There were undeniably hiccups along the way, but Fairfax County’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic earned an overall positive assessment from community surveys conducted this summer.
A general community survey issued in June received 2,148 responses, representing just a fraction of the county’s over 1.1 million residents.
However, 90% of respondents reported experiencing little or no difficulty accessing county services during the pandemic, and 89% said the same specifically for services related to COVID-19, Fairfax County Emergency Management Coordinator Seamus Mooney told the Board of Supervisors on Sept. 13.
On average, 71% of 147 surveyed businesses said they would’ve had to stop operations or been otherwise negatively affected without access to county services. 91% of community organizations said they were satisfied with their collaborations with the county, per Mooney’s presentation.
“This was an international health emergency, the likes of which none of us had ever seen before,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “So, we were pivoting day in and day out, every minute to try to respond to our community, and this survey proves that our response was effective and that our agencies really stood up and did their job.”
The survey findings were shared as part of a COVID-19 After Action Report that the county is compiling to assess its response to the pandemic and how this experience could inform its response to future emergencies.
While the full report won’t be finalized until later this year, Mooney said the surveys and feedback from the supervisors’ offices and different county agencies suggest the government successfully adapted to the pandemic’s changing circumstances, from the park authority and library’s pivot to online programming to the “rapid rollout” of non-congregate options for sheltering people experiencing homelessness.
A Quarantine, Protection, Isolation/Decompression (QPID) emergency housing program provided temporary shelter in hotels for 2,188 people. Though the program ended in March, the board directed county staff to evaluate how it might inform the county’s approach to supportive housing going forward.
According to the presentation, the county also provided over $90 million in funding for rent assistance, food and other basic needs services. From May 2020 to July 2022, over 1.5 million meals were distributed at Fairfax County Public Schools and by trucks.
“Changes made during the pandemic have the potential to reset expectations for future operations and establish a new path forward that the county can utilize from here on out,” Mooney said.
One change here to stay is the option for community members to testify remotely at Board of Supervisors meetings, which was “a major success,” the presentation says.
When it comes to challenges, one date looms large in county officials’ memories: Jan. 18, 2021. That’s when the county launched its online COVID-19 vaccine registration system, which immediately ran into technical issues after demand overwhelmed the county’s call center a week earlier. Read More
Most booster shots against COVID-19 were put on hold over Labor Day weekend, as Fairfax County prepares for newly authorized vaccines designed to target omicron variants of the coronavirus.
Appointments for the updated boosters are expected to be available through the county’s Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS) by tomorrow (Wednesday), the Fairfax County Health Department confirmed to FFXnow.
Known as bivalent vaccines, the new shots from Pfizer and Moderna contain the original strain of COVID-19 as well as a component that can be found in the two most dominant omicron subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5, according to the Food and Drug Administration, which authorized the vaccines on Aug. 31.
As a result, the updated boosters will “provide better protection against COVID-19 caused by the omicron variant,” the FDA said.
However, as part of the new authorization, the emergency use authorizations for the existing Pfizer and Moderna boosters were suspended on Friday (Sept. 2). Both vaccines can still be used for the primary two-dose regimen, and the Pfizer vaccine can be used as a booster for kids aged 5 through 11.
For people 12 and older, though, the county health department ceased administering booster doses at its offices and clinic sites on Friday.
“We had a handful of booster appointments set for the past weekend and our Call Center team contacted these individuals to let them know that they could re-schedule appointments when the bivalent boosters arrived,” FCHD spokesperson Lucy Caldwell said.
The health department has ordered 12,900 Pfizer bivalent vaccines and 8,100 Moderna shots and “plans to begin vaccinating this week,” according to Caldwell.
Pfizer’s vaccine has been authorized for people aged 12 and older, and Moderna’s is for adults 18 and up. Eligibility for the doses begins at least two months after getting the primary vaccinations or the most recent booster.
Appointments for the updated boosters won’t be required, but they are recommended, given the limited initial supply. Shots will eventually become available at private medical offices, pharmacies and other locations in the community.
“We thank everyone for their patience,” Caldwell said. Read More
Put in your final requests for free at-home COVID-19 tests now, because once Labor Day weekend arrives, that will no longer be an option.
The federal government’s offer of free, at-home test kits to all households will be put on hold Friday (Sept. 2) after Congress failed to renew funding for the program, which launched in January during the pandemic’s biggest surge so far.
According to CNN, the government’s remaining stockpile will be reserved for distribution later this year, as cases typically climb as the weather cools, contributing to a severe shortage of testing supplies last winter.
The federal program has gone through three rounds so far, allowing up to 16 test kits per household. The Postal Service had distributed approximately 350 million kits to over 70 million households nationwide and overseas as of mid-May, the White House said at the time.
Since at-home tests aren’t reported, it’s unclear how much of an impact the program’s suspension will have in Fairfax County, but PCR tests have declined since late May. The Fairfax Health District, which includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, is averaging 1,067 testing encounters per day compared to over 6,200 at the peak of demand on Jan. 12, according to Virginia Department of Health data.
As of last Thursday (Aug. 25), 18.3% of PCR tests have come back positive in the past week, down from 22.8% in early August.
The Fairfax County Health Department notes that there will still be options for obtaining both at-home and PCR tests. Private insurers are required to reimburse up to eight at-home tests bought from retail stores or online per month, though that won’t help those without health insurance.
“Vaccination and testing — and staying home when ill — remain important strategies to keeping Fairfax County healthy and minimizing the spread of COVID-19,” the county health department said by email.
An end may be in sight for the local state of emergency that Fairfax County has had in place since the COVID-19 pandemic upended government operations and daily life in March 2020.
“A County Executive agenda item regarding ending the Local Emergency Declaration that was established to support response and recovery related to the COVID-19 pandemic will go before the Board of Supervisors at their next meeting on Tuesday, September 13,” Fairfax County Director of Public Affairs Tony Castrilli said in a statement.
The local state of emergency was declared on March 17, 2020 and expanded the county’s ability to adapt its operations, mobilize resources and apply for funding to address the public health crisis, which shut down schools, parks, and other public facilities just a day earlier.
In addition to enabling more virtual services and meetings, the declaration paved the way for the county to temporarily suspend its permitting requirements for outdoor dining and fitness activities with an uncodified ordinance first adopted on May 28.
Originally set to expire after 60 days, the ordinance was extended that July and then revised in October 2020 to allow closed tents with the weather turning colder.
As approved by the board on July 27, 2021, the eased outdoor dining rules will remain in effect until 12 months after the local emergency declaration ends.
With the vote still a month away, county staff are reviewing the details and implications of potentially ending the emergency declaration.
In Alexandria and Arlington, the return of pre-pandemic regulations for outdoor dining frustrated some restaurant owners, while the towns of Vienna and Herndon have developed new policies to permanently streamline their processes.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay says he anticipates “minimal challenges” if Fairfax County ends its state of emergency:
For more than two years, the Board of Supervisors has worked nonstop to manage the County’s path through these extraordinary times. When the specifics of the recommendation to end the state of emergency are presented, we expect minimal challenges to implement should the Board decide to do so. I worked to have state legislation passed that allows Fairfax County to keep our uncodified ordinance in effect 12 months after the end of a local state of emergency, permitting for instance expanded outdoor dining to continue. We have also worked with County staff for many months to plan for this transition and ensure it is seamless, including proactive outreach plans for any impacted businesses.
The district, which includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, had recorded a total of 10 cases when the county declared its local state of emergency.
Fairfax County’s COVID-19 community level has dropped from “medium” to “low,” as anticipated based on a steady decline in case numbers over the past month.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed the county’s community level with its weekly update on Thursday (Aug. 11), as its case rate of 187.71 cases per 100,000 residents dipped below the 200 mark for the first time since early May.
However, with an estimated 94 new COVID-19 patients admitted last week, the county is seeing 8.4 new admissions per 100,000 residents, and 5.2% of staffed, inpatient beds are being used by people with the disease. While those numbers have stayed in “low” range since the CDC revised its metrics, hospitalizations have been steadily rising since April.
“The Fairfax County Health District is now listed as ‘low’ community level — which is good news — and we are grateful to our community for continuing to take precautions to get us to this level,” the Fairfax County Health Department said by email. “However, as viruses mutate and change, it would not be unusual for the community level to fluctuate.”
With 195 new cases reported today (Monday), the Fairfax Health District is averaging 288.1 cases per day for the past week, continuing a decline that extends back to July 14, according to Virginia Department of Health data.
The district’s testing positivity rate has also taken a downward turn in the past week, dipping from a summer high of 22.8% on Aug. 4 to 19.6%, as of Aug. 11.
The district, which includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, has now totaled 232,235 Covid cases, 4,857 hospitalizations, and 1,592 deaths during the pandemic. Fourteen of those deaths were recorded in the past week — an average of two per day.
The shift in Fairfax County’s community level comes as the state and county health departments reassess their testing, isolation and quarantine guidelines in the wake of the CDC changing its guidance on Thursday. Read More
In the Fairfax Health District, COVID-19 cases are on the decline, and vaccinations have continued to rise.
At least one Covid vaccine dose has been administered to 85% of all residents in the district, which includes Fairfax County and the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, according to the Fairfax County Health Department’s data dashboard.
That amounts to 1,005,887 residents, including:
- 92.8% of people aged 18 and older
- 99% of 16-17 year olds
- 95.4% of 12-15 year olds
- 61.8% of 5-11 year olds
- 12% of kids aged 4 months through 4 years
The district has 914,421 fully vaccinated residents, or 77.3%, including 85.2% of adults. Booster rates have ticked up slightly since last week, with over 10% of kids aged 5 to 11 years old having now gotten an additional dose.
Though the test positivity rate has soared to 23.1%, meaning that nearly one out of every four PCR tests is coming back positive, the overall number of cases reported in the Fairfax Health District has dropped from an average of over 455 cases per day on July 14 to 317 cases today (Monday).
That remains roughly twice as high as the case levels seen last August, when a surge tied to the then-dominant delta variant prompted local health officials to revive guidance that everyone wear face masks indoors.
Still, if the current downward trend in cases holds, Fairfax County could potentially soon see its COVID-19 community level drop from “medium,” where it has been since early May.
As of this past Thursday (Aug. 4), the county is seeing 206.36 cases per 100,000 residents. If that drops below 200 cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would rank its community level as “low” based on its rates of new COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 residents (6.6) and staffed inpatient beds used by Covid patients (4.9%).
There were an estimated 79 new hospital admissions of county residents with COVID-19 through last Wednesday (Aug. 3), a 12.7% decline from the previous seven days, per the CDC.
The Fairfax Health District has recorded 230,218 Covid cases, 4,824 hospitalizations, and 1,578 deaths during the pandemic.
After staying level in the early summer, COVID-19 cases have been on a more decisive downward trend since mid-July in the Fairfax Health District, which includes Fairfax County and the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church.
The 231 new cases reported today (Monday) are the fewest to come in on a single day since just 169 cases were added on May 2, according to Virginia Department of Health data.
More tellingly, the district’s seven-day average has declined from 455.3 cases on July 14 to 354.4 cases today. The last time the weekly average was in the mid-300s was early May, when cases were surging with the arrival of new omicron subvariants.
Even with overall cases dropping, though, hospitalizations have been on an upward trajectory since the spring.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which continues to classify Fairfax County’s community level as “medium,” an estimated 90 county residents were admitted to a hospital with confirmed COVID-19 from July 20-27 — a 26.6% increase from the previous seven days.
Those individuals are occupying 5.2% of staffed, inpatient hospital beds and 3.6% of intensive care unit beds.
In addition, roughly one out of every five PCR tests are still coming back positive for Covid, with the Fairfax Health District reported a 20.3% positivity rate, as of Thursday (July 28). After plummeting in June, testing encounters in the district plateaued in July, hovering between 1,400 and 1,650 tests on average.
Overall, the district has recorded 227,999 Covid cases, 4,792 hospitalizations, and 1,565 deaths during the pandemic.
Vaccinations have incrementally but steadily climbed since late March, according to the Fairfax County Health Department’s dashboard, which shows that 1,004,414 district residents — or 84.9% — have now received at least one dose.
- 92.8% of people 18 and older
- 99.1% of 16-17 year olds
- 95.3% of 12-15 year olds
- 61.6% of 5-11 year olds
- 11% of kids aged 6 months to 4 years
The district has 913,243 residents who are now fully vaccinated, which is 77.2% of the population, including 85.2% of adults.
The highest percentage of booster shots has been among residents aged 65 to 84, more than 70% of whom have gotten the additional doses. All age groups under 55 years old are still below 50%.
A fourth vaccine has entered the fight against COVID-19.
The Gaithersburg-based company Novavax received an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration earlier this month for a two-dose vaccination designated for unvaccinated people 18 and older.
The Fairfax Health District, which includes Fairfax County and cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, will get a portion of the 20,800 doses allocated to Virginia, the Fairfax County Health Department confirmed to FFXnow.
Supplies are expected to arrive in mid-August, the Virginia Department of Health said on Friday (July 22) after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave the new vaccine its recommendation.
“The Novavax vaccine contains a very small amount of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, which elicits an immune response, in combination with an adjuvant, which boosts the immune system response to the vaccine,” VDH said. “…The Novavax COVID-19 vaccine offers an option to individuals who may have an allergic reaction to mRNA vaccines or who have a personal preference for receiving a vaccine other than one based on the mRNA technology.”
According to the FDA, trial data showed that the vaccine is 90.4% effective at preventing illness from the coronavirus.
Possible side effects included pain or tenderness, redness and swelling at the injection site, fatigue, muscle pain, headache, joint pain, nausea or vomiting, and fever. There was also evidence for increased risks of the same heart inflammation issues that have been reported with the mRNA vaccines.
The vaccine’s two doses will be delivered three weeks apart. It will only be available to people who haven’t gotten any shots yet, since it hasn’t been authorized for third or booster doses.
“When it becomes available, visit vaccinate.virginia.gov to find an appointment for the Novavax vaccine,” the county health department said. “The vaccine will be free and available to everyone aged 18 years or older who is eligible.” Read More
COVID-19 is having a ripple effect on Reston Association’s pools.
Two of the organization’s pools are closed until Wednesday (July 27) after too many lifeguards caught COVID-19.
The Ridge Heights and Upland community pools are closed after an undisclosed number of aquatics staff tested positive, according to RA spokesperson Mike Leone.
RA follows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for exposure to COVID-19 and reentry following a positive test.
Leone told FFXnow that the two pools were selected because several pools are available in the same area.
“With the hot weather this weekend, we want our pool patrons to have access to as many pool options as possible,” he told FFXnow, noting that 11 pools are still open for use across all of RA’s four districts.
Aside from the pandemic, RA appears to have steered clear of the national lifeguard shortage. According to the American Lifeguard Association, the shortage is affecting about a third of public pools across the country, and the impact could dip into next year.
The show will not go on for the McLean Community Players — at least not yet.
After a three-year hiatus, the nonprofit community theater group had been set for a comeback this weekend with “The Show Must Go On!,” a showcase of past musical performances that will also tease highlights yet to come.
However, MCP announced yesterday (Wednesday) that its three scheduled shows at the McLean Community Center have been canceled “due to several positive COVID tests in our cast and musical team.”
“We were honored to have amazing talent as we returned to the Alden Theater, yet everyone’s health and safety are paramount,” the group said. “The McLean Community Center is working with MCP to find another weekend so you can enjoy wonderful live entertainment. MCP is grateful for you as patrons of live performances and look forward to seeing you soon.”
Refunds will be made to the credit card used to purchase the tickets, MCP said.
The show had been scheduled to kick off at 8 p.m. tomorrow (Friday) with additional performances on Saturday and Sunday.
Whenever it’s rescheduled, “The Show Must Go On!” will be MCP’s first in-person production since August 2019. The organization had been preparing to stage the musical “Carousel” when the McLean Community Center shut down in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.