Fairfax County officials have a simple message for anyone who spots a spotted lanternfly: kill it immediately.
Native to China, the invasive insect can spread far and wide through its egg masses, making its way to Fairfax County via a recent shipment to a grocery store in Annandale. Loudoun County has also confirmed multiple sightings, but its presence has not reached the level of an infestation — yet.
“This is a relatively new pest in the area and the county is concerned about the potential impact this pest may pose,” Joan Allen, chief of the county’s forest pest management branch, told FFXnow.
Allen says that while the county has not found evidence of an infestation, the county has received several reports of a hitchhiker spotted lanternfly.
The insect can cause serious damage to home and commercial gardens, according to county officials. It thrives on more than 70 plant species, including grapes, apples, stone fruits, and tree-of-heaven. Officials say the state’s peach, apple, grape, and wine industries are most threatened by the insect.
The spotted lanternfly releases a sticky substance called honeydew that attracts wasps and ants. This substance can also encourage mold to grow on plants and trees, which can cover leaves, stunt plant growth, and ruin crops.
Although the insect has been in Virginia since 2018, its recent emergence has prompted the city of Winchester and Frederick, Clarke, and Warren counties to institute a spotted lanternfly quarantine. This effort is intended to slow its spread to un-infested areas of the state.
Businesses must receive a state permit and inspect articles to ensure that they do not contain any life stage of the spotted lanternfly, according to Fairfax County. This quarantine has been in effect since May 2019.
The insect has different colors during four different nymph stages. The county offers the following description of the insect’s changing appearance.
There are black and white nymphs; red, black and white nymphs; and adults. Adult lanternflies have gray-brown forewings, a black head and black spots. When at rest the hind wings, which are crimson in color, can be partially seen through the semi-translucent forewings, which gives the lanternfly a reddish cast. The lanternfly’s abdomen is yellow with black and white bands on the tip and bottom.
October is egg-laying season for most of the insects. Egg masses are typically covered with a light gray wax that looks like mud when it dries.
From this month through July, the county encourages residents to scrape egg masses from trees and trunks with adhesive bands. Scrapings should be discarded in containers of rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer. Stump treatments, hack and squirt treatments, foliar sprays, and basal bark sprays can help during the other parts of the year.
For now, any spotted lanternfly should be killed immediately.
The first spotted lanternflies in the United States were found in Pennsylvania in 2014, according to the National Capital Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management.
Four years later, Virginia officials documented the state’s first lanternflies infestation in Winchester. A quarantine was enacted by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to slow the spread of the infestation.
Photo via Magi Kern/Unsplash
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
Fairfax County officials are undertaking a comprehensive review of off-street parking for the first time since the late 1980s.
Conducted by a consultant, the county’s Parking Reimagined project will kick off a community engagement process this month for the public to weigh in on how it could update its approach to parking, such as by revising parking rates or reassessing land-use requirements.
County staff presented their efforts to assess off-street parking yesterday (Tuesday) during a joint meeting between the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission. The project is expected to last 12-18 months.
“One of the critical elements of this project is community engagement,” said Michael Davis, a county staffer and parking lead. “Our community outreach is intended to encompass all the different areas of the county in the sense of business owners, renters, residents, religious assembly leaders, nonprofits, because parking has an effect on all of these in some form or fashion.”
A white paper on the project notes the “engagement process will be ongoing and interactive with the community as we gain more knowledge of the parking needs…and propose changes to the requirements.”
Options to include the public may include community and town hall meetings, video presentations, surveys and more. Public hearings on proposed changes could occur in late 2022 into early 2023.
Two county departments are part of the project: Fairfax County Land Development Services, which deals with how property construction codes and regulations, and the Department of Land Development, which provides proposals, advice and assistance on land use, development review and zoning issues to decision-makers.
To assist with the review, the county hired Clarion-Nelson\Nygaard, a partnership of two land use and transportation consulting firms, this past spring.
The white paper says equity, affordability, land use, environmental, and economic concerns will all be considered as part of the study.
“Society has changed,” Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross said during the meeting, noting that residents of one townhouse community in Annandale built in 1972 are “screaming they have no place to park.”
Gross said the county needs to look at retrofitting existing townhouse communities to meet current parking needs.
Changes in technology, development, and people’s habits over the past few decades require a reevaluation of how spaces are used and where they’re actually needed. The white paper highlights the rise of electric and autonomous vehicles, ridesharing, remote work, and online retail among the trends that have affected parking needs.
On one end of the spectrum, limited parking spots can mean the difference between whether a business has enough spots and whether vehicles spill over onto nearby residential streets, Land Development Services director Bill Hicks said.
On the other, there are office parks and strip malls with lots that take up half a block but rarely host more than a handful of vehicles. Hunter Mill District Walter Alcorn called some parking situations in the county “bonkers.”
He also forecast that parking needs will continue to change over time, so county officials should examine the situation as it evolves over the coming years.
As the review of off-street parking gets underway, the county is also still considering potentially adding parking meters for certain on-street areas, particularly in Tysons and Reston. Proposals for that could be presented to the Board of Supervisors next year.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
An incident report from the Fairfax County Sheriff’s Office alleges that two of the county’s top prosecutors clashed with security guards when asked to undergo a security screening to enter the Fairfax County Courthouse.
The sheriff’s office states in the Sept. 28 incident report that Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano and his chief deputy displayed “disrespect and unprofessionalism” that was “unsuited for an officer of the court.”
When asked to go through metal detectors at the courthouse at around 9:37 a.m. that day, Descano reportedly asked why two uniformed law enforcement officers didn’t go through security. When told by two security officers that law enforcement was exempt, Descano said “That’s bullshit!” and then asked “Don’t you know who I am? I’m the top law enforcement officer in the county,” according to the incident report.
The courthouse routinely requires security screening of all employees and attorneys at the request of the Courthouse Security Committee, which is chaired by Chief Judge Penny Azcarate. Descano reportedly stated that he was exempt from the security screening because of his position.
Descano’s office declined to comment on the incident report. FFXnow has not viewed security footage that the incident report purports corroborates the “visual part of the incident.”
It’s unclear whether Descano and his chief deputy were aware of a new screening policy that appears to have contributed to the verbal altercation.
Under the new security policy, which began on Sept. 1, on randomly selected days, every person entering the courthouse must take part in security screenings.
This requires all individuals to walk through a magnetometer and for all bags, briefcases, purses, parcels, and electronic devices to be screened by an X-ray machine, according to the county’s website, which did not provide information about the new policy until yesterday morning (Wednesday).
A Fairfax County Circuit Court clerk declined to comment on all of FFXnow’s questions, including why the new policy was put in place, why uniformed law enforcement officers are exempt, and how it differs from the court’s previous procedures, including an option that allows attorneys to bypass security screenings.
According to the report, Kyle Manikas, the chief deputy commonwealth’s attorney, took issue with a security search of his lunch bag when a knife was detected in the metal detector screening.
“This is fucking bullshit, I know you are doing your job, but this is bullshit,” Manikas reportedly said, as quoted in the incident report. He was described as “physically upset.”
A butter knife was found in the bag.
The incident report concluded that the security officers experienced “disrespect, curse and abuse, and unprofessional conduct.”
Angela Woolsey contributed to this report. Photo via Google Maps
(Updated at 6:45 p.m.) Scores of people called on Fairfax County to adopt a more robust collective bargaining policy for county government workers at a Board of Supervisors public hearing on a proposed ordinance yesterday (Tuesday).
At a rally before the public hearing and at the meeting itself, labor union representatives and other speakers stated that they want more workers to be eligible to participate in collective bargaining, more ability to negotiate working conditions, and more flexibility in discussing labor issues while they’re at work.
“This is a defining moment,” Fairfax County Federation of Teachers president Tina Williams said during yesterday’s public hearing. “Fairfax County can set the standard in Virginia.”
Williams and Fairfax Education Association President Kimberly Adams were among the educational leaders who gave their support to a county ordinance, even though it would not cover school employees. Fairfax County Public Schools needs to adopt a policy separately.
Fairfax County has spent months developing collective bargaining procedures after the Virginia General Assembly broke from a 1977 state Supreme Court ruling that banned public-sector unions from collectively bargaining. The legislature approved a law in April 2020 that gives localities the authority to develop ordinances to permit collective bargaining if they choose to do so.
County leaders have expressed support for collective bargaining, which is already permitted for government workers in most states as well as D.C. Some neighboring jurisdictions, including Arlington and the City of Alexandria, adopted their own ordinances earlier this year.
With labor groups representing a wide range of workers, from firefighters and police to public works, nurses, librarians, and social workers, weighing in, the Board of Supervisors decided to defer a vote on the ordinance to its next regular meeting on Oct. 19.
Board Chairman Jeff McKay said the postponement will let supervisors to absorb the testimony and respond to speakers’ requests to take more time on the matter. Written comments will continue to be accepted as part of the public hearing.
Most speakers during the hours-long hearing came in support of an ordinance, though a few raised concerns about the implications the matter would have on taxpayers.
The county projects that the ordinance will carry $1.9 million in annual costs to handle increased workloads.
At least nine full-time equivalent employees and additional support positions will be needed to address new work involving labor relations, legal support, policy administration, contract compliance and administration, according to a county staff report.
While there was broad support for collective bargaining, labor groups and other stakeholders voiced concerns about the most recent draft of the proposed ordinance. Read More
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.
- Cultural and recreational opportunities
- Economic opportunity
- Effective and efficient government
- Empowerment and support for residents facing vulnerability
- Health and environment
- Housing and neighborhood livability
- Lifelong education and learning
- Mobility and transportation
- Safety and security
“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.
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.
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