The peak of this winter’s omicron variant surge might be in the rearview mirror for Fairfax County.
After hitting an all-time high of 2,520 cases on Thursday (Jan. 13), the county’s COVID-19 caseload has dropped sharply over the past few days to a current weekly average of 1,919 new cases per day, according to Virginia Department of Health data.
That remains well above previous surges in the pandemic, since the county had never averaged more than 1,000 cases until this past Christmas. It’s also unclear whether Sunday’s snowstorm and yesterday’s government facility closures for Martin Luther King Jr. Day affected testing and reporting.
However, the Fairfax Health District’s testing positivity rate has declined from a seven-day rolling average of 34.1% on Jan. 10 to 29.9% as of Friday (Jan. 14), even with the number of tests reported increasing over that time frame.
With 1,595 cases added today (Monday), the district, which includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, has recorded a total of 157,537 Covid cases, 4,379 hospitalizations, and 1,267 deaths during the pandemic.
Signs started to emerge last week that coronavirus infections may be peaking in the D.C. area and other East Coast cities where the omicron variant first surged in the U.S. The rapid rise and decline in cases echoes what other countries have seen from the variant, though health experts warn that relaxing precautions too soon could lead to another uptick.
Notably, the drop in cases hasn’t translated into a drop in hospitalizations. In Fairfax County, the rate of hospitalizations related to Covid has stayed relatively stable over the past month, with the seven-day average hovering around five to six cases since the beginning of the year.
Virginia hospitals are reporting a weekly average of 3,871 Covid patients — more than at any other point in the pandemic. The majority of those patients are unvaccinated people, who are being hospitalized at 4.2 times the rate of their fully vaccinated counterparts.
After increasing with their expansion to younger children and the introduction of booster shots in the fall, the pace of vaccinations has slowed in the Fairfax Health District since the winter holidays, the Fairfax County Health Department’s vaccine dashboard indicates.
The 945,418 district residents who have gotten at least one dose constitute 79.9% of the total population, including 89.4% of people 18 and older. The percentage of adults is actually slightly behind Virginia as a whole (89.8%).
In the Fairfax Health District, 837,068 residents — 70.7% of the population and 79.9% of adults — are fully vaccinated, meaning they’ve received two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
According to the VDH, 392,916 Fairfax County residents have gotten a booster shot or third dose. That amounts to 34.2% of the population, including 42.8% of adults.
Fairfax County Public Schools plans to maintain its mask mandate despite Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order removing masking requirements in schools across the state.
The school system was one of several in the Commonwealth, particularly Northern Virginia, that pushed back against the freshly inaugurated governor’s order over the weekend.
FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand said the decision was made in alignment with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Our layered prevention strategies have proven effective in keeping transmission rates low in our schools,” Brabrand wrote in a message to the community on Sunday (Jan. 16). “We know our students are best served by in-person instruction. Adhering to our layered prevention strategies, especially universal masking, keep our schools open and safe places for students to learn.’
In his executive order — one of several instituted after he took office on Saturday (Jan. 15) — Youngkin said that the universal masking requirements in schools has provided “inconsistent health benefits” and inflicted “notable harm.”
“There is no greater priority than the health and welfare of Virginia’s children,” the executive order reads. “Under Virginia law, parents, not the government, have the fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care of their children.”
Brabrand did note that the school system is reviewing Youngkin’s executive order and will update the community about any changes to COVID-19 practices and protocol if they occur.
The Virginia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics concurred with the school system’s decision.
“Face masks remain safe and reliable, and children have demonstrated their ability to wear them effectively,” the chapter’s statement reads, adding that masks allow schools to remain open.
The Democratic Party of Virginia called the governor’s actions “illegal” and an attempt to “appease the far-right instead of protecting Virginia’s children.”
“It’s a sad situation when local school boards in Virginia understand the law and the science more than the governor of Virginia does,” DPVA Chair Susan Swecker said.
But Youngkin says that while the CDC recommends masks, research has found no statistically significant link between mandatory masking and reducing transmission of COVID-19. He says that many children do not wear masks correctly and that the practice produces a “demoralizing” effect.
The executive order will go into effect on Jan. 24.
FCPS has reported 620 COVID-19 cases after five days of in-person instruction this year. A little over 1,500 students have been in quarantine this month.
Other school districts that plan to maintain their masking requirements include Arlington County, Alexandria City, Fauquier County, Loudoun County, Manassas City, Prince William County, Stafford County, and Spotsylvania County.
It is unclear how Youngkin will legally enforce the lifting of the mask requirement, but because Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, localities do not have powers outside of those enumerated by the state.
Photo via Mika Baumeister/Unsplash
After only five days of in-person instruction so far, Fairfax County Public Schools has reported 620 COVID-19 cases and quarantined 1,534 students this month.
FCPS has paused 11 classes since schools reopened after winter break on Monday (Jan. 10), spokesperson Julie Moult said in an email, meaning in-person learning was suspended to enable contact tracing.
Virtual classes kick in after three days of absences at the latest, Moult says.
There have been 470 cases involving students, about half the number seen in all of December, according to a FCPS COVID-19 dashboard. For staff, there have been 143 COVID-19 cases and 247 quarantines this month.
The cases come after only one week of in-person classes for FCPS. Students’ two-week winter break in December was essentially extended by another week earlier this month due to winter weather, using the district’s entire allotment of traditional snow days for the school year.
Coronavirus cases have surged in the region and country, with an average case peaking at least three times as high as any other surge, which previously had been last winter.
This week, FCPS saw cases involving over five people at the following schools:
- 11 students at Cub Run Elementary
- Nine students and a staff member at Lake Braddock Secondary School
- 24 students and one staff member at Madison High
- 16 students at Oakton High
- 13 students at Robinson Secondary School
- Eight students and one staff member at Whitman Middle School
- 10 students at South Lakes High
Last year, FCPS quarantined 47 staff and 1,411 students in November, and 324 staff and 3,603 students in December.
In anticipation of an uptick in cases, FCPS shared a plan last week for handling faculty absences, even as officials reiterated a commitment to keeping classes in person.
The surge has affected other county government services as well. Citing a high number of staff vacancies due to COVID-19 cases, Fairfax County Public Library announced earlier this week that, starting on Jan. 17, all branches will be temporarily closed on Sundays and Mondays until April 1.
A new COVID-19 testing site is coming to Fairfax County, potentially easing up the current scramble for tests amid a surge in cases locally and statewide.
The Virginia Department of Health will open a community testing center tomorrow (Saturday) at the Fairfax County Government Center. The site will be set up in large tent in parking lot B, which is in the southwest corner of the complex.
With the capacity to administer 500 tests a day, the site will operate Saturdays through Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. by appointment only. Appointments will become available online one day before testing officially begins.
Here’s more from the county on how appointments will be administered:
Anyone who makes an appointment but cannot keep it or finds testing elsewhere is asked to cancel their CTC appointment so that the slot will be free for someone else.
CTC test results will be automatically sent via text or email message to individuals being tested, based on the information provided in the appointment system. PCR test results are usually available within a few days and are very effective in detecting an active COVID-19 infection, even if a person is asymptomatic (not showing signs of illness).
Testing is recommended for individuals who have COVID-19 symptoms or have been instructed to test following a COVID-19 exposure. A PCR test should not be done by those seeking to return to work or school after completing isolation for a COVID-19 infection as PCR tests may remain positive even after an individual is no longer infectious.
While appointments are required, all visitors are asked to be patient as there might be wait times. Please dress warmly as part of the line may extend outside. This is not a drive-in event so attendees will need to park and enter the tent.
The county continues to set daily records for new cases. Residents report that testing remains elusive throughout the county.
Fairfax County has a new single-day record for COVID-19 infections.
According to the Virginia Department of Health, the county reported 3,463 new cases on Saturday (Jan. 8), surpassing the previous daily record of 3,111 cases set on Dec. 31. Before Dec. 22, the county had only seen more than 1,000 cases in a day once — on Jan. 17, 2021.
Now, with an additional 1,938 cases coming in today (Monday), the county is averaging 2,168 cases a day for the past week. That is the highest weekly average of the pandemic, even after cases dipped during the middle of last week, when a snowstorm closed some testing and vaccination sites.
In total, the Fairfax Health District, which includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, has recorded 141,395 cases, 4,338 hospitalizations, and 1,260 deaths due to the disease caused by the coronavirus.
While hospitalizations remain relatively low in Fairfax County, which is currently averaging 4.7 a day, Virginia as a whole reported an all-time, single-day high on Friday (Jan. 7), prompting Gov. Ralph Northam to declare a state of emergency today to increase bed and staffing capacities.
Inova Health Systems, which serves Northern Virginia, admitted 94 patients with Covid last week after averaging fewer than 10 a week between April and Christmas last year, according to Northam, who emphasized that the majority of people being hospitalized with the disease have not been vaccinated.
“Vaccines work, plain and simple,” the governor said. “To protect yourself, to stay out of a hospital, get vaccinated.”
According to FCHD data, 938,926 Fairfax Health District residents have gotten at least one vaccine dose, amounting to 79.3% of the population. That includes 89% of adults, 94% of 16 and 17-year-olds, 89.3% of people aged 12-15, and 44.7% of children aged 5-11.
As of today, 832,236 residents — 70.3% of the population — are fully vaccinated, including 79.7% of adults. According to the VDH, 32.3% of Fairfax County residents have received a booster or third dose, including 40.8% of adults.
Demand for Covid testing has soared in the wake of the omicron variant’s arrival. The district’s seven-day moving average has jumped from 2,481 daily encounters on Nov. 28 to 5,292 encounters as of Jan. 6, when nearly a third of tests — 32.8% — came back positive.
With many testing sites booked days, even weeks in advance, Gov. Ralph Northam announced last week that VDH will open nine community testing centers across the state in coming weeks, including one in Fairfax County.
According to the announcement, the facility will be at or near the mass vaccination site that has been operating out of the former Lord & Taylor store at Tysons Corner Center since October, but the county health department said on Friday (Jan. 7) that it couldn’t confirm the exact location yet, since the contracts were still being finalized.
The county did confirm that the testing site will provide drive-thru PCR testing services and require appointments, with the capacity to administer about 500 tests a day, five days a week.
“PCR test results are usually available within a few days and are very effective in detecting an active COVID-19 infection, even if asymptomatic,” FCHD spokesperson Tina Dale said by email.
More details about the facility, including the location, opening date, and how to make an appointment, are expected to be announced early this week.
For now, Fairfax County has a range of testing options at local pharmacies, health care providers, and other community sites. Inova and the county health department also offer testing for people who are symptomatic, though the county hasn’t shared dates for its mobile lab yet.
2022 is off to a sobering start, as COVID-19 cases continue to soar in Fairfax County.
The county is now averaging 2,132 cases per day for the past week, according to Virginia Department of Health data. That dwarfs last winter’s surge, which peaked at a seven-day average of 697 cases on Jan. 17.
The weekly average had never entered four digits until this past Christmas, when the county hit 1,008 cases. Now, the county is seeing more than twice as many infections a day, reporting a new single-day record for the pandemic of 3,111 cases on New Year’s Eve (Friday).
With another 1,416 cases coming in today (Monday), the Fairfax Health District — which includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church — has recorded a total of 125,708 COVID-19 cases.
There has been a slight uptick in hospitalizations as well, with the county averaging 5.57 a day for the past week after seeing fewer than two per day as recently as Dec. 18. Still, the hospitalization rate remains below last winter, which averaged nearly 17 cases a day at the surge’s height, and its all-time high of 33 a day on May 3, 2020.
Overall, the Fairfax Health District has seen 4,300 residents hospitalized and 1,260 people die due to the novel coronavirus.
VDH still lists the delta variant as the dominant strain in Virginia, but the time lag required for genomic sequencing and reporting suggests the omicron variant is more widespread than currently apparent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that, as of the week that ended Dec. 25, the newer, highly transmissible variant comprised 58.6% of all cases in the U.S.
Health officials warned last week that the current surge — the Commonwealth’s fifth of the pandemic — might not peak for several more weeks, making it “likely that its true impact on public health and the health care delivery system is yet to be fully felt.”
“The best defense against serious illness and hospitalization from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated,” State Health Commissioner Dr. M. Norman Oliver said. “If you have not gotten vaccinated or boosted and are eligible, please do so now. Do it for yourself, your family, and your community, including the health care workers we depend on to be there when we truly need emergency care.”
Vaccinations appear to have leveled off in the Fairfax Health District, though facility closures during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays have likely played a role in the decline in administered doses.
According to the Fairfax County Health Department, 933,257 district residents, or 78.9% of the population, have received at least one vaccine dose. That includes 88.6% of people aged 18 and older, 93.6% of 16 to 17-year-olds, 88.9% of people aged 12-15, and 43.2% of 5 to 11-year-olds.
About 70% of the district’s population is now fully vaccinated, amounting to 828,505 residents. That includes 79.5% of adults. 327,704 residents — about 28% of the population — have gotten a booster shot or third dose.
(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) Fairfax County saw its largest-ever increase in coronavirus cases among fire and emergency medical responders this month, mirroring a surge in case rates compared to 2020.
Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department data shows that there are 53 positive cases and 14 in quarantine, all staying at home to curb the spread of COVID-19. That’s the most cases the department has seen at one time, according to county figures as of Sunday (Dec. 26).
After FFXnow published its story this morning, the FCFRD released an update stating that the positive case count has now reached 66 workers.
Increasing cases have forced the department to reduce extra medic units at three stations: Station 8 in Annandale, the Mount Vernon Station 9 in Hybla Valley, and Station 10 in Bailey’s Crossroads.
The fire department also revealed today (Wednesday) that a tower ladder in Franconia is out of service temporarily, and there are special cross-staffing arrangements in place in two hazardous materials units and four tankers.
“Our goal is to return to normal operations as quickly and safely as possible as the number of positive covid cases decline within the department,” Fire Chief John Butler said in a statement following FFXnow’s coverage. “We appreciate the support and patience of our residents and visitors.”
It’s also relying more on volunteers.
“We use volunteers at those 12 partner stations routinely, so this isn’t anything necessarily beyond the norm; it’s just that we’re utilizing them a little more than usual,” FCFRD spokesperson Ashley Hildebrandt said, adding that the volunteers are assisting as needed, such as an extra person or two on a shift.
The department has 1,260 career staff across 38 stations. The three stations that cut medic units typically have two units, so they were reduced to one.
“No one’s without coverage,” Hildebrandt said. “We have a lot of data points, and we looked through a bunch of options to make sure that…no one notices a disruption of service.”
The uptick in infections has not affected any one particular station, but FCFRD says it has made temporary staffing adjustments to keep service as regular as possible.
The department has seen 298 cases overall since COVID-19 became widespread in the U.S. in the spring of 2020. Most new cases in America now consist of the Omicron variant, which might spread more easily than the Delta variant but could be less severe for those fully vaccinated who have also received booster shots, research teams have found.
Most of the cases among Fairfax County’s emergency responders have occurred in 2021. Over 245 cases so far have been logged as fully recovered.
The positive cases mean local rescue workers must stay home for 10 days. That’s based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Fairfax County Health Department.
The CDC, however, changed that timeframe on Monday (Dec. 27), reducing its recommended isolation time from 10 days to five days for asymptomatic individuals, followed by five days of wearing a mask when around others. And the county health department announced last night (Tuesday) that it has adjusted its guidance to align with the CDC.
Amidst the changes, Hildebrandt said today (Wednesday) that because the county health department switch just happened, FCFRD has yet to discuss switching its 10-day isolation period for positive cases.
It’s unclear when normal schedules could return, but it depends on a decline in COVID-19 cases, according to the department.
Photo via Google Maps
As the winter surge continues following Christmas weekend, COVID-19 tests are becoming increasingly hard to come by in Fairfax County.
Many local testing facilities are booked until at least Thursday (Dec. 30). The shortage comes as COVID-19 cases surpass last winter’s surge. With another 1,441 cases recorded on Christmas Day, the county is now averaging 1,124 cases a day for the past week.
“We are hearing reports that some people are having difficulty in locating tests in Fairfax County,” a spokesperson for the county’s health department told FFXnow.
Testing demand appears to be unparalleled in the county as the emergence of the omicron variant fuels daily caseload increases.
Most testing sites that are part of national chains are fully booked until next week. CVS Pharmacy — which offers a variety of testing options — is booked at its Herndon, Leesburg, and Ashburn locations until next Thursday (Jan. 6). The Vienna location is booked through Saturday, Jan. 8.
My Dr. Pharmacy in Herndon is offering PCR tests for $150, with results released within one day of testing. But the earliest slot isn’t available until late Thursday afternoon.
High demand prompted Walgreens take down its registration page last night.
“We are currently using a virtual waiting room as a result of exceptional demand and to give you the best possible online experience,” the landing page stated.
The page now appears to be back up, but as of this morning (Tuesday), all stores in Fairfax County have been fully booked, with the nearest availabilities in Arlington and Ashburn.
Inova Health Systems is urging residents to seek out a community testing site or home test kit instead of getting tested for COVID-19 at the emergency room.
“Inova Emergency Departments are prioritizing patients with medical conditions requiring emergency care and those with critical illness. We strongly discourage patients who are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms from coming to ER,” INOVA Health tweeted yesterday (Monday) afternoon.
Efforts to set up a community testing site are underway.
County public health officials are encouraging residents to seek out multiple testing options, including clinics, kiosks urgent care facilities, and drive-through sites. The Virginia Department of Health offers an online portal to find testing sites in the state.
The shortage has prompted many residents to purchase tests online.
Strains are being felt nationwide. President Joe Biden lamented the testing shortage yesterday, as omicron and holiday travel resulted in long lines at some testing facilities.
Biden noted that his administration aims to increase testing availability with new federal testing sites and the purchase of 500 million at-home rapid coronavirus tests, which will be delivered to residences beginning in January.
Fairfax County saw more COVID-19 cases over this past holiday weekend than at any other point in the pandemic.
The 1,550 cases reported on Christmas Eve (Friday) represented a new single-day record, surpassing the 1,485 cases that came in on Jan. 17, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
With another 1,441 cases recorded on Christmas Day, the county is now averaging 1,124 cases a day for the past week, even after the daily total dipped to 946 cases yesterday (Sunday) and 883 cases today (Monday). Last winter, the weekly average peaked in mid-January at 697 cases.
Fairfax County Health Department spokesperson Lucy Caldwell notes that the fluctuating case numbers may be a product of data reporting backlogs due to the holidays.
“There may be a lag of 2-3 days,” she told FFXnow by email. “Often, we see that the reported case numbers are lower on Mondays or after a holiday as employees may not be working to process the information/data on Sundays or major holidays.”
The Fairfax Health District, including the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, has seen a total of 110,416 COVID-19 cases, 4,260 hospitalizations, and 1,244 deaths, six of them occurring in the past week.
On a more hopeful note, the recent surge in infections has not been accompanied by an equivalent rise in hospitalizations and deaths, supporting ongoing research that suggests the omicron variant is extremely transmissible but less likely to lead to severe illness than its delta predecessor, especially for people who are vaccinated and boosted.
In addition, the variant has started to subside as quickly as it emerged in South Africa, where it was first identified in late November. Even if it follows the same trajectory in the U.S., though, the consequences of the current COVID-19 wave could still be devastating, with many hospitals already overwhelmed.
At Least One Dose
- Fairfax County: 82% of the population (941,383 people), including 92.3% of individuals 18 and older
- Virginia: 76.9% of the population (6.56 million people), including 88.3% of adults
- U.S.: 72.7% of the population (241 million people), including 84.9% of adults
- Fairfax: 72.8% of the population (835,706 residents), including 82.7% of adults
- Virginia: 67.4% (5.7 million people), including 77.9% of adults
- U.S.: 61.7% (204.7 million people), including 72.6% of adults
28.1% of Fairfax County residents, amounting to 322,733 people, have received a third or booster shot, including 36.2% of adults.
The novel coronavirus is spreading exponentially in Fairfax County, outpacing even last winter’s surge.
The Fairfax County Health Department reported 569 COVID-19 cases this morning (Monday) for the Fairfax Health District, which includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, pushing the total for the pandemic up to 102,362 cases.
The district has recorded 4,229 hospitalizations and 1,238 deaths, including 10 since last Monday.
It’s only the second time since early February that the district has topped 500 new cases in a single day. The first time came on Saturday (Dec. 18), when there were 512 cases, according to Virginia Department of Health data.
Fairfax County alone is now averaging 392 cases per day for the past week — a sixfold increase since Nov. 10, when the weekly average had dropped to 58.7 cases after the late-summer, delta variant-fueled wave.
Though local health officials expressed hope last week that the area’s relatively high vaccination rates would prevent a surge of the intensity seen last winter, the current seven-day average is actually higher than it was exactly one year ago (381.3 cases), and the rise in transmission has come more rapidly, occurring over one month instead of two.
As of Friday (Dec. 17), the VDH has only confirmed two infections tied to the omicron variant, including one in Northern Virginia, but the speed with which cases have climbed in the past two weeks reflects the trajectory that the variant has taken elsewhere.
Scientists currently estimate that omicron spreads at two to three times the rate of the delta variant, which remains the dominant strain nationally. Omicron is starting to make headway, though, going from 0.4% of cases in the U.S. during the week of Dec. 4 to 2.9% of cases the week of Dec. 11.
Fortunately, early research suggests infections stemming from the omicron variant tend to be milder, and while they appear to be less effective, vaccinations still provide some protection, especially when reinforced with a booster shot.
The number of vaccine doses administered among Fairfax Health District residents has exceeded 2 million after this past weekend.
According to VDH data, 933,875 residents, or 81.4% of the population, have received at least one dose, including 91.7% of people 18 and older. 831,306 residents — 72.4% of the population — are fully vaccinated, including 82.5% of adults.
In addition, a quarter (25.7%) of district residents have gotten a third dose or booster shot, which amounts to 295,006 people. That includes 33.3% of adults.
Local health officials say vaccinations should be combined with the other mitigation measures, like masking and social distancing, that have become common practice during the pandemic.
“We cannot let our guard down and must remain vigilant in our practice of all of these measures to the best of our ability,” Fairfax County Health Director Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu said in a statement last week. “Everyone eligible for the vaccine or a booster should get vaccinated, social distance, wear a mask while indoors in public settings, and wash their hands frequently.”