Fairfax County officially has its first countywide strategic plan.

The Board of Supervisors voted 9-1 yesterday (Tuesday) to adopt the document, which presents an all-encompassing, coordinated vision for the county’s operations, priorities, and services over the next two decades.

In the works since 2019, the strategic plan focuses on 10 “community outcome areas” that “represent the issues of greatest importance” to the community:

 

“The Countywide Strategic Plan will help guide our future together so the Board, residents and staff are working toward the same goals and outcomes,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said in a press release. “This plan will be a centralized, coordinated way for us to be even more efficient as a government so we’re more responsive to our community’s needs.”

The strategic plan was initially developed prior to the pandemic, but the county paused the process due to the public health emergency and reworked the plan to encompass new prioritizations from the last 18 months.

The main change was the separation of health and environment into two separate categories.

It’s intended to be a living document that integrates other broad planning efforts like the Fairfax County Public Schools’ strategic plan and the One Fairfax policy. It will also help the board focus its legislative efforts over the next several years.

In the press release, County Executive Bryan Hill called Fairfax County’s first-ever “unified” strategic plan “a key milestone” in the government’s efforts to shape the county’s future.

“I’m grateful to the tens of thousands of residents and hundreds of staff who have developed this plan,” Hill said. “I look forward to the next steps, including reporting results to the community, aligning existing plans within this framework and further advancing our One Fairfax equity lens across all outcome areas.”

At yesterday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity was the only board member to vote against adopting the plan, citing insufficient community feedback.

He also argued that the plan should do more to address traffic congestion and that it will continue to allow taxes to be too high.

The other supervisors approved the strategic plan, despite several noting that they were not 100% pleased with the process and expressing concern that the document is too vague.

Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust criticized the lack of prioritization, information about implementation, or how the county is progressing based on over 150 metrics identified by the plan.

“I don’t think we are done, to say the least,” Foust said. “This is not, in my opinion, a roadmap for the county executive to prioritize and budget…We need to keep working, and the board has to stay involved to complete the process.”

Several supervisors observed that there was a lack of participation from a diverse set of voices.

As of September, the county had received nearly 22,000 survey responses in eight different languages. A fourth survey closed on Sept. 24, so that number will be updated later this month.

A feedback session held in July found that the attendees’ preferred focus areas were cultural and recreational opportunities, economic stability and mobility, financial sustainability and access to services.

Now that the plan has been adopted, the county will start implementing its guidelines, a process that will include further community engagement, prioritization, and identifying “headline metrics” in each of the 10 areas that will be used to develop the fiscal year 2024 budget.

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Fairfax County’s logo on the government center (via Machvee/Flickr)

(Updated at 2:10 p.m. on 10/1/2021) All Fairfax County employees will be required to be fully vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID-19 tests by Monday, Oct. 11, FFXnow has learned.

County government employees who do not get vaccinated or are not fully vaccinated by Oct. 11 will be required to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing to remain employed, including if they receive a medical or religious exemption.

While the county has started providing booster shots to eligible individuals, people are still considered “fully vaccinated” two weeks after they receive the second dose of either Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine.

Fairfax County announced that it will implement a vaccine requirement back in August, but no specific date was given for when the mandate would take effect beyond “this fall.”

The county announced its requirement the same day that Fairfax County Public Schools shared its own vaccine mandate for employees, which it said will take effect “late October.”

An FCPS spokesperson confirmed that the end of October remains the school system’s goal for when all employees are expected to be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing.

Back in July, the county Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to direct County Executive Bryan Hill to evaluate the possibility of a vaccine requirement for county employees.

“We know vaccinations save lives and that these vaccines are safe and effective,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay wrote in a statement back in August. “Throughout the pandemic we have focused on measures to keep our employees and our community safe, and this is another key piece of that effort. As one of the largest employers in Virginia, and one that has successfully and consistently stressed to our residents the importance of being vaccinated, we must practice what we preach.”

FFXnow has reached out to the SEIU Virginia 512, one of the unions that represent Fairfax County employees, but did not receive any comment as of publication.

The Fairfax Workers Coalition, which describes itself as “a viable alternative for workers seeking representation and a voice in Fairfax County Government,” told FFXnow that it is very supportive of the mandate.

However, the coalition is concerned about the lack of communication and education about the requirement to its workforce. “The county communicates via email and links, but our members are out in the streets working 5 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.,” says David Lyons of the Fairfax Workers Coalition. “They may not get the information.”

The county’s vaccine requirement falls in line with policies announced by other jurisdictions in the D.C. area, including Arlington County, which has had a mandate in place since the end of August, and Loudoun County, which has not set a timeline yet.

Alexandria City Mayor Justin Wilson said in August that the city anticipated implementing a vaccination requirement in the “September/October timeframe.”

D.C. announced on Sept. 20 that school and child-care workers in the city must get vaccinated with no option to produce a negative test instead. FCPS told FFXnow that it is not changing its plans to have a testing option for employees who don’t get vaccinated.

Virginia’s requirement for state government employees took effect on Sept. 1, and President Joe Biden issued an executive order on Sept. 9 requiring all federal government workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Photo via Machvee/Flickr

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McNair Elementary School students pick up lunch on their first day of school for the 2021-2022 academic year (via FCPS)

Fairfax County Public Schools is revising a number of procedures around COVID-19 contact tracing, quarantining, and pausing, even as it maintains that case numbers remain proportionally very low in schools.

School officials are actively exploring their options for expanding student vaccination requirements, including a possible mandate once the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authorize it for kids 5 and older, which could happen as early as the end of October.

However, FCPS would have to wait for the Virginia General Assembly to act before it can require COVID-19 vaccinations for all students under state law, which gives authority for determining mandatory school immunizations to the legislature and a state health regulatory board.

“If I had [the power to do this], I’d recommend right now to this board mandatory vaccinations for our students upon full authorization from the FDA,” Superintendent Scott Brabrand said at a school board work session yesterday (Tuesday). “If we have the burden of educating kids, it should be determined by officials closest to schools who should be vaccinated and not vaccinated and not wait for the state to give us permission to do so.”

At the moment, officials said they are in talks with legal counsel about expanding the existing vaccine mandate for high school student athletes to other secondary school extracurricular activities, such as theater programs.

According to Brabrand’s presentation to the school board, 0.33% of staff, students, and visitors — 677 individuals in total — reported testing positive for COVID-19 from Aug. 13 to Sept. 15. Only 24 cases involved transmission within one of the 198 schools and offices in the county, Brabrand said.

Since Aug. 1, 936 cases have been reported to FCPS, according to the school system’s case dashboard. Fairfax County Health Director Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu told the Board of Supervisors at a health and human services committee meeting yesterday that the county is seeing 30 to 40 cases among students per day on average, with some days going as high as 50 cases.

While Addo-Ayensu also said the majority of transmission has occurred in the general community, not in schools, each case has a ripple effect as additional staff and students who might have been exposed to the virus have been subjected to isolation, quarantine, or in-person learning pauses.

Between Aug. 13 and Sept. 15, 2,905 students — or 1.6% of the student body — have been paused, meaning they were COVID positive or a potential close contact and had to remain out of school during contact-tracing investigations. Nearly half were elementary school students.

1.8% of staff, or 502 individuals, have been paused as well during that time period. Read More

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A solar energy-powered lamp post (via Sandra Parra/Unsplash)

Fairfax County has committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050, and now, it has a plan to achieve that goal.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors accepted the county’s first-ever Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP) when it met on Tuesday (Sept. 14).

First proposed by the board’s Environmental Quality Advisory Council in 2018, the plan features an inventory of the county’s greenhouse gas emissions and recommendations for how to curb them so the community can realize its aspirations of carbon neutrality.

“Together, the strategies and actions are intended to power individuals and organizations within the community, to engage in, lead, and champion the emissions reduction needed to achieve county-wide carbon neutrality,” Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck said, reading from the board matter he issued. “Climate change is a major existential crisis already causing major impacts in Fairfax County.”

The final report calls on both the county and its citizens to take far-reaching, significant actions.

Proposals include cutting the use of fossil fuel-burning cars, installing solar panels at home, creating more through recycling and composting programs, adopting more stringent green-building policies, and being a “conscious consumer.”

Storck’s motion passed 9-0, with Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity not present during the vote.

A few moments before the vote, Herrity said he was going to abstain due to concerns over timing, lack of proper community engagement, and cost, particularly in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“The economic outlook over the next few years is uncertain,” Herrity said. “Our decisions don’t operate in a vacuum. This plan will have planned and unintended impacts on the economy and taxpayers. Beyond what I’m imagining will be a very steep cost to implement this plan, it will also have a very serious impact on the affordability of homes, increasing the actual cost as well as permitting and regulatory costs.”

The rest of the board countered that the county can’t afford to wait any longer to address the already-existing threat of climate change.

“The cost of doing nothing is significant, if not life-threatening,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “And I think most responsible people who are paying attention to the subject and the science…most certainly get that.”

Storck, who helped spearhead the CECAP as chair of the board’s environmental committee, reiterated that county operations and schools only account for about 5% of Fairfax County’s carbon emissions. The remaining 95% of emissions come from the private sector and the general community.

As noted in a presentation that Storck delivered, transportation and commercial and residential energy consumption are the two largest sources of greenhouse emissions. Combined, those areas produce more than 90% of all emissions in the county.

As a result, while the county will have a leadership role, this new plan is about asking the community to take the necessary steps to curb emissions, Storck said.

“There will be no area, sector, or part of our society that won’t be impacted [by the reduction goals in this plan],” he said. “How much? That’s largely a function of how aggressively we move forward.”

As the county worked to finalize the CECAP over the summer, the United Nations released a sobering report last month that said, even if future emissions are lowered, global temperatures will continue to rise until at least the middle of the 21st century, leading to more extreme weather and other worsening climate issues.

County staff told the board’s environmental committee in July that the CECAP’s implementation was already underway, a process that includes community outreach, public education, and an exhaustive review of existing county policies to see how they line up with the now-accepted plan.

Additional plans related to the initiative’s implementation, such as how the county can build on existing programs, will be presented to the board at an environmental committee meeting in early 2022.

Photo via Sandra Parra/Unsplash

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An apartment complex in Fairfax County, along Route 1 (via Ser Amantio di Nicolao/Wikimedia Commons)

While the federal eviction moratorium is no more, local experts say a Virginia law that took effect on Aug. 10 still provides notable protections for both renters and landlords in Fairfax County.

The Supreme Court ruled on Aug. 26 that the hold on evictions imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was unconstitutional, eliminating a nationwide policy intended to keep people housed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“[The eviction moratorium] certainly is one protection that’s removed for the tenant,” said Dipti Pidikiti-Smith of Legal Services of Northern Virginia, a local nonprofit that works with Fairfax County to provide pro-bono legal assistance. “But it wasn’t the main protection. There’s a really good state protection in place.”

In place through June 30, 2022, H.B. 7001 prohibits landlords from evicting tenants who have experienced financial challenges due to the pandemic unless they notify renters about the Virginia Rent Relief Program and apply for assistance on their behalf if the tenant doesn’t apply themselves within 14 days.

Pidikiti-Smith says the bill is a very strong protection that helps both tenants and landlords.

“The state provides more protection initially in preventing filing of these evictions because landlords have to apply for rent assistance,” Pidikiti-Smith said. “Once that’s done, the money is there. The landlords get their payment and tenants have relief… and there’s no need to file a case.”

Tenants can apply for up to 15 months of assistance, which could mean anywhere from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on their need and eligibility.

Pidikiti-Smith says she knows one tenant who received $35,000 in relief, though the average is about $5,000 to $6,000. Most tenants who apply do qualify for at least partial assistance.

While the moratorium’s end affected cases already in court, it has had less of an impact statewide on potential evictions.

“We’ve been telling tenants it’s okay that the [eviction moratorium] isn’t in place right now,” Pidikiti-Smith said.

County officials expressed relief last month when the CDC extended its eviction moratorium into October, but they also said the county had ample funds to support those in need.

Earlier this summer, the county set up a new emergency rental assistance program using federal relief funds that has provided more than $12 million in both housing and utilities assistance to about 1,550 households so far, according to data provided to FFXnow.

Before the program was implemented, the county provided more than $28 million in housing, food, and utility assistance from other sources.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said by email that the Supreme Court’s ruling on the federal eviction moratorium was “not ideal.” Read More

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McNair Elementary School students pick up lunch on their first day of school for the 2021-2022 academic year (via FCPS)

As COVID-19 cases rise in Fairfax County Public Schools, so have concerns from parents, students, and staff, particularly when it comes to the cafeteria.

More than 205,000 students and staff in Fairfax County went back to school on Aug. 23 after 18 months of mostly remote learning. Excitement about seeing friends and having in-person classes mingled with frustration over transportation issues and pandemic-related anxieties.

After more than a week of classes, some community members have expressed increasing alarm at the sight of crowded cafeterias during lunch, jam-packed school hallways, and what they feel is a lack of oversight by FCPS administrators.

FCPS has seen a clear uptick in COVID-19 cases since classes began, according to its dashboard, which displays cases that are self-reported by students and staff and shared with the Fairfax County Health Department.

As of yesterday (Wednesday), the school system had recorded 351 new cases in August, including 266 cases involving students and 84 among staff. 252 cases have come in since schools reopened on Aug. 23.

While this remains a small percentage compared to the division’s overall population, which is the largest of any Virginia school district, the numbers still have many worried.

An online petition urging FCPS to offer a virtual option for more students has now garnered close to 5,000 signatures, almost double what it had in mid-August.

FCPS has a virtual program, but enrollment for this year was limited to students who personally have a documented medical need. Eligibility wasn’t extended to students based on health concerns in their family or household.

“FCPS believes that students learn best in-person,” an FCPS spokesperson said. “We are focused on providing a safe and positive learning experience for all students.”

Lunch time has emerged as a particular concern, since students have to remove the face masks that are otherwise required inside school buildings. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention characterize mealtime at schools as a “high-risk situation.”

In particular, elementary school students are at risk.

While about 80% of middle and high school aged students in Fairfax County have gotten at least one vaccine dose, children under the age of 12 are not yet eligible. At this point, it’s not expected that vaccines will be available for those children until this winter if not early next year.

A parent of a student at Westbriar Elementary School in Vienna told FFXnow that, during the first week, she saw students “elbow-to-elbow” inside the small cafeteria, eating and talking without masks on. The school has an outdoor space with a tent, the parent says, but it isn’t being used enough.

The student said they “don’t feel safe” during lunch and snack time in school.

The parent doesn’t fault the young students, but rather, the administrators for not adequately monitoring or providing better options. Read More

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