(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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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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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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(Updated at 9:45 a.m.) FCPS is ramping up efforts to provide on-site testing and prepare for vaccinations for elementary school-aged kids, including by enlisting a third party that hasn’t been publicly identified yet.

Although the Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved emergency use of COVID-19 vaccines for kids ages 5-11, Pfizer says its vaccine is safe for that age range, and it could obtain authorization in October.

That will open up vaccinations to an additional 87,693 FCPS students, according to Melanie Meren, who represents Hunter Mill District on the Fairfax County School Board.

As part of its preparations, FCPS is developing a survey for families to determine what their needs are and how it can best respond, Assistant Superintendent for Special Services Michelle Boyd said at a school board meeting on Thursday (Sept. 23).

The survey will ask questions such as:

  • Whether parents would be okay with students getting vaccinated during the school day without their presence
  • Whether they would be interested in participating in clinics with their children
  • Whether they would prefer their primary medical provider to vaccinate students

Meren told FFXnow that the survey is a step in the right direction, but there needs to be more done.

She is proposing that FCPS work with community partners, including public health officials and medical providers, to develop a plan for how to use different resources like bloodmobile services to deliver vaccinations.

Her motion calls for convening “community stakeholders to plan for mass distribution of children’s vaccines in Fairfax County, so that vaccines are accessible to families in accordance with families’ personal decisions about vaccinating children.”

Meren noted that pediatricians’ offices are already overwhelmed, and she wants FCPS to look at ways to be best prepared, noting that schools have had to take on an unprecedented public health role.

“The school division is being tasked with really stepping up in ways that have never been seen before in terms of public health,” Meren said at the school board meeting.

Meren also proposed that the school board direct Brabrand to create a Department of Special Services staff position to help the assistant superintendent manage public health-related work in FCPS.

Since both items were introduced as new business, meaning that they weren’t up for discussion or action, the school board will address them at its next regular meeting on Oct. 7.

At the same time, FCPS is continuing to tackle issues related to its existing COVID-19 health procedures, primarily when it comes to disruptions to in-person learning.

“We’ve already got some kids entering their second quarantine,” FCPS Superintendent Brabrand said during the school board meeting. “28 days without a teacher or instruction is not something we can do.”

Out of roughly 178,000 students, FCPS has recorded 818 positive COVID-19 cases in August and September as of yesterday (Sunday).

However, as of Sept. 15, around 2,900 students have had to stay home due to potentially coming into contact with people who have contracted COVID-19, according to FCPS.

While noting that student transmission of the virus is low, Brabrand reiterated at the school board meeting that FCPS is continuing to look at ways to improve its COVID-19 communication policies and procedures.

Braddock District School Board Representative Megan McLaughlin said she wants FCPS to show it’s serious about helping minimize the time that students are not in school, noting that Loudoun County Public Schools has reduced its mandated quarantine period from 14 to 10 days.

Fairfax County Health Director Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu recommended 14 days at a Board of Supervisors committee meeting last Tuesday (Sept. 21), stating that the 10-day alternative allowed by the CDC carries an estimated 10% increase in the risk of post-quarantine transmission.

Starting this week, FCPS is offering an online platform where students who have to be paused, quarantined, or isolated due to a COVID-19 infection or exposure can live-stream in-person classes.

However, FCPS has otherwise declined to expand its virtual options, despite requests from many community members, including several speakers who delivered remarks during the community participation portion of Thursday’s board meeting.

“We simply don’t have the staff,” Brabrand said. “We don’t even have the staff right now to operate full in person. We’re strained to provide staffing for the limited virtual that we have, per CDC guidelines for students with diagnosed medical and health needs.”

He added that the area school systems like Prince George’s and Arlington counties that have offered broader virtual programs have significant wait lists or are filling up to 40 to 50% of their staff positions with substitute teachers.

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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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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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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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An illustration of a coronavirus (via CDC/Unsplash)

After a one-week drop back into “substantial” territory, Fairfax County is once again seeing high levels of COVID-19 transmission.

For the week of Sept. 5-11, the county saw 111 new cases per 100,000 residents, and 4.1% of tests came back positive for COVID-19 — the two metrics used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Virginia Department of Health to measure the level of community spread.

While the testing positivity rate remains low, the number of cases per 100,000 people has climbed over the 100-case threshold for high transmission.

Fairfax County has high levels of COVID-19 community transmission as of Sept. 13, 2021 (via Virginia Department of Health)

The rise stems in part from the addition of 286 cases on Friday (Sept. 10), the most new infections that the county has seen in one day since 397 new cases were reported on Feb. 13, according to VDH data. Feb. 21 came close with 283 cases.

As a result, Fairfax County is now averaging 184.4 new cases per day for the past week, surpassing the summer high of 182.6 cases on Aug. 30. The seven-day average is still below the spring peak of 194.4 cases recorded on April 13.

With 130 more cases coming in today (Monday), 86,347 residents of the Fairfax Health District — which includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church — have contracted the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. 4,250 people have been hospitalized, and 1,170 people have died, according to the Fairfax County Health Department’s dashboard.

Fairfax County COVID-19 cases over the past 180 days as of Sept. 13, 2021 (via VDH)
All Fairfax County COVID-19 cases as of Sept. 13, 2021 (via VDH)

As the particularly contagious Delta variant keeps driving up COVID-19 cases statewide, the VDH announced last Tuesday (Sept. 7) that it has added more than 170 community testing events across the Commonwealth in response to an increase in people seeking to get tested.

That increase extends to the Fairfax Health District, which received more test results in the week of Aug. 29 than any other week since Jan. 24. Testing declined the following week of Sept. 5 leading into Labor Day weekend. Read More

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Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand presents a proposal for virtual learning for students who must quarantine due to having COVID-19 or close contact with someone with the virus (via FCPS)

Fairfax County Public Schools could start providing livestreamed or recorded classes for students who can’t be in school buildings due to COVID-19 later this month.

Superintendent Scott Brabrand told the Fairfax County School Board on Thursday (Sept. 9) that administrators are developing a plan to let students attend their regular classes remotely when they have to quarantine, isolate, or pause in-person learning in response to testing positive for COVID-19 or being identified as a possible close contact of someone with the virus.

“We’re looking at several different options to get the important instructional content to our students, so it could be livestreaming. It could be teachers recording the lesson and posting the lesson,” FCPS Chief Academic Officer Sloan Presidio said at the meeting.

As of Thursday, FCPS has seen 555 reported cases of COVID-19 since Aug. 1, including 432 student infections. While that’s just 0.24% of the district’s 178,000-plus student population, the disruption in learning that comes with each positive case can affect entire classes or sports teams.

In addition to requiring isolation for students who test positive and quarantines for any unvaccinated close contacts, FCPS has been pausing in-school activities for students who could potentially be close contacts so the Fairfax County Public Health Department can conduct contact-tracing investigations.

“Fully vaccinated students who are identified as a close contact with someone with COVID-19 do not need to remain home as long as they do not have symptoms,” the school district says in its current health and safety guidance.

Last week, FCPS introduced a new system for electronically reporting students’ vaccination statuses in an effort to speed up the contact-tracing process.

Brabrand told the school board that FCPS is examining whether the 14-day quarantine period for unvaccinated students who come into close contact with a COVID-positive individual could be reduced to 10 or seven days.

Five of the seven COVID-19 outbreaks that have occurred in schools this academic year so far involved athletics, according to Brabrand. FCPS announced on Aug. 30 that it will require student athletes to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, effective Nov. 8.

A state law requires all public schools to provide in-person education for the 2021-2022 school year but allows for some exceptions. If a district offers online education for some students, it’s legally required to do so for all, such as students with disabilities and those with language needs, Brabrand said.

FCPS currently has a virtual program for a limited number of students with documented medical needs.

Braddock District Representative Megan McLaughlin raised concerns about the lack of a virtual learning option for elementary school students, who remain ineligible for the vaccine.

“We’ve gotten hundreds of emails from parents,” she said, pointing to Prince George’s County in Maryland. “They were offering it to 12,000 kids, and right now we only offer it to 400 kids.”

If approved, the classroom live-streaming option would be exclusively for students who aren’t able to attend school in-person for COVID-related reasons, as stated in Brabrand’s presentation and previously confirmed by FCPS officials.

FCPS officials said that, due to limited staffing, the live-streamed classes wouldn’t be interactive like last school year, when the district adopted a concurrent learning model where teachers worked with in-person and online students simultaneously. The school board largely balked at the idea of continuing that experiment into the new year.

Under the live-streaming approach, teachers could assist students through email correspondence. FCPS is reviewing whether office hours or other forms of outreach could be involved.

FCPS officials expect to present more details of their plans to the school board at a work session on Sept. 21.

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