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All Fairfax Health District COVID-19 cases, as of Jan. 3, 2023 (via VDH)

Fairfax County ended 2022 with a “medium” level of COVID-19 in the community, the first time it reached that level since August.

Continuing an upward trend that began around Thanksgiving, the county is averaging 291 cases per day for the past week, the highest weekly average since Aug. 13, per Virginia Department of Health data.

However, increased hospitalizations pushed the county from “low” to “medium,” as of Dec. 29, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While the county’s case rate of 147.19 cases per 100,000 residents is below the CDC’s 200-case threshold, there were 11 new hospital patients admitted with Covid for every 100,000 residents in the week of Dec. 21-28. In addition, 6.4% of all staffed, inpatient beds are being occupied by people with Covid.

Those numbers changed slightly earlier this week. As of Monday (Jan. 2), 7.6% of beds were being used by Covid patients, and the hospitalization rate dipped to 9.2 patients per 100,000 residents, which would put the county back in “low” territory.

Fairfax County Covid hospitalization rates, as of Jan. 2, 2023 (via CDC)

The CDC is supposed to update its local community level classifications on Thursdays, but the dashboard still said “medium” by press time.

Despite the recent resurgence in the coronavirus, which remains far from the heights seen last winter, the Fairfax County Department of Health says it’s “unlikely” to bring back the face mask requirements that were in place until last February, unless a mandate is recommended by the CDC or the state.

The county’s approach reflects a national shift away from mandates in the public health response to the pandemic.

“To help prevent spread of COVID, FCHD does strongly recommend that our residents stay up-to-date with their COVID-19 vaccinations,” department spokesperson Lucy Caldwell said by email. “In addition, handwashing, getting tested if symptomatic and/or staying home when ill will also help stem the spread of COVID in the community.”

While the county’s mobile testing and mass vaccine sites were phased out last month, the FCHD still offers both services at its district offices, though anyone in need must call 703-324-7404 to make an appointment. Testing sites can be found through the VDH, and vaccine options are at vaccines.gov.

There have been 2.8 million vaccine doses administered to residents of the Fairfax Health District, which includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church as well as the county.

According to the FCHD, 86% of residents have gotten at least one dose, including:

  • 93% of people 18 and older
  • 99% of 16-17 year olds
  • 95.6% of 12-15 year olds
  • 64.2% of 5-11 year olds
  • 22.7% of kids aged 6 months to 4 years old

As of yesterday, 942,162 residents — or 79.6% — are fully vaccinated, including 86.7% of adults. Booster uptake remains under 50% for all age groups under 45.

The district has reported a total of 259,627 cases, 5,273 hospitalizations and 1,729 deaths during the pandemic.

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Face masks (via Mika Baumeister/Unsplash)

When Fairfax County Public Schools resumes classes in January, students and staff may once again be required to wear face masks — but only around students with disabilities who request the accommodation.

Virginia settled a lawsuit last week with parents of 12 immunocompromised students who argued that the end of Covid-related face mask requirements in schools violated their right to a free, appropriate public education.

As part of the settlement, the state agreed that, if requested by a parent, schools must allow “some amount of required masking as a reasonable modification” under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Virginia Department of Education was directed to send guidance on “peer masking” to the schools attended by students in the lawsuit, including Stenwood Elementary School in Dunn Loring.

“The health and well-being of our students and staff remain a top priority. FCPS is aware of this settlement and is currently assessing how it impacts operations,” FCPS said in a statement.

The settlement only directly applies to the specific schools attended by the plaintiffs’ kids, who have asthma, cystic fibrosis and other conditions that put them at high risk of getting severely sick if they contract COVID-19.

However, when announcing the settlement on Dec. 12, the ACLU of Virginia — one of several organizations representing the parents — expressed hope that it will signal to other schools that they should consider requiring masks when needed for students with disabilities as well.

“We’re hopeful that every school in Virginia will view this settlement as a sign that they should make similar accommodations for their students, even if they are not part of the case,” ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Eden Heilman said.

The complaint was filed in federal court in Charlottesville on Feb. 1, shortly after Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order making masks optional in schools took effect.

FCPS and six other school districts sued Youngkin in an effort to block the order, arguing that universal masking was still necessary as the country was just starting to exit the biggest surge in COVID-19 cases of the pandemic.

That lawsuit was rendered moot once a bill requiring schools to allow parents to opt their kids out of wearing a mask became law on Feb. 16. FCPS made masks optional on March 1, though the school board filed a brief supporting the families who sued.

Acknowledging an initial court ruling from March, the settlement says the state law and executive order don’t prohibit schools from considering and fulfilling mask requirement requests to accommodate students with disabilities.

Under the agreement, schools are expected to look at alternatives, such as ventilation improvements or social distancing, before requiring masks. They must also “take every reasonable step” to ensure a student whose parents don’t want them to wear a mask doesn’t have to.

The settlement also required the state to pay $295,000 to cover the suing parents’ legal fees.

“This settlement is a step toward righting a wrong,” Tasha Nelson, one of the parents, said. “Children like mine should not be told they cannot participate safely in school or that they have to be segregated. They have a right to the same education as every other child. As adults, it’s our responsibility to make sure that we include everyone in our decisions and come up with solutions that provide equity in school.”

While Covid cases haven’t gotten close to last winter’s levels, they have been climbing over the past few weeks, with the Fairfax Health District averaging 260.3 cases per day for the preceding week, as of yesterday (Monday).

FCPS has reported a total of 5,969 cases among students and staff since this school year began on Aug. 22 — exceeding the 3,669 cases seen over the same time frame in 2021. Students are now on winter break until Jan. 3.

Photo via Mika Baumeister/Unsplash

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Fairfax Health District COVID-19 cases over the past 26 weeks, as of Dec. 15, 2022 (via VDH)

Vaccines designed to combat omicron subvariants of COVID-19 are now available in Fairfax County for everyone 6 months and older.

The Fairfax County Health Department has obtained updated or bivalent vaccines for kids 6 months to 5 years old after federal health officials approved the shots to that age group last week.

The shots became available to people 12 and older in August, and eligibility expanded to kids 5 to 11 years old in October.

“The updated vaccines provide protection from both the original virus strain as well as the more recently circulating Omicron variant,” the FCHD said. “Getting the updated booster dose is important because protection decreases over time and as the virus changes.”

Time is running out, though, to get shots from the county’s mass Covid vaccine clinics. As announced last month, the clinic at the Hyland South County Center administered its last dose yesterday (Wednesday), and the Fairfax County Government Center clinic will close at 3:45 p.m. on Saturday (Dec. 17).

The county will still distribute Covid vaccines, but after Saturday, those seeking an appointment at one of the health department’s district offices must contact their call center at 703-324-7404. Other options for getting a shot can be found at vaccines.gov.

Kids under 5 can get the bivalent vaccine as either a booster if they’ve gotten the Moderna vaccine or the third dose in their “primary series” of Pfizer vaccinations.

“Children 6 months-4 years who already completed their three-dose primary series with the original Pfizer vaccine are not eligible for an updated booster dose at this time,” the department said. “The data to support giving an updated bivalent booster dose to these children are expected in January.”

It’s now been almost two years since the county received its first Covid vaccine shipment. In that time, more than 2.8 million doses have been administered to residents of the Fairfax Health District, which also includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church.

Over 1 million residents — 85.9% of the population — have gotten at least one dose, including:

  • 93% of people 18 and older
  • 99% of 16-17 year olds
  • 95.6% of 12-15 year olds
  • 64% of 5-11 year olds

However, just 21.9% of kids under 5 have received a dose, per FCHD data. While the vaccines don’t provide complete protection against contracting Covid, they lower the risk of serious illness, hospitalization, and both short and long-term complications from the disease, health officials say. Read More

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Fairfax Health District COVID-19 cases over the past 26 weeks, as of Dec. 5, 2022 (via VDH)

The Fairfax Health District saw an uptick in COVID-19 cases in Thanksgiving’s wake, a reminder that the coronavirus hasn’t disappeared even if the face masks and other health protocols aimed at limiting its spread mostly have.

The district, which includes Fairfax County and the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, is averaging 238 cases per day for the past week, as of yesterday, according to Virginia Department of Health data.

Cases remain far below previous winters or even the surge seen in late May fueled by omicron subvariants, but there has been an increase since Nov. 19 after a plateau through most of the fall. This is the first time the weekly average has exceeded 200 cases since Sept. 15.

In addition, the district is averaging 1.7 deaths per day from Covid. During the pandemic, it has reported 251,405 cases, 5,149 hospitalizations and 1,702 deaths.

All Fairfax Health District COVID-19 cases, as of Dec. 5, 2022 (via VDH)

Though past years suggest cold weather exacerbates Covid transmission, Fairfax County is set to close its mass vaccine clinics and mobile testing sites next week.

Citing “low demand,” the Fairfax County Health Department confirmed Friday (Dec. 2) that the startup Curative will stop operating in the county after Thursday, Dec. 15, as first reported by DCist. The partnership launched in July, bringing Curative’s vans with no-cost PCR tests to six locations in the community.

With rapid at-home testing more widely available now, albeit not necessarily for free, residents can find Covid testing options using VDH’s online search tool, calling health care providers directly or contacting the Fairfax County Call Center at 703-324-7404.

“Call takers will discuss their individual situation and what options may work best for them, which could include an appointment at one of the Health Department’s District Offices,” an FCHD spokesperson said. “We also continue to work on establishing additional options for distribution of rapid COVID-19 tests with our community partners. Many testing options are available in the community and the Health Department remains committed to helping residents find an option that works for them.”

According to its website, the county health department offers testing for individuals who have Covid symptoms, lack access to testing options in the community, are identified as close contacts, or have returned from traveling outside the country.

The county will also close its vaccine clinics at the South County Government Center on Wednesday, Dec. 14 and the Fairfax County Government Center on Saturday, Dec. 17. The operating hours for both sites have been reduced since early November. Read More

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Curative will operate COVID-19 testing mobile labs at six sites in Fairfax County (courtesy Fairfax County Health Department)

Curative is set to shut down all of its public COVID-19 testing sites in the D.C. region, including Fairfax County, by the end of the year.

All six Covid public testing sites run by Curative in collaboration with Fairfax County are expected to cease operations sometime next month, a Fairfax County Health Department spokesperson confirmed to FFXnow.

While the county didn’t confirm a specific date, DCist reported earlier this week that all of Curative’s testing sites will be closed by Dec. 15.

Per the county health department, the reason for the closure is a lack of demand.

“The County health department has closely collaborated with Curative over the past several months,” FCHD spokesperson Lucy Caldwell wrote FFXnow in an email. “There has been a decline in demand for testing in recent months, perhaps since home tests are widely available and convenient for people to use at home, as well as ample supplies available at pharmacies and retail locations.”

Fairfax County partnered with Curative this summer to open six new mobile testing sites at community centers, libraries, and a church in Bailey’s Crossroads, Centreville, Springfield, and Groveton.

An additional site was added in Annadale on Hummer Road, but that one closed earlier this week due to “low utilization and ongoing maintenance issues with the van used for this specific route,” Caldwell said.

Other neighboring localities had partnered with the California-based contractor dating back to early 2021. At times, there were long lines at the Arlington sites, particularly during the holiday season.

Over the last year, the county has gradually seen a number of covid testing sites close. The mass Covid testing site at the Fairfax County Government Center was closed in February, only a month after its launch.

The county’s mass vaccine clinics have also been winding down and are scheduled to close in mid-December.

There will still be Covid testing options in the county, however. The health department offers testing at five county clinics, per the website, but an appointment is required.

Additionally, Fairfax County Public Schools will offer diagnostic testing to all teachers, staff, and students from Nov. 28 to 30 from 5-8 p.m. at five locations. Registration is required, and testing is intended for those who have Covid symptoms or have been exposed to someone who has Covid.

For the moment, no additional county testing sites are scheduled to launch, but any changes will be posted on the health department website.

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The Fairfax County Government Center’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The days of getting COVID-19 vaccinations at the Fairfax County and South County government centers are numbered.

The mass vaccine clinics will reduce operations from five to three days per week, starting Monday (Nov. 7), the Fairfax County Health Department announced last week.

Local health workers and volunteers have been administering doses at those sites since early 2021, but large-scale clinics are being phased out now that shots are “widely available at pharmacies, urgent care centers and medical providers throughout the community,” the FCHD noted.

In addition, 1,016,466 Fairfax Health District residents, or 85.9%, have gotten at least one dose, including 93.2% of people 18 and older, according to FCHD data. 926,024 residents, or 78.2%, are fully vaccinated, including 85.8% of adults.

“In keeping with the federal and state levels strategy to transition vaccine efforts away from government and into community providers, the FCHD has worked with community providers to ensure robust availability of vaccine in our community,” spokesperson Lucy Caldwell said. “As there are fewer unvaccinated residents, and greater availability of vaccines in the community, FCHD can now demobilize its large dispensing sites.”

The reduction in hours will precede scheduled permanent closures of the Fairfax County Government Center site on Saturday, Dec. 17, and the Hyland South County Center site on Wednesday, Dec. 14.

For the next month, the new schedule will be:

Hyland South County Center (8350 Richmond Highway)

  • Mondays: walk-in hours from noon-5:45 p.m., appointments from 11:30 a.m.-6:15 p.m.
  • Tuesdays and Wednesdays: walk-in hours from 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., appointments from 9 a.m.-3:45 p.m.

Fairfax County Government Center (12000 Government Center Parkway)

  • Thursdays: walk-in hours from noon-5:45 p.m., appointments from 11:30 a.m.-6:15 p.m.
  • Fridays and Saturdays: walk-in hours from 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., appointments from 9 a.m.-3:45 p.m.

Schedule changes can also be expected during upcoming holidays, with the South County clinic closing on Tuesday (Nov. 8) for Election Day and the main county government center’s clinic closing on Veterans’ Day (Nov. 11) and over Thanksgiving (Nov. 24-26).

Since December 2020, more than 2.6 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been given in the Fairfax Health District, which also includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church.

Fairfax Health District COVID-19 cases for the past 26 weeks, as of Nov. 1, 2022 (via VDH)
All Fairfax Health District COVID-19 cases, as of Nov. 1, 2022 (via VDH)

Fairfax County is still seeing a low level of Covid in the community, as measured by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with the district averaging 146.7 cases per day for the past week.

However, the county health department urges everyone to get their initial and booster shots, if eligible, before the winter months and holiday gatherings arrive, since in the past, cases have surged as the weather cools. Notably, the Fairfax Health District is seeing a weekly average of two deaths per day from the coronavirus, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

“Even if you or your child or family member has had COVID, vaccination is still strongly encouraged as it provides added protection against the virus that causes COVID-19,” FCHD said. “Vaccination is one clear way to provide everyone, six months and older, with increased protection from severe illness.”

Options for getting a Covid vaccination can be found at vaccines.org. FCHD will also still offer vaccines to its clients at its district offices.

In total, the district has reported 246,298 cases, 5,065 hospitalizations, and 1,683 deaths during the pandemic.

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Fairfax Health District COVID-19 cases over the past 26 weeks, as of Oct. 17, 2022 (via VDH)

(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) Booster COVID-19 vaccinations for kids aged 5 to 11 were put on hold late last week, as the Fairfax County Health Department transitions to updated vaccines that target omicron variants of the disease.

Federal health officials expanded their recommendation for the bivalent booster vaccines to include that younger age group on Wednesday (Oct. 12), saying the updated shots will provide better protection against “more transmissible and immune-evading” variants.

The bivalent boosters were authorized for people 12 and older at the end of August. The county health department says it has seen “a mild demand” for the vaccine since it became available in September.

“Typically, there is a surge when additional eligibility is updated, but the situation cools after a couple of weeks. That is typical of this update as well,” FCHD spokesperson Lucy Caldwell said. “We have no issues with vaccine supply and it is widely available throughout the community, pharmacies, medical providers, and our County sites, at this time.”

The authorization for the previous Pfizer booster shots for kids 5 to 11 ended on Oct. 12, so the health department stopped administering boosters for that age group until the new ones arrive.

The bivalent boosters will be available for kids at the Fairfax County Government Center and South County Hyland Center vaccine clinics starting tomorrow (Tuesday). Appointments are encouraged, but walk-ins are also allowed.

About 14% of kids aged 5 to 11 have gotten a Covid booster since they became eligible in May, according to FCHD data.

The FCHD reports that 85.7% of residents in the Fairfax Health District, which includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church as well as the county, have gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, including:

  • 93% of people aged 18 and older
  • 99.5% of 16-17 year olds
  • 95.9% of 12-15 year olds
  • 63.6% of 5-11 year olds
  • 18.6% of kids aged 6 months to 4 years old

After an initial surge, vaccine demand has slowed among families with infants and toddlers, a nationwide trend that worries public health experts. While still low, Fairfax County’s rate for that age group is more than twice as high was the national rate of 9%, FCHD Director of Epidemiology and Population Health Dr. Benjamin Schwartz said.

“Despite this higher rate, the health department continues to stress the importance of protecting these young children who can suffer severe COVID-19 and who may bring COVID-19 into a family where it can spread to others who may be vulnerable,” Schwartz said.

Overall, 78.1% of the district’s population, or 924,525 people, are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, including 85.7% of adults. Read More

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The Fairfax County Government Center’s COVID-19 vaccination site in March 2021 (via FCHD/Twitter)

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

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Fairfax Health District COVID-19 cases over the past 26 weeks, as of Sept. 6, 2022 (via VDH)

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

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An at-home rapid COVID-19 test (via Steve Nomax/Unsplash)

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.

FCHD also continues to provide PCR testing for people with symptoms or who have been exposed to COVID-19 at its clinics and through the Curative mobile labs that were introduced on July 5.

“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.

Fairfax Health District COVID-19 cases over the past 26 weeks, as of Aug. 29, 2022 (via VDH)

For now, COVID-19 cases continue to fall in the Fairfax Health District, which is averaging 223 new cases per day over the past seven days, per VDH data. Read More

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