For anyone who feels strongly about whether or not Lee Highway and Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway should continue to bear those names, the time to share that opinion has arrived.

The Fairfax County Confederate Names Task Force launched a survey yesterday (Thursday), kicking off the community engagement phase of its review of whether to rename the highways.

Open until Nov. 12, the survey is available in English, Spanish, Arabic, Farsi, Korean, and Vietnamese. Chinese and Urdu versions will be coming soon, and print copies will be available at county libraries and district supervisor offices starting next Wednesday (Oct. 20), according to the task force’s website.

According to the news release, the task force will send out a countywide mailer to all residents later this month encouraging them to weigh in on the issue, and four public meetings — three in person, one virtual — have been scheduled through early November:

  • Thursday, Oct. 28: Providence Community Center, 3001 Vaden Drive, Fairfax, 7-8:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, Oct. 30: Fairfax County Government Center, 12000 Government Center Parkway, 10-11:30 a.m.
  • Monday, Nov. 1: via WebEx, 7-8:30 p.m.
  • Thursday, Nov. 4: Sully District Governmental Center, 4900 Stonecroft Boulevard, Chantilly, 7-8:30 p.m.

Comments can also be sent to the task force by email, phone (703-877-5600), and regular mail (Fairfax County Department of Transportation, 4050 Legato Road, Suite 400, Fairfax, VA 22033).

“Symbols matter and we want our community to feel welcome and reflect our values,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “Community feedback is a key part of the renaming of Lee and Lee Jackson Memorial Highways process and will determine our next steps forward. There are multiple ways to offer feedback including a survey and community listening sessions. I encourage everyone who can to join the discussion.”

The Board of Supervisors appointed the 30-member task force in July after getting a report from the county’s history commission that identified more than 26,000 streets and other local landmarks bearing names associated with the Confederacy.

The Fairfax County History Commission narrowed its inventory down to 150 sites named after well-known Confederate figures, with Lee and Lee-Jackson highways among the most prominent.

The county’s portion of Route 29 spans 14.11 miles from Centreville to Falls Church and was named after Confederate general Robert E. Lee in 1919, according to the task force. Lee and fellow general Stonewall Jackson became the namesakes for the 8.43-mile stretch of Route 50 from Loudoun County to the City of Fairfax in 1922.

While those monikers have stuck for around a century now, nationwide efforts to remove names linked to the Confederacy or slavery from public places have gained momentum in recent years. Fairfax County Public Schools alone has renamed three buildings in the past four years.

Neighboring Arlington County renamed its section of Route 29 this past summer, replacing Lee’s name with that of abolitionist John M. Langston, Virginia’s first Congressional representative of color.

Expected to present a recommendation on whether to rename the roadways to the Board of Supervisors in December, the Confederate Names Task Force has been meeting on a regular basis since Aug. 16. The agenda for its upcoming meeting on Monday (Oct. 18) includes a staff briefing on the cost implications of a name change and a discussion of criteria for street names.

If the task force recommends changing the names, it will then offer up to five possible new names for each road, and after holding a public hearing, the Board of Supervisors will vote on the recommendation, potentially early next year. The name changes would then have to get state approval and go through the county budget process to cover the costs.

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Fairfax County Public Library branches that serve low-income neighborhoods, including Reston Regional Library, tend to have more cards blocked due to fines

After a slight delay, Fairfax County Public Library has come to the same realization as dozens of other library systems in the D.C. area and across the country: that fining patrons for overdue materials doesn’t work.

The library’s Board of Trustees got informal but clear support from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors at a joint meeting yesterday (Tuesday) to stop FCPL’s practice of charging late fees for unreturned books, DVDs, and other resources.

The trustees must still officially vote to eliminate library fines, but if that happens in November or December as anticipated, the new fine-free policy will take effect on Jan. 1, 2022, FCPL Director Jessica Hudson told the Board of Supervisors, noting that people will still be expected to pay back the cost of lost or damaged items.

“I have not heard anyone on this board that doesn’t wholeheartedly support [the fine-free strategy],” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “So, [I] look forward to the library board moving forward with that, and being able to accomplish that would be, I think, a big win for all our users.”

Fines Affect Library Access

Inspired by the One Fairfax policy, which commits the county to considering racial and social equity in its policies and decision-making, the FCPL Board of Trustees started exploring the idea of eliminating fines with the creation of an ad hoc committee in April.

Tasked with reviewing trends and determining the effectiveness of fines, the committee found that fines are not only futile at incentivizing the timely return of materials, but instead, actually discourage people from returning overdue items and utilizing library services.

“If you have a book checked out, and it’s a month late, and you know that you’ve got fines accrued on it, it doesn’t really make you want to run into the library and quickly turn it in and pay your fine,” Hudson said. “Instead, it acts as a punitive measure that ensures that some members of our population are never going to come back to the library.”

The committee recommended that FCPL eliminate fines at a Board of Trustees meeting on July 14, citing the policy’s ineffectiveness, its disproportionate impact on youth and low-income communities, and declining revenue from fines in a statement that the board accepted on Sept. 8.

According to the committee, 17% of the approximately 420,000 library cardholders that FCPL had prior to the pandemic — including 23% of cardholders younger than 18 — had their cards blocked because their accounts carried more than $15 in outstanding fines.

The number of blocked cards correlated closely with neighborhood income, with low-income areas served by the Reston, City of Fairfax, George Mason, Kingstowne, and Sherwood regional libraries having particularly high rates, according to Hudson. Read More

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(Updated at 2:35 p.m.) Fairfax County government workers must now show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing. The vast majority have chosen the former option, the county says.

The county’s policy officially took effect yesterday (Monday).

As of today (Tuesday), 12,799 employees have been fully vaccinated, meaning it has been at least two weeks since they’ve received both doses of the two-shot Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to county government spokesperson Tony Castrilli.

Another 295 employees are partially vaccinated, and the county is currently reviewing 492 requests for a medical or religious exemption.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors directed staff to evaluate a possible COVID-19 vaccination requirement in July as part of the government’s return-to-office plan. The county confirmed that it would implement the mandate on Aug. 20.

The policy applies to all general county government employees. Fairfax County Public Schools has its own requirement that is expected to go in effect by the end of this month.

“Evidence shows that the COVID-19 vaccine continue to be safe and effective,” Chairman Jeff McKay said in a statement. “As a County, we have to do all we can to protect our community. I’m encouraged by our high vaccination rate among county staff and pleased that we’ve put additional measures in place to help keep our employees and community safe.”

McKay added that the county will keep working to increase vaccination rates among its employees as well as the general public.

The percentage of county employees who are fully vaccinated is currently in the mid-80s, though it “fluctuates daily” due to changes in the overall workforce, Castrilli says.

In comparison, 62.8% of Fairfax Health District residents, or 740,791 people, are fully vaccinated, including 74.2% of individuals 18 and older, according to the Fairfax County Health Department, which serves the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church as well as the county.

819,482 residents — 81.8% of adults and 69.2% of the total population — have gotten at least one vaccine dose.

The Virginia Department of Health reopened its mass vaccination site at Tysons Corner Center on Friday (Oct. 8) to accommodate potential demand for booster shots and the eventual rollout of the vaccine to children under 12, which could come after Halloween.

Fairfax County COVID-19 cases over the past 180 days as of Oct. 12, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)
All Fairfax County COVID-19 cases as of Oct. 12, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)

In the meantime, Fairfax County has seen its COVID-19 community spread dip back down to substantial for the past two weeks, reporting 86.5 new cases per 100,000 people and a 3.3% testing positivity rate for the week of Oct. 3-9.

That reflects a recent plateau in infections after the Delta variant pushed the county’s transmission levels to high at the end of August.

However, after getting just 44 new cases last Tuesday (Oct. 5) — the fewest since July 20 — the county’s seven-day average has started to climb back up, from 132.3 cases per day over the past week on Oct. 6 to 149.7 cases today, according to VDH data.

With a total of 128 new COVID-19 cases coming in today, the Fairfax Health District has now recorded 91,120 cases, 4,337 hospitalizations, and 1,193 deaths from the pandemic.

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Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano (left) and Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Kyle Manikas (right) after going through a courthouse security screening (courtesy Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office)

Video of an encounter between Fairfax County’s top prosecutor and security personnel at the county courthouse does not appear to be consistent with some of the allegations leveled in a Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office incident report.

The report claims Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano and a colleague lost their tempers during a courthouse security screening. According to the Sept. 30 report, Descano and Chief Deputy Commonwealth Attorney Kyle Manikas questioned and cursed at security officers when directed to go through a metal detector upon entering the Fairfax County Courthouse at 9:37 a.m. on Sept. 28.

But the two main triggers that the report says prompted Descano and Manikas to display “disrespect” and “unprofessional conduct” toward the security guards are absent from the video, notes a courthouse source who has also seen the footage viewed by FFXnow.

The report states that, after seeing two law enforcement officers in full uniform bypass the checkpoint and being told by the security guards that uniformed law enforcement officers were exempt from the mandatory security screening, Descano responded by saying “That’s bullshit,” “Don’t you know who I am?”, and “I’m the top law enforcement officer in Fairfax County.”

While no audio was recorded, courthouse security camera footage provided by the sheriff’s office does not show any uniformed law enforcement officers coming into the building and passing the security checkpoint.

Around the time Descano arrives, a sheriff’s deputy and a uniformed man wearing a vest emblazoned with the logo for the security company Brink’s walk by the checkpoint, but they are leaving the courthouse, not entering.

Security camera footage shows a sheriff’s deputy and another uniformed officer pass the security checkpoint on their way out of the courthouse (courtesy Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office)

The sheriff’s office report, which is signed by both a deputy and a supervisor, states that the two security guards gave statements and that facility security “provided a video to corroborate the visual part of the incident.”

“We do not have any comments about the report,” the sheriff’s office said when asked about the discrepancies between its incident report and the security camera video.

The report also says Manikas “was visibly upset about being screened and kept saying ‘This is f**king bulls**t.'”

According to the report, Manikas also became upset when told that the x-ray machine detected a knife in his lunch bag and that an additional search of the bag was needed, claiming that there was no knife in the bag.

After a security officer “rotated the screen of the x-ray around to show CDCA Kyle Manikas the image he was looking at,” the report claims the prosecutor stated, “This is f**king bulls**t, I know you are doing your job, but this is bulls**t.” A search of the bag revealed a butter knife.

In the video, however, when one of the security officers gestures that he needs to look through Manikas’s backpack, Manikas unzips the bag and opens what appears to be a lunch box without any visible hesitation. The officer doesn’t show Manikas a screen, and his side of the x-ray machine is inaccessible to visitors, blocked by the tables where people collect their belongings after getting screened.

A security officer gives a “thumbs up” after checking Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Kyle Manikas’s bag (courtesy Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office)

“As the full video reflects, the report paints an inconsistent picture of what actually occurred,” Benjamin Shnider, chief of staff for the Fairfax County Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, said in a statement to FFXnow.

Descano and Manikas were not available to comment directly.

The incident report circulated around conservative blogs and media before being reported by the Sun Gazette and FFXnow yesterday (Thursday).

Descano has become a target of conservatives since he was one of three Northern Virginia prosecutors elected in 2019 on criminal justice reform platforms, including pledges to stop prosecuting marijuana possession, end the use of cash-bail and the death penalty, and reduce mass incarceration.

Like his reform-minded counterparts in Arlington and Loudoun, Descano is currently facing a recall effort spearheaded by Virginians for Safe Communities, a group led by Republican operatives and funded by undisclosed donors.

A separate group called Stand Up Virginia launched its own recall campaign against Descano in April.

Both groups argue that his office has failed crime victims by declining to prosecute some misdemeanor cases and offering plea deals that some judges have criticized as inadequate.

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Inova has temporarily closed four of its urgent care centers, including ones in Reston (1488 Northpoint Village Center) and Tysons (8357 Leesburg Pike), to manage an influx of patients without overwhelming exhausted staff.

Inova told FFXnow that it has consolidated staff from the shuttered urgent care centers at other sites “to better accommodate patient volume.” The other centers that have been closed are in Arlington, as reported by ARLnow, and Purcellville.

According to Inova’s website, urgent care centers in Vienna, Centreville, West Springfield, and Chantilly remain open.

“These closures are temporary and we anticipate they will reopen by the end of the year or sooner,” Inova Health Systems spokesperson Tracy Connell said by email.

Typically open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Inova’s urgent care centers provide various same-day medical services, including treatment for minor illnesses and injuries, X-rays, sports physicals, lab tests, and most recently, evaluations for COVID-19.

The temporary closures came in response to “significantly high volumes” of patients that Inova has been experiencing, Connell says, noting that other health systems across the country have encountered the same trend.

On top of an influx of COVID-19 cases fueled by the Delta variant, Virginia hospitals have reported getting more patients with more medically complex conditions, including people who delayed seeking care last year due to stay-at-home orders and fear of contracting the coronavirus, according to Virginia Mercury.

At the same time, many hospitals have been hit by staffing shortages as nurses and other medical professionals strained by months of working through the pandemic opt to quit or retire.

According to Connell, that has not been an issue for Inova, even though it was the first major health care system in Northern Virginia to issue a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees.

“We are not experiencing a staffing shortage, but we are actively working to manage staffing needs so as to avoid fatigue and burnout among our team members who have performed at an extraordinarily high level throughout the pandemic,” she said.

Over 99% of Inova employees received at least one vaccine dose by the organization’s Sept. 1 deadline. 86 workers — just 0.4% of Inova’s workforce — “chose to leave the organization rather than comply with our vaccination policy,” Connell says.

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An illustration of a coronavirus (via CDC/Unsplash)

With the addition of 136 cases today (Monday), the Fairfax Health District has reported a total of 90,010 COVID-19 infections since identifying its first positive case nearly 20 months ago.

Case levels in the district, which includes Fairfax County and the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, have stayed consistent for more than a month now after surging in August due to the spread of the especially contagious Delta variant.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, Fairfax County has seen an average of 149 new cases per day for the past week. This is the first time the weekly average has been below 150 since Aug. 19, when the county averaged 144 cases over seven days.

At the current rate, the Fairfax Health District would surpass 100,000 COVID-19 cases by the end of 2021.

4,308 district residents have been hospitalized by the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and 1,181 residents have died.

Fairfax County COVID-19 cases over past 180 days as of Oct. 4, 2021. The Virginia Department of Health reports net new daily cases, while Fairfax County shares the total number of new cases reported. (via VDH)
All Fairfax County COVID-19 cases as of Oct. 4, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)

In vaccination news, 80.7% of Virginia residents 18 and older have now received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to VDH’s dashboard. That is more than 5.8 million people — 68% of the Commonwealth’s total population.

72.1% of adults and 60.6% of residents overall are considered fully vaccinated, meaning it has been at least two weeks since they got the last required shot of either the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The Fairfax Health District has slightly outpaced Virginia as a whole.

The Fairfax County Health Department reports that 815,401 residents or 68.9% of the population, including 81.4% of adults, have gotten at least one vaccine dose. 736,772 residents — 73.8% of adults and 62.3% of all residents — are fully vaccinated.

Over 1.51 million doses have been administered to the district’s residents. It’s unclear how many of those are booster shots, which became widely available for older residents, people with underlying medical conditions, and other eligible groups last Tuesday (Sept. 28).

Photo via CDC/Unsplash

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An illustration of a coronavirus (via CDC/Unsplash)

Updated at 3:20 p.m. — Booster shots of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine will be available for those who are eligible in Fairfax County starting tomorrow (Tuesday), the Fairfax County Health Department announced this afternoon.

Earlier: After seeing COVID-19 cases climb throughout August, Fairfax County seems to be finishing September at a plateau in the Delta variant-driven surge that has refilled hospitals in many parts of the country.

The Fairfax Health District, which includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, added 160 new cases today (Monday), bringing its total for the pandemic up to 88,817 cases, according to the Fairfax County Health Department.

The novel coronavirus has now contributed to 4,283 hospitalizations and 1,178 deaths, including five in the past week.

While community transmission is still considered high, the county is currently averaging 187.3 cases per day for the past seven days. That remains on par with the case rate in mid-April, right before vaccinations became available to all adults and stifled the virus until the Delta variant’s arrival, but the weekly average has only exceeded 200 cases for exactly one day — Sept. 16 — since late February.

Fairfax County COVID-19 cases over the past 180 days as of Sept. 27, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)
All Fairfax County COVID-19 cases as of Sept. 27, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)

The recent stabilization of COVID-19 cases coincides with preparations for the biggest shift in Fairfax County and Virginia’s vaccination campaigns since adolescents became eligible for the vaccine in May.

Backing an authorization issued by the Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday (Sept. 22), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed a recommendation by its advisory committee on Friday (Sept. 24) that booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine be made available to certain populations.

The CDC’s new guidelines state that adults 65 and older, individuals 18 and older in long-term care settings, and people aged 50-64 years old with underlying medical conditions should get a third dose of Pfizer’s vaccine at least six months after they received the first two required doses.

Booster shots can also go to people 18 and older who are at increased risk of contracting COVID-19 due to underlying medical conditions or their occupation, including:

  • First responders
  • School staff
  • Public transit workers
  • Food and agriculture workers
  • Grocery store workers
  • Manufacturing workers
  • Corrections workers
  • U.S. Postal Service workers

These categories generally align with the populations who were prioritized for the initial vaccine rollout.

The CDC says the vaccine remains effective at preventing severe illness due to the coronavirus, but recent data suggests the amount of protection it provides against infection and mild illness decreases over time. Preliminary research indicates that booster shots can increase recipients’ immune response.

State vaccination coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said in a statement that Virginia welcomes the CDC’s support for booster shots, which were only available to immunocompromised people before.

“The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has been working with its vaccination partners — pharmacies, healthcare providers, hospitals and other institutions — to prepare for this rollout,” Avula said. “We are confident that we will have enough supply, and that access will be widely available.”

VDH officials confirmed last week that the state is exploring a variety of strategies for delivering booster shots, including potentially reviving the mass vaccination site at Tysons Corner Center that delivered more than 50,000 doses in the spring.

The Fairfax County Health Department said on Friday that booster doses will soon be available for those who are eligible at pharmacies, medical providers, hospitals, and county sites, but it is still “waiting on specific federal and state implementation guidance prior to offering booster doses to residents.”

The county’s Vaccine Administration Management System now allows Fairfax Health District residents to find and schedule an additional dose as well as their first and second doses.

VDH notes that its top priority continues to be getting the vaccine to people who haven’t gotten any doses yet, since data shows that unvaccinated people are significantly more likely to contract COVID-19 and develop severe illness as a result, leading to possible hospitalization and death.

As of today, 814,362 Fairfax Health District residents have gotten at least one vaccine dose. That is 68.8% of the total population, including 81.3% of people 18 and older and 83.9% of adolescents aged 12 to 17.

740,341 residents — 74.3% of adults and 62.6% of the overall population — are fully vaccinated, meaning they’ve gotten two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Virginia and Fairfax County have not yet started reporting data on how many people have received a booster shot.

Photo via CDC/Unsplash

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Fairfax County Public Schools has asked a federal appeals court to postpone an ordered retrial of a former Oakton High School student’s sexual assault lawsuit, setting up a possible escalation of the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The school system plans to file a petition for a writ of certiorari requesting that the Supreme Court take up the case, according to Public Justice, the nonprofit legal organization that represents the student, who has only been identified as Jane Doe.

Public Justice told FFXnow that it learned about those intentions Monday morning (Sept. 20), though it’s still holding out hope that the Fairfax County School Board will opt not to file the petition.

The law firm warns that, if FCPS files a petition and the appeal is accepted, it could set the stage for a reevaluation of Title IX protections against gender discrimination, which have traditionally been used to address school-based sexual violence, by the same court that allowed Texas to essentially ban abortions earlier this month.

“Fairfax would be asking them to severely undermine students’ civil rights,” Public Justice staff attorney Alexandra Brodsky, the plaintiff’s counsel, said. “I think there’s a real question for Fairfax families whether they want the legacy of Fairfax schools to be undermining equality and safety for students.”

Filed in May 2018, the lawsuit argues that FCPS violated Doe’s Title IX rights by failing to ensure her safety and provide support after she reported that an older, male student sexually assaulted her when they were on a bus during the five-day school band trip.

The school board’s Sept. 9 regular meeting agenda includes a closed session to consult with legal counsel about the case, known as “Jane Doe v. Fairfax County School Board et al.”

FCPS confirmed that it has requested the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to stay its June 16 ruling ordering a new trial in Doe’s lawsuit over school officials’ response to her report of being sexually assaulted by a fellow student during a band trip in 2017.

With one judge dissenting, the three-person panel reversed a U.S. District Court jury’s verdict in favor of FCPS, arguing that the lower court had failed to accurately define for the jury the legal standard to determine if the school system had “actual knowledge” of the reported assault.

“As the divergent opinions of the Fourth Circuit show, the issues in this case could have nationwide and potentially far-reaching implications,” FCPS spokesperson Julie Moult said in a statement. “For that reason, we have asked the court to stay or suspend the effective date of its ruling, pending further review.”

FCPS said it had no further comment at this time, including on whether it plans to petition the Supreme Court. Read More

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More than four-fifths of adults in the Fairfax Health District have gotten at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, a hard-won milestone achieved after a summer of slowing demand and the arrival of the contagious Delta variant.

According to its vaccine data dashboard, which also includes information from the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, the Fairfax County Health Department has now administered more than 1.5 million vaccine doses since it received its first shipment on Dec. 23, 2020.

Constituting 68.6% of the total population, 811,460 Fairfax Health District residents, including 81.1% of all people 18 and older, have received at least one vaccine dose.

Interest in getting vaccinated appears to have soared in the past week, as more than 18,000 of those first dose were administered since last Monday (Sept. 13), when the county health department reported that 793,392 residents had received at least one shot. In comparison, just 1,457 first-dose recipients were added between Sept. 7 and 13.

The journey to the 80% benchmark was a two-month grind after the Fairfax Health District surpassed the 70% mark in June — more than 10 days ahead of the July 4 date that federal and state officials had targeted for getting vaccine doses to adults.

The milestone comes as the late summer surge fueled by the Delta variant appears to be leveling off, though Fairfax County’s COVID-19 community transmission levels are still considered high based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s established metrics.

With another 151 cases reported today (Monday), the Fairfax Health District has recorded a total of 87,621 novel coronavirus infections, which have resulted in 4,266 hospitalizations and 1,173 deaths.

Fairfax County is averaging 80.3 cases per day for the past week after spiking at an average of 204.6 cases over the previous seven days on Thursday (Sept. 16), which was the first time that the weekly average had climbed over 200 since it sat at 204.7 cases on Feb. 27.

Fairfax County COVID-19 cases over the past 180 days as of Sept. 20, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)
All Fairfax County COVID-19 cases as of Sept. 20, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)

Still, VDH data suggests the county is no longer seeing the clear, steep increase in COVID-19 cases that emerged in August. That trend of a sharp rise in cases, followed by a sudden plateau reflects the trajectory that the Delta variant has taken in other countries like India and the U.K.

However, health experts say vaccinations and mitigation measures, like mask-wearing, remain crucial to curtailing the spread of the virus, particularly with schools in session, the weather cooling, and the holiday season approaching. Read More

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It took approximately half an hour for the police motorcade escorting the body of Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Knauss to travel the 20-mile stretch of I-66 from Gainesville to the I-495 interchange in Merrifield.

Along the way, the procession encountered dozens of Fairfax County police officers, firefighters, and residents who gathered on and under overpasses yesterday (Friday) afternoon to honor Knauss, one of 13 American servicemembers killed in the Aug. 26 bombing at Kabul’s airport during the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.

A Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient, the 23-year-old Knauss grew up in Corryton, Tennessee, a village about 20 miles northeast of Knoxville, and joined the Army right out of high school. He was on his second deployment to Afghanistan after previously serving there for nine months, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Killing at least 170 Afghan civilians, the attack on Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport occurred in the midst of a frenzied effort to evacuate thousands of people seeking to leave the country ahead of the U.S. military’s Aug. 30 departure deadline as the Taliban took control.

The Fairfax County Police Department announced Thursday morning that a funeral procession for Knauss would pass through the county after 3 p.m., advising community members to go to an overpass along the route from I-66 East to I-495 South if they wanted to pay their respects.

Accompanied by several police cruisers and motorcycles, the hearse entered from Prince William County around 3:20 p.m. and traveled east through Fairfax before turning south in the Merrifield area. Upon reaching Springfield, the procession took I-395 North on its way to Arlington National Cemetery.

The motorcade was expected to be overseen by a pair of helicopters, but they were apparently shelved as a late afternoon downpour significantly reduced visibility.

About a dozen people from different backgrounds assembled along the Gallows Road overpass by the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station, undeterred by the rain that drenched the area around 3:45 p.m., just as the motorcade passed.

For Oakton resident Dennis Greza, the decision to watch the procession came from a personal place, spurred by seeing his brother serve in the Air Force. He said he wanted to pay respect to Knauss for making the “ultimate sacrifice.”

The service members killed in the Kabul airport bombing included 11 Marines and one member of the Navy, along with Knauss as the only Army casualty.

Elsewhere along I-66, Fairfax County police officers stood at attention, and American flags hoisted by fire engines greeted the funeral procession.

In a news release sent out at 4:16 p.m., Virginia Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner announced that they will cosponsor a bipartisan bill to award all 13 servicemembers a posthumous Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the legislature.

“We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the 13 servicemembers who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the last days of the war in Afghanistan,” Warner and Kaine said in a joint statement. “We must never forget their bravery. Honoring them with the Congressional Gold Medal is one way to remember their heroic service to our nation.”

Jay Westcott contributed to this report.

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