After only five days of in-person instruction so far, Fairfax County Public Schools has reported 620 COVID-19 cases and quarantined 1,534 students this month.

FCPS has paused 11 classes since schools reopened after winter break on Monday (Jan. 10), spokesperson Julie Moult said in an email, meaning in-person learning was suspended to enable contact tracing.

Virtual classes kick in after three days of absences at the latest, Moult says.

Students with COVID-19 must isolate for 10 days, while those exposed must quarantine for five days, in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent guidelines.

There have been 470 cases involving students, about half the number seen in all of December, according to a FCPS COVID-19 dashboard. For staff, there have been 143 COVID-19 cases and 247 quarantines this month.

The cases come after only one week of in-person classes for FCPS. Students’ two-week winter break in December was essentially extended by another week earlier this month due to winter weather, using the district’s entire allotment of traditional snow days for the school year.

Coronavirus cases have surged in the region and country, with an average case peaking at least three times as high as any other surge, which previously had been last winter.

This week, FCPS saw cases involving over five people at the following schools:

  • 11 students at Cub Run Elementary
  • Nine students and a staff member at Lake Braddock Secondary School
  • 24 students and one staff member at Madison High
  • 16 students at Oakton High
  • 13 students at Robinson Secondary School
  • Eight students and one staff member at Whitman Middle School
  • 10 students at South Lakes High

Last year, FCPS quarantined 47 staff and 1,411 students in November, and 324 staff and 3,603 students in December.

The slew of coronavirus cases are part of an ongoing surge in infections fueled by the omicron variant, with Fairfax County currently averaging over 2,400 cases a day.

In anticipation of an uptick in cases, FCPS shared a plan last week for handling faculty absences, even as officials reiterated a commitment to keeping classes in person.

The surge has affected other county government services as well. Citing a high number of staff vacancies due to COVID-19 cases, Fairfax County Public Library announced earlier this week that, starting on Jan. 17, all branches will be temporarily closed on Sundays and Mondays until April 1.

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Martin Luther King Jr. addressing the crowd in Washington at the Civil Rights March in 1963 (via National Archives)

Expect the usual array of closings this Monday (Jan. 17) to remember the legacy of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

Closures will affect public facilities, including schools and post offices, as well as most in-person banking services. Most other private businesses, however, will be open.

Here’s a list of other local services and how they’ll be affected.

DMV

All DMV offices will be closed Monday.

Fairfax County

County offices and the County Circuit Court will be closed Monday.

Fairfax Connector buses will operate on holiday weekday service. A full list of routes affected is available online.

Fairfax County Public Library will be closed for the holiday, but this weekend also marks the start of a new, temporary schedule, where all branches will be closed on Sundays and Mondays through April 1.

Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon will have special programming as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service.

Falls Church

Mary Riley Styles Public Library will be closed Monday. Most government offices and services will be closed. The community center will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation will have a program in honor of King at 11 a.m. Monday at the Tinner Hill Civil Rights Monument (South Washington Street at Tinner Hill Road in Falls Church) and a march at noon.

Herndon

The town offices and Herndon Community Center will be closed Monday. Recycling normally collected on Monday will be collected on Tuesday (Jan. 18).

McLean

The McLean Community Center will be closed on Monday, but it will mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a concert tonight (Friday) and a talk on Sunday (Jan. 16), both led by musician Daryl Davis.

Metro

Metrobus will operate on a Saturday supplemental schedule and Metrorail will run regular scheduled weekday service.

Reston

The Reston Community Center Hunters Woods will host its 36th Annual Reston Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Celebration with events on Sunday and Monday.

Both the Hunters Woods and Lake Anne locations will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday.

Vienna

The town typically lists MLK Day as a holiday. Expect town offices to be closed.

Photo via National Archives

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Fairfax County could designate different times and days for when tennis and pickleball players can use its shared courts.

That is one of the changes under consideration by the Fairfax County Park Authority after its board approved a pickleball study report in December that highlighted concerns about the two sports competing for limited court space.

“This information would be posted onsite and is aimed at reduced conflicts between players of both popular sports,” Park Authority spokesperson Judy Pedersen said by email.

Intended to gauge demand for new facilities and illuminate existing issues in the county, the pickleball study kicked off with an online survey in December 2020.

The survey ultimately drew over 1,800 responses, around 600 of which mentioned locations where people experienced conflict between pickleball use and another recreational activities, particularly tennis.

Respondents reported encountering often crowded courts, and one person recalled being told by a tennis player at Kemper Park in Oakton that the courts were for “tennis only,” even though the pickleball group had eight players.

In response to the sport’s growing popularity, Fairfax County has added 19 pickleball courts to existing tennis courts over the last 18 months. In November, two pickleball-only courts opened at Wakefield Park in Annandale.

With those additions, the FCPA now has 52 outdoor courts outfitted for pickleball, on top of six indoor courts in its recreation centers — a total similar to other similarly sized jurisdictions, according to the report.

However, the report also noted that the park authority has fewer facilities with six or more dedicated pickleball courts compared to other providers.

It recommended that the county create at least two pickleball-only facilities with at least six courts for large group drop-in play and tournaments, either by repurposing underutilized facilities or building new ones.

The FCPA is already looking at Lewinsville Park in McLean as a possible site for adding pickleball courts or converting the existing tennis courts into shared-use facilities.

Site constraints, the proximity of other facilities, and accessibility for populous areas in the county are among the factors that the county is taking into account when deciding potential court locations, according to Pedersen.

“Although we may potentially use park bond dollars in the future for the design and construction of pickleball-only facilities that could be used by larger groups, these projects would compete with the many other Park Authority projects, initiatives and capital needs of the entire park system,” Pedersen said.

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Library shelves (via Fairfax County Public Library)

(Updated at 2:40 p.m.) Fairfax County Public Library will close on Sundays and Mondays starting this coming Sunday (Jan. 16) through April 1 to deal with a staffing shortage.

Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said on Twitter this morning (Monday) that the changes were prompted by staffing issues due to the ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases and recruitment challenges.

FCPL confirmed that all of its branches will be closed on Sundays and Mondays for the near-future in a news release:

  • Regional libraries: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays
  • Community libraries: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. on Tuesdays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays
  • Access Services branch located at the Fairfax County Government Center will maintain its usual hours from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays

Libraries will remain open for regular hours Tuesdays through Saturdays.

“The current surge in COVID-19 cases and a high number of vacancies necessitated this change in hours,” FCPL spokesperson Erin Julius confirmed to FFXnow.

Fairfax County is currently averaging 2,168 cases per day, more than at any other point in the pandemic. That’s three times the peak case rate seen last winter, when the library system was still limited to online and curbside pickup services.

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(Updated at 5:25 p.m.) Up to 5 more inches of snow could come to Fairfax County and nearby areas.

The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Weather Advisory, warning that an additional 2 to 4 inches of snow is forecast to come between 9 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday) and 5 a.m. Friday (Jan. 7). It said drivers should expect slippery road conditions.

A winter weather advisory means that hazardous weather is “occurring, imminent or likely.”

The chaotic weather comes after over more than a half foot of snow fell across the county on Monday (Jan. 3), causing crashes and shutting down services, roads and power.

Per the alert:

…WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY IN EFFECT FROM 9 PM THURSDAY TO 5 AM
EST FRIDAY…

* WHAT…Snow. Total snow accumulations 2 to 4 inches. Isolated high amounts of around 5 inches are possible.

* WHERE…The District of Columbia, portions of northern and central Maryland, and northern Virginia.

* WHEN…From 9 PM Thursday to 5 AM EST Friday.

* IMPACTS…Plan on slippery road conditions. The hazardous conditions could impact the Friday morning commute.

* ADDITIONAL DETAILS…The heaviest snow is expected between 10 PM and 2 AM when snowfall rates of 1 inch per hour are possible.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS…

Slow down and use caution while traveling.

When venturing outside, watch your first few steps taken on steps, sidewalks, and driveways, which could be icy and slippery, increasing your risk of a fall and injury.

Fairfax County Public Schools announced just after 5 p.m. that classes will be canceled again. Students were scheduled to return from winter break on Monday, but it has now been extended four extra days.

“Across Fairfax County, we continue to receive reports of roadways, sidewalks and pathways that remain unsafe for our students, and so we are closing schools out of an abundance of caution, and the concern for safety of our students,” FCPS said on social media.

Unlike with previous cancellations, the school system says its COVID-19 testing sites will all be open for students and staff experiencing symptoms. Plans to resume meal kit distributions are also move forward.

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Fairfax County Public Schools won’t hold classes for a third consecutive day this week, citing inclement weather in an announcement released just before 5 p.m.

The region could see freezing rain between 4 a.m. and 9 a.m. tomorrow (Wednesday), according to the National Weather Service, following Monday’s snowstorm that pummeled the region with over half a foot of snow in areas.

The NWS has issued a “Potential Winter Commuting Hazard” for Fairfax County, warning that there is a 30-50% chance of light freezing rain after 4 a.m. “that could turn into a glaze of ice on area roads.”

“Plan ahead by staying off the roads if possible,” the county said in a blog post. “If you do need to travel, allow for additional time and be extra cautious and alert while driving.”

FCPS said in a Facebook post that meal distribution will return at regular locations on Thursday (Jan. 6), and school offices will open later in the day tomorrow (Wednesday).

The school system tentatively expects to open its COVID-19 testing sites to staff and students who are experiencing symptoms, though a final decision won’t be made until tomorrow morning. Pre-registration is required, and only PCR tests will be available.

Testing is not required for students to be able to return to schools, whenever they reopen.

FCPS’ announcement comes after Monday’s snowstorm caused tens of thousands of Fairfax County homes to lose power and hundreds of crashes. As of this evening (Tuesday), Dominion’s power outage map showed over 7,000 customers in the county with electric issues.

The storm disrupted travel, but Fairfax Connector buses were slated to resume tomorrow (Wednesday). County officials asked commuters to use its BusTracker system in case any detours were still in effect.

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A snowplow on Legato Road at the intersection of West Ox Road near the Fair Oaks Mall (Photo by Benita Mwali)

(Updated at 2:35 p.m.) Local students will get another day of winter break, thanks to the snow that has inundated Fairfax County and the rest of the D.C. region.

Fairfax County Public Schools announced at 1:17 p.m. that classes have been canceled tomorrow (Tuesday), delaying the return of students for a second consecutive day. There will be no virtual or in-person learning, and all activities on school grounds have been canceled.

In the meantime, the snow has wreaked havoc on people’s travel plans and the county’s power grid.

Drivers faced delays, both by choice and by nature, where even some pickup trucks and emergency vehicles struggled as a snowstorm forced widespread shutdowns from schools to offices and roadways.

At least nine roads in the county were closed due to snow and ice or downed trees and wires, as of 1:50 p.m., according to the Fairfax County Police Department. Major roads affected include Richmond Highway near Huntley Meadows Park and Prosperity Avenue in Mantua.

As of 12:30 p.m., the Virginia State Police had responded to 559 traffic crashes and 522 disabled vehicles across the state since midnight.

Fairfax Connector bus service has been suspended since 11:45 a.m. with no updates on when it might resume.

The Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department reported that firefighters and paramedics have spent all morning responding to reports of downed wires and trees, which have created potentially dangerous conditions while taking out power for around 40,000 Dominion Energy customers.

Downed power lines and trees can be reported to 9-1-1, Dominion Energy and NOVEC, or the Virginia Department of Transportation, depending on the severity of the situation and where the incident occurs.

The snow storm, transforming much of the region even before morning commutes, caught some people off guard after temperatures reached the low 60s yesterday (Sunday).

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Updated at 12:25 p.m. — Firefighters are warning about dangerous conditions and fire due to downed wires as power company workers respond.

Fairfax Connector has suspended bus service due to the “deteriorating road conditions” caused by the ongoing snowstorm. Buses currently in operation will complete their routes. 

Earlier: Fairfax County’s first snow of the season started falling early this morning (Monday) and has kept up a steady pace ever since, making roads hazardous while closing schools and many office jobs.

Heavy snow is expected with 5 to 10 inches accumulating, according to an updated National Weather Service winter storm warning for Fairfax County and much of the D.C. region that began at 1 a.m. and will continue through 4 p.m.

The heaviest amounts are projected to fall near and south of Route 50, with heavier snow running through the early afternoon, the NWS predicted.

“State plows are now on the roads,” Fairfax County said around 8:50 a.m. on Twitter. “If you’re out driving, please give them space.”

The Virginia Department of Transportation now has a website that allows users to track the progress of its snow plows.

As of 8 a.m. Virginia State Police responded to 82 traffic crashes across the Commonwealth and advised people to stay off roads.

“No injuries, just stuck/damaged vehicles caused by folks going too fast for conditions,” VSP said on Twitter.

The Fairfax County Police Department reported that several roads had been closed due to snow as of 11:30 a.m., including:

A resident reported around 8:40 a.m. that several vehicles were stuck on Richmond Highway in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County.

Federal and local government offices have been closed for the day. The Fairfax County government closures include the courts, all Park Authority facilities and programs, and COVID-19 vaccination sites.

After announcing last night (Sunday) that schools would be closed to students with no virtual learning, Fairfax County Public Schools expanded its closure this morning to include all offices and COVID-19 testing sites.

The snow is affecting transit as well as drivers. While trains are currently operating as usual, Metro has now suspended bus service “due to rapidly deteriorating weather and hazardous road conditions throughout the region.”

“All buses currently in operation with customers will operate to the end of the line to complete their routes if safe to do so,” the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority said. “All other buses will hold at stops until roads are passable and safe to resume service.”

Metrorail remains in operation. De-icer trains and heaters have been deployed in an effort to keep rail lines free of snow and ice.

“Metro customers should allow additional travel time and use caution on platforms, escalators, parking lots and other areas that may be slippery,” WMATA said in a news release last night. “Metro will have plows and equipment deployed throughout the system to clear and treat parking lots, walkways and platforms.”

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Plastic bag on ground (via Ivan Radic/Flickr)

When the new year starts, plastic bags will come with a new price tag.

Fairfax County’s 5-cent tax on single-use plastic bags will take effect for the first time on Saturday (Jan. 1). The fee will also be introduced in Arlington County and the City of Alexandria.

The towns of Herndon and Vienna are included, but the City of Falls Church passed its own ordinance that will begin April 1.

Virginia’s new law, passed in 2020, allows localities to introduce the tax starting in 2022. Research has shown that introducing such a fee influences consumers, helping promote environmental friendly behavior.

Although stores must pay the tax, they can still give plastic bags away for free. However, a sampling of companies by FFXnow suggests customers at various chains can expect to pay at stores ranging from Giant to Harris Teeter.

Wegmans stopped providing disposable plastic bags to customers at its four Fairfax County stores in early December, offering 5-cent paper bags instead.

Big box chains that include products beyond just groceries are also affected, according to Fairfax County. Walmart didn’t initially respond to a message seeking comment for its plans.

Target said it will charge customers for the bags, but it has a longstanding policy that rewards shoppers for bringing their own bags.

“In an effort to promote the use of reusable bags and keep more plastic bags out of landfills, Target gives guests a five-cent discount for each reusable bag used at all of our stores,” spokesperson Shane Kitzman said in an email. “For example, if a guest uses five reusable bags, they will receive a $0.25 discount on their purchase.”

Besides grocery stores, convenience stores and drugstores are also subject to the tax.

The money will be used for environmental cleanup programs, pollution and litter mitigation programs, education programs on environmental waste reduction and providing reusable bags to recipients of food stamps and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program benefits.

Customers will continue to be able to donate plastic bags for recycling at major chains such as Giant, Harris Teeter, and Target. Bins are available in the front of stores.

Fairfax County advises people not to place plastic bags into recycling bins because the items can jam and entangle sorting equipment and conveyor belts and contaminate other grades of plastic being recycled at its facility.

The plastic bags tax doesn’t apply to heavy duty plastic bags, bags used to wrap fish, meat, bulk food items and certain other foods as well as plastic bags used to carry dry cleaning, prescription drugs or garbage/leaf/pet waste packages.

Photo via Ivan Radic/Flickr

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The Bailey’s Crossroads fire station (via Google Maps)

(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) Fairfax County saw its largest-ever increase in coronavirus cases among fire and emergency medical responders this month, mirroring a surge in case rates compared to 2020.

Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department data shows that there are 53 positive cases and 14 in quarantine, all staying at home to curb the spread of COVID-19. That’s the most cases the department has seen at one time, according to county figures as of Sunday (Dec. 26).

After FFXnow published its story this morning, the FCFRD released an update stating that the positive case count has now reached 66 workers.

Increasing cases have forced the department to reduce extra medic units at three stations: Station 8 in Annandale, the Mount Vernon Station 9 in Hybla Valley, and Station 10 in Bailey’s Crossroads.

The fire department also revealed today (Wednesday) that a tower ladder in Franconia is out of service temporarily, and there are special cross-staffing arrangements in place in two hazardous materials units and four tankers.

“Our goal is to return to normal operations as quickly and safely as possible as the number of positive covid cases decline within the department,” Fire Chief John Butler said in a statement following FFXnow’s coverage. “We appreciate the support and patience of our residents and visitors.”

It’s also relying more on volunteers.

“We use volunteers at those 12 partner stations routinely, so this isn’t anything necessarily beyond the norm; it’s just that we’re utilizing them a little more than usual,” FCFRD spokesperson Ashley Hildebrandt said, adding that the volunteers are assisting as needed, such as an extra person or two on a shift.

The department has 1,260 career staff across 38 stations. The three stations that cut medic units typically have two units, so they were reduced to one.

“No one’s without coverage,” Hildebrandt said. “We have a lot of data points, and we looked through a bunch of options to make sure that…no one notices a disruption of service.”

The uptick in infections has not affected any one particular station, but FCFRD says it has made temporary staffing adjustments to keep service as regular as possible.

The department has seen 298 cases overall since COVID-19 became widespread in the U.S. in the spring of 2020. Most new cases in America now consist of the Omicron variant, which might spread more easily than the Delta variant but could be less severe for those fully vaccinated who have also received booster shots, research teams have found.

Most of the cases among Fairfax County’s emergency responders have occurred in 2021. Over 245 cases so far have been logged as fully recovered.

The positive cases mean local rescue workers must stay home for 10 days. That’s based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Fairfax County Health Department.

The CDC, however, changed that timeframe on Monday (Dec. 27), reducing its recommended isolation time from 10 days to five days for asymptomatic individuals, followed by five days of wearing a mask when around others. And the county health department announced last night (Tuesday) that it has adjusted its guidance to align with the CDC.

Amidst the changes, Hildebrandt said today (Wednesday) that because the county health department switch just happened, FCFRD has yet to discuss switching its 10-day isolation period for positive cases.

It’s unclear when normal schedules could return, but it depends on a decline in COVID-19 cases, according to the department.

Photo via Google Maps

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