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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Dulles International Airport (via Der Berzerker/Flickr)

This coming weekend is the Fourth of July, and unlike last summer when — well, you know — travel is on-the-table for many in Reston and Herndon

Nationally, 47 million Americans are expected to travel this weekend, many of them by car, according to Travel and Leisure. It’s an estimate in line with pre-pandemic figures.

Are you planning to head out-of-town this weekend? How are you planning on traveling? List your mode-of-choice in the comments if it’s not a plane or car.

via Der Berzerker/Flickr

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The Reston Association Board of Directors appeared to come to a general agreement during a recent meeting that member assessments need to be raised in 2022.

The question, of course, is exactly how much.

According to a table presented by RA CEO Hank Lynch, additional operating expenses are set to be added to the 2022 budget to the tune of about $850,000. These expenses include staff pay increases, insurance costs, and additional positions.

By Lynch and RA treasurer Bob Petrine’s estimates, this could mean assessments will need to increase by approximately 6%, or about $40 per member. The assessment currently sits at $718.

However, the exact increase may vary depending on RA’s non-assessment revenue (like facility rentals, camps, and garden plots) and budget cuts.

There’s also a host of capital improvement projects that are ongoing or upcoming. While nothing new is currently expected to be added to the budget, Petrine cautioned the board to consider what could come in the future.

There’s also a potential option of deferring some of these projects, something RA has done before.

Over the course of several budget meetings planned for the coming weeks, the board will discuss exact finances, potential cuts (including the potential “repurposing” of some pools), and what an increase could look like.

The first of these meetings is set for tonight (June 8). The plan for this evening is for the RA Board to provide Lynch with a percentage range for an increase that the RA board would be comfortable with.

Assessment increases are nothing new for RA members. Last year, it went up by $10, or close to 1.4%. In 2019, it went up by 2.2%. Overall, between 2010 and 2018, the assessment went up by a combined 34%.

However, this potential 6% raise would be the highest in a number of years.

Taking the rising costs of personnel and facility maintenance and improvement projects, how would you feel about Reston Association raising assessments again?

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Virginia is no longer requiring that people wear face masks indoors if they have been fully vaccinated, a move that reflects the COVID-19 pandemic’s waning threat in the state as vaccination rates rise and case rates fall.

However, there are some exceptions to the new rules. In addition to maintaining the state’s mask mandate for health care facilities, public transportation, and schools, the revised guidance lets businesses continue requiring masks within their establishments.

In the wake of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s announcement, some businesses are continuing to mandate masks for all customers, while others are letting fully vaccinated customers go mask-free, depending on local and state regulations, though a few, like Trader Joe’s and Starbucks, are still requiring masks for employees.

With masks still “strongly recommended” in all settings for people who aren’t fully vaccinated, however, businesses largely seem to be relying on an honor system, raising questions for parents with children who aren’t eligible to be vaccinated yet and service workers who have to interact with a wide variety of customers.

Gov. Ralph Northam said earlier this month that he has not ruled out the possibility of vaccine “passports” as a means for people to prove they’ve been vaccinated before participating in certain activities, but for the time being, there are no plans to implement any such system.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay told Reston Now that he is “not aware of any concerns” from businesses about enforcing the new mask guidelines.

“I’m not aware of any concerns we have heard at this point, but per state guidance, businesses can make their own decisions about masking,” McKay said. “I encourage our businesses to do what they feel is best for the health and safety of their staff and customers.”

What approach makes you most comfortable when it comes to masks right now? Would you prefer that retail stores, theaters, and other businesses keep requiring masks to minimize confusion and risk, or should they let customers and workers go without masks, trusting that they’ve been vaccinated?

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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The cicadas are about to take over the world, or at least much of the East Coast, including Fairfax County.

After biding their time for the past 17 years, Brood X could start emerging in full force as soon as today (Monday), according to the first-ever cicada forecast by The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang.

From animals digging for a snack to holes in the earth made by cicada nymphs burrowing up from their underground lairs, signs of the insects’ impending arrival have become more plentiful in recent weeks. In fact, a few bugs have already been spotted, summoned out of their exoskeletons early by the rapidly warming weather.

The prospect of millions of winged insects crawling out of the ground might convince some people to stay inside until July, but as Fairfax County Park Authority naturalist and education and outreach manager Tammy Schwab told Reston Now in March, cicadas are harmless — even edible.

In addition, while some annual cicadas pop up every year, the once-every-other-decade appearances of the periodical variety are natural phenomena unique to the U.S., a product of the creatures’ unusually long life cycles.

Fairfax County has been doing its part to turn anxiety over Brood X into excitement, inviting community members to a game of Cicada Stroll Bingo and highlighting the environmental benefits of cicadas.

How are you planning to greet Brood X? Are you ready to embrace the swarm, or does the idea of stepping outside in the next two months fill you with dread?

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The Herndon Town Council is currently considering an ordinance that would largely ban firearms on town property.

Specifically, the proposed measure would “prohibit the possession, carrying, or transportation of any firearms, ammunition, or components or combination thereof on Town property,” including public parks, community centers, and public streets during permitted events.

The ordinance includes some exceptions for law enforcement, security, and active-duty military personnel who are engaged in official duties. Unloaded firearms could also be allowed for educational activities or displays.

If adopted, the ordinance would bring Herndon in line with most other Northern Virginia jurisdictions, including Fairfax and Arlington counties and the cities of Falls Church and Alexandria.

However, Herndon Mayor Sheila Olem announced on Tuesday (April 13) that a decision on the ordinance has been deferred until the town can hold a public hearing on the issue and staff can provide more information on the potential fiscal impacts of a ban.

Herndon Town Attorney Lesa Yeatts wrote in a staff report that possible budgetary considerations could include the costs of posting and removing signage required by Virginia law and enhancements to security measures like guards and metal detectors.

Town Manager Bill Ashton is not scheduled to report back to the town council until May 6, but in the meantime, what do you think of the proposal? Should people be allowed to have guns on town property?

Photo via Jeremy Alford/Unsplash

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After a year spent largely cooped up inside (if you were lucky), even the most introverted individuals might feel a surge of anticipation at the prospect of mingling with a crowd in celebration or leisure.

The warming spring weather and accelerating pace of COVID-19 vaccinations suggest major communal experiences could once again be a reality. Starting today (Thursday), Virginia is easing limits on social gatherings, recreational events, and entertainment venues.

However, large, public events like ballgames and music concerts will still not be free of risk. Gov. Ralph Northam’s announcement that public health restrictions would be relaxed came amid declining COVID-19 transmission rates and increasing vaccine distribution, but cases have already started to tick back up again around the state.

As of March 31, Fairfax County was averaging 168.3 new COVID-19 cases over the past seven days. The county recorded its lowest weekly average of 2021 with 133.6 cases on March 15.

On top of health concerns, event organizers must grapple with logistical and financial challenges.

For instance, the fate of this year’s Friday Night Live! — Herndon’s annual free summer concert series — remains uncertain in part because it depends on public services that could see their funding slashed in the town’s new budget.

Chairman Laura Poindexter believes having the series live and in-person is critical to local businesses and the community, but she also told Reston Now earlier this week that it would be hard to justify the expense of putting on the concerts if they are limited to under 50% capacity.

When taking all these factors into consideration, how do you feel about the possibility of crowded, public events returning? Are you ready to take in a game at Nationals Park or a local rock concert? Or should everything wait until herd immunity is reached?

Photo by Mikey Tate

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The COVID-19 vaccination process has been ramping up in Fairfax County in recent weeks, as supplies increase and more partners come on board to help administer the vaccines.

While eligibility for the vaccine has not expanded since mid-January, Fairfax County’s allocation of vaccine has grown over the past month or so from 13,000 to 19,220 first doses per week, and the size of shipments are expected to continue increasing throughout March, allowing the county health department to get through its existing waitlist more quickly.

As of 5 p.m. yesterday (Thursday), more than 111,000 people were waiting for appointments to get vaccinated. A total of 307,659 people have registered through the Fairfax County Health Department, which administered 21,791 first doses during the week of March 1-7.

The authorization of a third vaccine manufactured by Johnson & Johnson helps increase supply, giving providers another option on top of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that have been available since December, according to the Fairfax County Health Department.

Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which both require two shots separated by three or four weeks, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine needs only one dose. It is also easier to store and seems to less apt to trigger strong side effects.

The J&J vaccine is slightly less effective at guarding against severe disease caused by COVID-19, with an 85% efficacy rate compared to 95% and 94.1% for Pfizer and Moderna, respectively. However, differences in how clinical trials were conducted make comparisons inexact, and all three are considered “extremely effective at preventing severe disease, hospitalization, and death,” FCHD says.

Fairfax County currently doesn’t offer a choice between the vaccines, since the health department has been primarily utilizing Pfizer for first doses. The county has been sending its J&J allocation to Inova, which expects to double its capacity later this month with the launch of a new mass vaccination center in Alexandria.

The FCHD says it anticipates starting to use the J&J vaccine by the end of March, though the number of doses is unknown at this time. For now, officials say people should take whichever vaccine becomes available to them.

If you were given a choice, though, which would you prefer? Would you want to get the process over with in one shot, or do you have more confidence in the two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccines?

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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The D.C. area is hunkered down for another winter storm today (Thursday) that could last into Friday morning.

At 1:05 p.m., the National Weather Service downgraded its earlier winter storm warning to a Winter Weather Advisory. As of 8:30 this morning, the NWS had projected one to three inches of snow, a drop down from previous forecasts of three to six inches of accumulation.

However, with the addition of freezing rain and ice, the roads are still going to be slippery, making travel a challenge.

In previous years, icy road conditions would have made for treacherous commutes to work and school, but the novel coronavirus pandemic has forced many to work and learn from home. Still, the frequency of winter weather events over the past few weeks can feel disruptive, even if not much snow has actually materialized so far this year.

How do you feel about all this winter weather? Do you wish there was more snow, or are you comfortable with the amount that Fairfax County has gotten? Are you ready for warmer weather yet?

Photo via Fairfax County Police Department

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Barring an abrupt change in plans, Fairfax County Public Schools students will start returning to school buildings next week for the first time since classes resumed after winter break in January.

The Fairfax County School Board approved a new Return to School timeline last Tuesday (Feb. 2) that lets 8,000 students in special education and career and technical education programs get two days of in-person instruction and two days of virtual instruction per week starting on Feb. 16. All FCPS students will be phased into the hybrid learning model by Mar. 16, though students who choose to stay all-virtual can do so.

The school board’s decision came three days before Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Friday (Feb. 5) that all school divisions in Virginia must offer families some form of in-person learning option by Mar. 16, citing the need to prevent learning losses.

An FCPS report released in November found an uptick in failing grades during the first quarter of the 2020-2021 school year, particularly for students with disabilities and English-language learners, and research from the CDC suggests schools can deliver in-person instruction safely as long as mitigation protocols are followed, including mask-wearing and social distancing.

With COVID-19 cases declining in Fairfax County recently and FCPS staff prioritized for vaccinations, FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand expressed confidence last week that the division can pull of a successful return to in-person learning.

However, FCPS officials also said that transporting students will be a challenge due to the inability to ensure enough spacing on buses, and employees raised concerns in the past through the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers about inadequate implementation and enforcement of mitigation measures. FCPS has recorded 939 COVID-19 cases among staff, students, and visitors since Sept. 8.

Do you think FCPS is ready to restart in-person learning? Should the district move faster to expand in-person learning, or should it take a more cautious approach? Should schools be looking to resume in-person instruction at all?

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COVID-19 may have put a damper on a lot of year-end festivities, but many hallmarks of this holiday season are still going strong.

There is a certain magic in getting bundled up for ice skating or sipping mulled cider (or hot toddies) at outdoor restaurants. For something spectacular, families can enjoy holiday light shows or their neighbors’ tacky Christmas lights.

All of these and more winter activities can be done in Fairfax County through January. This year, you can justify these cold weather-friendly events to your heat-loving friends even more, since the risk of COVID-19 transmission is lower outside.

Does winter hold a certain spark for you? Are you going stir-crazy at home and need places to go? Tell us below how you are taking in this season, and drop recommendations in the comments.

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Door-to-door greeting and candy distribution is a classic staple of Halloween night, but Fairfax County and health officials warn it might be one of the worst activities to do amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked festivities as low-risk to high-risk, allowing people to gauge what level of risk they are comfortable taking when participating in the holiday.

For those that do plan to trick or treat this year, there are several precautions the CDC recommended taking, including:

  • Avoid direct contact with trick-or-treaters.
  • Give out treats outdoors, if possible.
  • Set up a station with individually bagged treats for kids to take.
  • Wash hands before handling treats.
  • Wear a mask.

Photo courtesy Anne B.`

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The arrival of October usually means the beginning of a month full of fall and Halloween festivities. However, in pandemic times, the seasonal celebration might look a little bit different — trick-or-treating in particular. 

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted a list of guidelines to take when planning for fall and winter holidays, including Halloween at the end of this month. Festivities were ranked low-risk to high-risk, allowing people to gauge what level of risk they are comfortable taking when participating in the holiday. 

Some low-risk Halloween ideas include carving pumpkins with family, having a virtual costume contest or holding a trick-or-treat style scavenger hunt around your home. 

One-way trick-or-treating with pre-wrapped goodie bags was recommended by the CDC as a moderate-risk activity. Traditional trick-or-treating, however, was listed as a higher-risk activity. 

Considering recommendations regarding pandemic trick-or-treating and the likelihood of children hunting for candy, will you be handing out goodies this year? Will you be doing so traditionally, modifying the candy giveaway, or skipping the activity altogether?

Photo by NeONBRAND/Unsplash

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Labor Day is almost here — and the end of pool season.

While swimming in the pool or lounging nearby are popular summer activities, the coronavirus pandemic has put a damper on swimsuit season, unless you have a private pool or know someone who does.

Fairfax County didn’t allow public indoor and outdoor swimming pools to reopen until mid-June only for lap swimming, diving, exercise and instruction.

Then when Phase 3 guidelines went into effect on July 1, public pools could allow up to 75% occupancy with 10 feet of physical distance between users who are not from the same household. Public hot tubs, spas, saunas and spray pools are still closed though.

“This guidance applies to all community pools, including those operated by apartment and condominium complexes, recreation centers, homeowner’s associations and swim clubs,” according to Fairfax County’s website.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they don’t have evidence that the novel coronavirus can be spread in the water.

“Plus, proper operation of public pools, hot tubs, and water playgrounds (such as at an apartment complex or owned by a community) and disinfection of the water (with chlorine or bromine) should inactivate the virus,” according to the CDC.

When we asked readers in June how they felt about using public pools, roughly 40% said they wouldn’t because of COVID-19 concerns, while 36% said they would.

With Labor Day soon marking the unofficial end to summer, we want to know if you have been to the pool. Let us know in the poll below and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Photo by Toni Cuenca/Unsplash

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Labor Day is fast approaching. And while summer may look very different this year due to COVID-19, we’re curious to know how the pandemic will impact your plans.

The federal holiday — which was first marked in the late 19th century —  is celebrated on the first Monday in September. It aims to honor the American labor movement.

Some health officials are bracing for a spike in COVID-19 cases following Labor Day weekend, as parks and other venues become popular spots for celebrations.

For some, the weekend may mark a return to a new normal.  Fairfax County Public Schools will reopen on Sept. 8 with a virtual start. Many companies are planning to reopen offices after the weekend. Other employers are in the midst of rethinking plans for the return to work, the Wall Street Journal reports.

In Herndon and Reston, staple events like the Town of Herndon’s Labor Day Festival have been canceled. But parks are still open for cookouts, along with other community gathering spaces.

Let us know what your plans for Labor Day weekend are in the poll below.

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