more contagious than other strands of COVID-19 and could potentially have more severe symptoms.

In official channels, mask requirements have continued to ease up. The Commonwealth is set to let a statewide mandate on indoor mask wearing in schools expire on Sunday (July 25), though the state guidance remains that teachers, students and staff should still wear their masks indoors.

While the virus now appears to be almost exclusively spreading among unvaccinated people, some fully vaccinated people have continued wearing masks for a variety of reasons, from a desire to fend off other illnesses or to protect young children and other people unable to get a vaccine to concern about being judged.

Have you stayed in the habit of wearing a face mask, or does it depend on the setting?

Photo by robinreston

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Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand with a face mask (via FCPS)

Virginia school districts will make their own rules regarding masking requirements for the upcoming school year, the state’s education and health departments announced today (Wednesday).

The Commonwealth will let a public health order that’s in effect until Sunday (July 25) expire, thereby ending a statewide mandate that kids over age 5 wear masks indoors at public and private schools and putting decisions in the hands of local officials.

“The science is clear that vaccinations and masks help keep our communities safe from COVID-19,” Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dr. Daniel Carey said in a statement. “The Commonwealth’s children and the individuals that help them learn will be protected by proven strategies, without a one-size-fits-all approach.”

Fairfax County Public Schools currently requires masks to be worn indoors for students, staff, and visitors when school is in session “until more students aged 12 and older are fully vaccinated and until younger students become eligible for vaccination.”

“We are reviewing the guidance and reaching out to hear from our community, and will share a plan early next week with staff and families,” FCPS spokesperson Julie Moult said in a statement.

Virginia’s new guidance says elementary schools should require students, teachers, and staff to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, until vaccines are available for young children. For middle and high schools, it recommends that students, teachers, and staff who are not fully vaccinated be required to wear masks indoors.

State officials said the change will allow districts to make their own decisions and the switch reflects changes by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which  loosened its guidance earlier this month and advised that masks should be worn indoors by all individuals age 2 and older who are not fully vaccinated.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, by contrast, recommends that, unless they are unable to do so due to medical or developmental challenges, all school staff and students over the age of 2 should wear masks at school, even if they’re vaccinated.

The changes come as daily COVID-19 cases have increased in Virginia and the U.S., and the especially contagious delta variant now represents 83% of new coronavirus cases in the U.S., according to a CDC estimate.

Over 70% of students ages 12 to 17 in Fairfax County have been vaccinated. COVID-19 vaccines for those under the age of 12 are not yet authorized but currently undergoing trials.

The CDC has said that most students, including those with disabilities, can tolerate and safely wear a mask, but a “narrow subset of students with disabilities” may be unable to do so and should not be required to wear one.

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About a month after Virginia lifted all COVID-19 capacity and social distancing requirements, in-person dining is starting to make a comeback at local restaurants, even as evolving guidance around masks suggests the pandemic may not be entirely in the rearview mirror.

From D.C. to northern Virginia, restaurants throughout the region look much different than they did a year ago, when many venues were either temporarily closed or just starting to invite customers back inside.

Now, restaurants are free to return to full occupancy, and patrons can eat and drink without fumbling with a mask, though individual businesses can still require masks if they choose to keep a policy in place.

“Carryout and to-go sales of alcohol are still continuing to help our restaurants, but yet, we are definitely seeing a shift in the return of more and more in-person dining,” said Barry Biggar, president and CEO of the Fairfax County tourism agency Visit Fairfax. “The future is bright and we are on a forward trajectory towards full recovery.”

In Herndon, the funky upscale pizza and craft beer joint Mellow Mushroom (1030 Elden St.) has seen customers in person go to a “whole new level” with restrictions dropping, general manager Ted Kinsall said.

Business hasn’t quite returned to 2019 levels yet, but he expects it to continue growing. Now, the eatery is dealing with a challenge that has become widespread in the food service industry: the need for workers.

Kinsall says his business is currently staffed at 70% with job openings in a number of positions, from cooks to servers and hosts.

Labor issues are complicating recovery efforts for an industry hit hard by job losses, stay-at-home orders, closed offices, and fluctuating public health rules.

“The positive news is that many of our restaurants are starting to see around 80 to 90 percent of pre-COVID numbers,” Biggar said in an email. “And while that sounds great, and sales are up, it does not always translate to straight profit. Many restaurants are still paying deferred rent, utilities, and other expenses that they had to hold off on paying due to the pandemic.”

While Virginia’s state of emergency is set to expire today (Wednesday), health officials have recently started raising new concerns about the spread of more dangerous COVID-19 variants, even for fully vaccinated people.

The Commonwealth followed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s lead in May in easing mask requirements for fully vaccinated individuals in most places. But the World Health Organization suggested Friday (June 25) that even vaccinated individuals should still wear masks to reduce the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant.

Experts who talked with the Miami Herald advised caution regarding whether or not to wear masks, and the CDC hasn’t adjusted masking guidance based on the Delta variant, which was first detected in India and is estimated to contribute to one in five U.S. cases now.

The CDC says there’s evidence that the variant causes more severe disease and has increased transmissibility.

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