After more than three years, COVID-19 will officially cease to be a federal public health emergency in the U.S. tomorrow (Thursday), bringing an end to the days of free testing and vaccinations.
The Fairfax County Health Department will still provide free services by appointment to people who don’t have insurance or otherwise can’t pay, but private insurance companies and health providers will be allowed to start billing patients, the department explained in a May 5 announcement.
Since they’re considered “preventative care,” vaccines will largely be covered by private insurance, Medicare and Medicaid without a co-pay. But coverage for both at-home and lab tests will depend on individual insurers, and people without insurance will be charged for vaccinations, according to the health department.
The FCHD will end its COVID-19 call center on May 19, so appointments for its free clinics can be made after that date by calling 703-246-7100.
Other options for uninsured individuals include organizations like food banks, homeless services providers and federally qualified health centers that can offer free testing through July 2024, thanks to federal grant programs.
“We encourage anyone who becomes ill with symptoms of COVID or who comes into contact with someone diagnosed with COVID to continue testing to prevent the further spread of illness,” the health department said.
Federal officials declared COVID-19 a national emergency on Jan. 31, 2020, 11 days after the first case in the U.S. was confirmed. The declaration’s end reflects a shift to treating the disease as endemic, meaning it remains present but not at a level that significantly disrupts most people’s daily lives.
FCHD Deputy Director for Medical Services Dr. Parham Jaberi said in a statement to FFXnow:
The end of the emergency does not signal that COVID is over, but we do feel that it no longer impacts our lives in the way it did over the past three years. The “emergency” enabled resources to quickly address our needs for a coordinated response to help our communities get vaccinated, tested and take necessary actions to limit the spread of the virus. While COVID remains a serious illness for some populations in our community such as older adults, very young children, or those with chronic health conditions, it is less of an overall threat to society.
The World Health Organization announced last Friday (May 5) that Covid is no longer a global health emergency, though worldwide, more than 3,000 deaths have been reported over the past week.
On a local level, Fairfax County terminated its state of emergency for the pandemic on March 1, just under three years since it began.
The Fairfax Health District is now averaging 30 new cases per day for the past week — fewer than at any point in the pandemic other than the summer of 2021, according to local and state data. As a result, the impact of a price tag on people’s willingness to get tested and vaccinated “may be limited,” the FCHD says. Read More
By the end of the March, the COVID-19 pandemic will no longer be declared an emergency in the Town of Herndon.
The move follows efforts by neighboring jurisdictions to end formalized states of emergency.
“All emergency actions in response to COVID-19 have been taken and the public health emergency triggered by COVID-19 has diminished to the point that it no longer necessitates a state of local emergency and disaster,” the draft resolution says.
Fairfax County voted unanimously last month to end its state of emergency on March 1, marking a major public health milestone. Loudoun County, Prince William, Alexandria, and Arlington all took that step last year to end their states of emergency.
Here’s more from town spokeswoman Anne Curtis:
Like other jurisdictions, the COVID pandemic triggered the town’s enactment of a local State of Emergency legislation in March 2020. This enabled the town to adopt a Continuity of Governmental Operations Ordinance, giving us the flexibility and authority to adapt operations and adopt practices that enabled us to weather the emergency, like outdoor dining and fully virtual meetings. The Continuity Ordinance expired by law in late 2021. The act of “formally” repealing will have no effect on the daily lives of town citizens.
The end of the declaration comes exactly three years after the town was in the thick of the pandemic.
The item is up for consideration at a Herndon Town Council meeting at 7 p.m. today (Tuesday).
Currently, community level transmission in Fairfax County is low.
This month marks the third anniversary of the first Covid case in Fairfax County, and the Board of Supervisors has voted to bring the state of emergency to a close.
The emergency declaration that has been in place since March 17, 2020 officially ends today (Wednesday).
The declaration provided increased flexibility and resources to address public health issues. The county said in a release there will be no direct impact of the declaration ending on the county’s operational responses, which were already scaled back in December.
The county’s relaxed policies on outdoor dining and using speakers for activities will continue until March 2024.
(Updated at 11:20 a.m. on 2/8/2023) When March arrives, the COVID-19 pandemic will no longer be an officially declared emergency in Fairfax County.
After honoring individuals and organizations in the community who helped the county respond to the pandemic this weekend, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously today (Tuesday) to terminate the local state of emergency declaration that has been in place since March 17, 2020.
The declaration, which activated the county’s Emergency Operations Plan and allowed increased flexibility and resources to address the public health crisis, will end on March 1.
“This is a milestone,” Chairman Jeff McKay said. “We would not be here without the work of so many people in our county. We recognized our nonprofits, our county staff, really the vigilance of our community during some really difficult times, and so, it’s great that we’re able to do this.”
Fairfax County is possibly the last locality in Northern Virginia to end its emergency declaration. Loudoun County, Prince William, Alexandria, and Arlington all took that step last year.
Keeping the declaration in place gave the county “a lot of flexibility in collecting federal funds and other strategic advantages,” McKay said.
As fears of a surge in Covid cases akin to last winter’s omicron wave have dissipated, the county says that the time is right to end the declaration.
“The Declaration of Local Emergency has been an extremely valuable tool for us throughout the pandemic,” County Executive Bryan Hill said in a statement. “It gave us greater flexibility and authority to purchase supplies, find resources, move to virtual operations and meetings, support the business community, and protect the health and safety of our community. I commend our employees who have done an impressive job of reinventing how we deliver services to Fairfax County residents.”
At this point, the move won’t affect the daily lives of most community members. Since the county’s mass vaccine clinics shut down in December, there will be “no direct impact” on the health department’s approach to Covid.
The Health Department will continue to share important updates and resources concerning COVID-19 on its webpage and social media channels…Vaccines continue to be widely available throughout our community and at Health Department District Offices by appointment. Residents who are unable to access vaccines or boosters may call the Health Department Call Center at 703-267-3511 for assistance.
The end of the declaration is most notable for starting the clock on the county’s relaxed regulations for outdoor dining and other activities, such as the use of speakers during outdoor religious services, to use an example cited by Department of Planning and Development Director Tracy Strunk.
Any businesses with an emergency waiver will be allowed to continue using it until March 1, 2024 — 12 months after the declaration ends.
Strunk said county staff will present options for allowing outdoor dining in parking lots to continue on a universal basis this spring, as requested by the board at a land use policy committee meeting in October.
“I know there are a number of locations in my district where we see more outdoor dining that didn’t have it before — not necessarily right now, but certainly when the weather’s just a little bit warmer,” Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross said. “We need to make sure they all understand what happens and how some of those things will go forward.”
The county’s Covid community level is low, as of Thursday (Feb. 2). The Fairfax Health District, which includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, is currently averaging 119 cases and 4.6 deaths per day for the past week, according to county health department data.
There have been 265,428 Covid cases, 5,307 hospitalizations and 1,775 deaths in the district.
As work gets underway to memorialize those killed by COVID-19, the Fairfax County Health Department wants to ensure the individuals and organizations who helped it navigate the pandemic will have at least one moment in the spotlight.
The department will host a recognition ceremony tomorrow (Saturday) for its many partners in the local pandemic response, from hospital workers and nonprofit volunteers to residences and businesses that supported public awareness campaigns.
“We are honoring individuals and organizations who supported the COVID-19 vaccination effort from the mass vaccination clinics to hosting vaccine equity clinics,” Sharon Arndt, the event’s lead organizer, said. “Public health is what we do together as a society to create the conditions in which everyone can be healthy. Thank you to all who served a role in support of public health.”
For Arndt, the ceremony will close out a 25-year career working for Fairfax County. The director of FCHD’s community health development division is retiring after next week, according to a department spokesperson, who praised her dedication to her public health work and the county.
Over 1,000 community members and groups will be recognized at the ceremony, which will take place at the Fairfax County Government Center in three separate sessions. In addition to hosting vaccine clinics, their contributions ranged from providing basic resources like food to sharing information with non-English-speaking residents.
The proceedings will start at 10 a.m. with Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay delivering remarks. Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik is scheduled to speak at 11:30 a.m., followed by Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust at 1 p.m.
Each session will also feature musical and dance performances by local artists.
“These organizations played key roles during the worst health crisis of our lives and we couldn’t have done it without them,” McKay said. “This is true not just during COVID-19 but at all times. They allow the County to leverage our resources and reach the most people possible with life-saving services.”
The ceremony will precede a potential end to the county’s ongoing state of emergency for the pandemic.
The agenda for the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday (Feb. 7) includes an item requesting that the board vote on whether to terminate its local emergency declaration, which has been in place since March 17, 2020. If the measure is approved, the declaration will end March 1.
The county previously said a vote could come last September, but that didn’t happen, as officials were still evaluating the possible implications of ending the declaration, which gave the county more resources and flexibility to address Covid.
Most other Northern Virginia localities have already let their emergency declarations expire, and President Joe Biden is expected to end the national emergencies on May 11.
Though it may soon no longer be labeled an official “emergency,” Covid hasn’t vanished.
The Fairfax Health District, including the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, is averaging 140 new cases and three deaths per day for the past week, as of yesterday (Thursday). Hospitals are admitting 9.4 Covid patients for every 100,000 county residents — just within the threshold for a “low” community level, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Over the past three years, the district has reported 264,878 cases, 5,301 hospitalizations and 1,763 deaths. Nationwide, over 1.1 million people have died from Covid.
Fairfax County is looking for artists to contribute to a COVID-19 memorial.
The project is spearheaded by ArtsFairfax, the county’s official arts agency, after planning started nearly a year ago.
“The selected artist/team will design, fabricate, and install a permanent work of art that will commemorate the suffering of people in the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the heroism of the people who responded to the emergency,” ArtsFairfax said in an email.
The memorial commemorates the approximately 1,743 deaths from Covid in the Fairfax Health District, where there have been approximately 264,451 cases. The district includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church.
“This scale of disease and its impact to the communities of Fairfax County, as well as the impact to a County workforce that responded to the public health emergency, are worthy of memorialization,” ArtsFairfax said in a release. “The County has identified a location for a significant public artwork that will commemorate the suffering of people in the pandemic as well as the heroism of the people who responded to the emergency.”
The memorial will be located at the center of the plaza at 12055 Government Center Parkway.
The application is open to all artists living and working in the area — meaning anywhere between Richmond and Baltimore, according to the release — and eligible to work in the U.S.
A $200,000 artist fee includes design, materials, fabrication, insurance, travel, packing, shipping, installation and a maintenance plan for the artwork, the release said.
Admission opened on Jan. 23. An online information session is scheduled for Wednesday (Feb. 1) at 3 p.m. The application deadline is April 12.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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