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.

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Person counts dollar bills (via Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash)

A pilot program that will give monthly cash assistance to select low-income residents is in development in Fairfax County.

While eligibility criteria, payment amounts, and other details are still being determined, the county has allocated $1.5 million to the effort from its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, as noted in a stimulus update to the Board of Supervisors’ budget policy committee yesterday (Tuesday).

First proposed at a health and human services committee meeting on June 29, the pilot will help people improve their financial situation by providing an additional, flexible source of income, county staff say.

“At its core, it’s an economic mobility initiative, but it’s also an anti-poverty initiative, and it’s certainly innovative,” Deputy County Executive Chris Leonard told the board last summer.

If it implements the pilot, Fairfax County will join a nationwide experiment with basic income programs that has also drawn in Arlington County and Alexandria. Research from around the world suggests the initiatives boost people’s happiness, health, and economic stability without limiting employment.

Fairfax County plans to model its pilot on the nonprofit UpTogether, which gives underserved individuals and families access to cash investments through an online platform that doubles as a social network.

UpTogether’s emphasis on trusting recipients to make their own decisions and building community deviates from traditional social services, which deliver vital resources like food or housing but often come with conditions, such as work requirements.

Fairfax County is looking at the nonprofit UpTogether as a model for its proposed basic income pilot program (via Fairfax County)

It’s the difference between helping people survive poverty and giving them the tools to escape it, Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay explained, suggesting families, particularly those with young children, as a possible target population for the pilot.

“Part of what I think our obligation to do is to stop this generational poverty that seems to happen everywhere in the country,” McKay said. “If you’re going to break the trends of generational poverty, you somehow have to get to the youth.” Read More

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2022 written in fireworks (via Moritz Knöringer/Unsplash)

With New Year’s Day arriving this Saturday, many Fairfax County government facilities and services will be taking tomorrow (Friday) off.

Here is a breakdown of the county’s schedule for the New Year’s holiday:

County Government Offices

  • Most offices will be closed throughout the day on New Year’s Eve.

Fairfax County Public Schools

  • Schools remain closed for the winter break. Classes are scheduled to resume on Monday (Jan. 3).
  • The Gatehouse Administrative Center is hosting a drive-through diagnostic testing site from noon to 4 p.m. today (Thursday) and tomorrow. Students should be registered online in advance.

Fairfax County Public Library

  • All branches will be closed on both New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

Courts

County Parks and Recreation Centers

Community and Senior Centers

  • All Neighborhood and Community Services facilities will be closed from Friday through Sunday (Jan. 2).
  • The Cathy Hudgins Community Center at Southgate has modified hours today, closing at 5 p.m. instead of 8 p.m.
  • The Pimmit Hills Senior Center is already closed until Jan. 3, and as of Tuesday (Dec. 28), the South County senior and teen centers have been closed until further notice “due to COVID-19 conditions,” according to the website.
  • The McLean and Reston community centers are both closed for New Year’s Eve and Day.

Trash and Recycling

Transportation

  • Fairfax Connector will follow a Saturday service schedule tomorrow and Saturday. See the website for details about what routes will be available.
  • FASTRAN shuttles will not operate on New Year’s Eve or Day.
  • For New Year’s Eve, Metrorail will start service two hours later than a standard weekday, operating from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. On New Year’s Day, trains will run from 7 a.m. to midnight.
  • Metrobus will use a Sunday schedule for New Year’s Eve before following its typical Saturday schedule on New Year’s Day.

Photo via Moritz Knöringer/Unsplash

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Closed sign (via Tim Mossholder/Unsplash)

As the holidays approach, here are a number of closures to keep in mind in the area.

Fairfax County Government offices officially close at noon tomorrow through Friday. Offices will also be closed on Friday, Dec. 31 for the New Year’s holiday. But some facilities are open and schedules may differ.

All library branches will be open from 10 a.m. to noon on Christmas Eve, but will remain closed on Friday, Saturday, Dec. 31, and New Year’s Day.  Fairfax County Public Schools are closed through Jan. 3. The school system is encouraging the school community to reach out to address mental health concerns.

The Fairfax Connector will operate on Saturday service schedules tomorrow and Friday.

The county’s Circuit Court will be closed on Thursday and Friday, along with Dec. 30 and 31.

Residents should contact their trash and recycling collection for service changes due to the holidays.

All recreation centers operated by the Fairfax County Park Authority are open tomorrow from 5 a.m. to noon, but closed on Christmas Day. The George Washington Recreation Center, however, will be closed both days.

All county parks and recreation facilities will be closed on Christmas.

Vaccination clinics at the Fairfax County and South County Government Centers will remain closed from tomorrow through Dec. 26, as will the county’s COVID-19 call center.

The Tysons Community Vaccination Center will be closed from tomorrow through Dec. 27 and from Dec. 31 through Jan 2. Between the 28th and 29th, the center will be open from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Dec. 30.

Public health officials are also encouraging residents to maintain social distancing measures in order to minimize hospitalizations during the winter surge of cases.

Photo via Tim Mossholder/Unsplash

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(Updated at 7:05 p.m. on 12/8/2021) The Fairfax County Police Department is about to bring its public records request system a little closer to the 21st century.

Starting early next year, the many people who request Fairfax County police records every year through the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) will be able to pay the attached fees online, the county’s FOIA office confirmed to FFXnow.

Currently, the FCPD and nearly all other county departments and agencies require a physical check sent by snail mail for FOIA fees, which cover the costs of labor, copying, and other expenses incurred in the process of obtaining and delivering requested records.

With the new system, records requesters will fill out an online form with their contact information and details about their FOIA request before submitting an electronic check through a secure checkout screen.

“This new process is still being finalized, but we are confident that certain high-volume FOIA agencies (like the FCPD) will be able to collect FOIA fees electronically in early 2022,” Amanda Kastl, the Fairfax County Office of Public Affairs’ countywide FOIA officer, said by email.

The county introduced the online fee portal in August 2020 for the countywide FOIA office, which handles complex requests and ones that involve multiple departments. The office also oversees the overall FOIA process, including standardizing fee collection and processing.

Kastl says her office partnered with the Fairfax County Department of Finance to develop, test, and implement the new system after seeing an increased desire for the ability to pay fees electronically from those requesting records.

The COVID-19 pandemic also played a role, since FOIA staffers were working remotely, which made it harder to process checks.

According to Kastl, the online portal was intended to make the FOIA process simpler and more efficient for both the community and staff, and so far, it has paid off.

“We have received positive feedback from requesters on the convenience and efficiency of submitting payments electronically,” she said.

While online payments are now accepted for everything from grocery shopping to federal taxes, Fairfax County appears to among the vanguard in Northern Virginia when it comes letting people pay FOIA fees electronically. Read More

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Individuals in Fairfax County’s annual Hypothermia Prevention Program enjoy a meal (courtesy FACETS)

Faith communities are once again opening their doors to Fairfax County’s homeless population this winter after a year-long hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The county’s Hypothermia Prevention Program, which began in 2005, will run from Nov. 28 through April.

As in past years, the service will be operated by FACETS, a nonprofit organization that helps individuals affected by poverty, hunger and homelessness. The program serves people in across the county and the City of Falls Church in partnership with the local government and more than 40 faith communities.

FACETS Executive Director Joe Fay notes that the move was inspired by faith partners who felt more comfortable opening their doors due to the state’s high vaccination levels.

“The pandemic continues to create greater need and complicates efforts to help meet those needs,” Fay acknowledged, adding that safety measures will remain in effect to protect staff, volunteers and guests.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the county to adapt the program last year, as space limitations and the age of many volunteers made the churches and other buildings used in the past less viable.

The county instead set up its own sites and used hotels, which provided a good alternative to congregate settings because they allowed for social distancing, reducing transmission of the virus, Tom Barnett, the director of the county’s Office to Prevent and End Homelessness told FFXnow.

While most of us were told to stay home to avoid the virus, people experiencing homelessness did not have that option. Older adults and people with pre-existing health conditions were especially vulnerable,” Barnett said. “Fairfax County expanded shelter capacity with hotels through the pandemic to accommodate the increased demand for shelter.”

As the focus shifts back to congregate settings, nonprofit organizations have been able to hire more staff to sustain operations at their shelters.

Barnett says faith communities returning to the hypothermia prevention program is a “tremendous resource.”

After a brief dip to moderate transmission levels, COVID-19 cases appear to have returned to August levels. The county’s level of community transmission has returned to substantial.

Barnett noted that the program will attempt to increase social distancing, require masks for guests and staff, and increase the frequency of facility cleaning. Hotels will remain open through the winter in order to isolate, quarantine, and protect individuals and to reduce overcrowding in other shelters.

The program is open to any adult in need of immediate shelter.

Existing shelters that serve single adults and auxiliary programs through faith community partners run the program, which offers warm shelter, food, and other supportive services. FACETS will also offer case management for guests who wish to move into safe and stable housing.

The number of people who are homeless and unvaccinated remains a challenge, FACETS spokesperson Shawn Flaherty says. The organization plans to focus on vaccine availability and health education this year, especially as economic anxiety and food insecurity appear to be on the rise.

“The pandemic has created more economic strain which is impacting the county’s homeless population. Also, they struggle to get personal protective equipment, and it [has] been harder for them to connect with resources and basic needs,” Flaherty said.

COVID-19 vaccines will be available for all guests.

The organization plans to continue operating a shelter out of a hotel in Alexandria for individuals impacted by the pandemic.

Despite the constraints, the Hypothermia Prevention Program was able to serve an average of 215 guests per night last year.

Barnett does not expect increased demand this year due to the pandemic.

“We are confident that we have the resources and connections in place to serve our unsheltered neighbors this winter,” he said.

Photo courtesy FACETS

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The results of Virginia’s 2021 general election could have significant ramifications for local efforts to seek alternatives to jail and other criminal justice reforms, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano says.

Descano, a Democrat, addressed expectations that his agenda will clash with that of Republican Attorney General-elect Jason Miyares in an online event on Tuesday (Nov. 16) hosted by the McLean chapter of the American Association of University Women, which seeks to promote equity and education for women and girls.

A day after defeating incumbent Mark Herring, who was seeking a third consecutive term as Virginia’s top legal officer, Miyares told reporters on Nov. 3 that he plans to introduce a bill that would let the state intervene in local cases.

“This legislation was inspired by a child rape case in Fairfax County, where a defendant was charged with repeatedly raping and molesting a 5-year-old child and was eligible for a life sentence,” Miyares said in a statement to FFXnow, pointing to a case involving Oscar R. Zaldivar, 53, who received a 17-year sentence through a plea deal.

Despite objections from the families involved, Descano’s office defended the sentence in statements to media after the September hearing as longer than what 75% of defendants in Virginia face for the same offenses.

Prosecutors typically get discretion to determine when to pursue a case based on whether the available evidence is sufficient and other factors. Descano said Miyares’s proposal would turn the legal system on its head.

“He wants the police to be able to sideline a prosecutor who’s inconvenient for them at anytime,” Descano said, adding that Fairfax County is fortunate to have a professionalized police force.

Miyares countered that he would get guidance from Commonwealth’s Attorneys to advocate for a bill that would “invite” the attorney general to prosecute child rape or violent crime cases “when the local prosecutor refuses to prosecute.”

The clash between Descano and Miyares presages the uphill battle that Fairfax County’s mostly Democratic elected officials will likely face over the next few years in trying to work with the n0w-Republican-led state government.

The county started a veterans court in 2015 to provide support systems for service members faced with charges. It then launched a Diversion First initiative in 2016 that offers rehabilitation over incarceration for certain nonviolent offenses. Since then, the county has also created specialized court dockets focused on the needs of people with drug addiction and mental health issues.

According to Census data compiled by the nonprofit The Marshall Project, Fairfax County’s jail population has declined significantly over the past two decades, from 3,749 people in 2000 to 1,207 people in 2010 and 667 people in 2020.

Elected in 2019 amid a progressive surge in Northern Virginia, Descano has implemented many of his pledged reforms, including eliminating cash bail, not holding suspects on nonviolent charges when they aren’t deemed a danger to the community, and enabling prosecutors to take “community values” into account instead of deferring to judges.

He said on Tuesday that the changes are intended to improve fairness in prosecutions.

The Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney also has a data director who is working with researchers from American University and other partners to create a public dashboard with information on how it handles different cases.

Descano says the data will allow for analysis of prosecutors’ decisions, which will help avoid problems, such as unfair treatment based on gender or race.

When asked about the data effort by Aroona Borpujari, a statistician who watched the event, Descano replied that his office will release the data when they have enough of a sample size.

“It’s our pledge that we’re going to be transparent,” he said, describing the office as previously being in the Stone Age.

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Flooding, power outages, and other impacts from storms are among the top climate change-related concerns for Fairfax County residents, the recently released results of a county survey suggest.

606 community members participated in the survey that the Fairfax County Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination (OEEC) conducted between June 8 and July 2 as part of its Resilient Fairfax initiative, which will produce a plan for how the county can withstand and adapt to the threats introduced by a warming planet.

81% of respondents cited severe storms as a concern, followed by changing temperatures (79%) and flooding (60%), according to the survey results report published on Nov. 8.

55% of respondents said they’re concerned about drought, 40% about fire risks, and 19% listed other climate hazards, including air quality and pollution, health effects, and the impact on plants and animals.

While the survey drew responses from just a fraction of the 1.1 million people who live in Fairfax County, the results still offer insight into the community’s awareness of the risks posed by climate change — and how they are already affecting people’s lives, county staff say.

“It helps us gather information that’s not available through quantitative data that we have,” OEEC Senior Planner Allison Homer said. “People’s opinions or people’s concerns, that’s not something we have access to without asking.”

Flooding

24.6% of the Fairfax County residents who answered the survey said their neighborhood has flooded within the past five years, with 9.8% of residents saying it has affected their home.

Of the respondents who work in the county, 24.8% said they have experienced flooding at their place of employment. 67.1% of respondents said they have witnessed flooding in the county outside their home or work, such as on roads.

The survey identifies Hunter Mill Road, Richmond Highway, George Washington Memorial Parkway, Prosperity Avenue, Huntington Avenue, and Little River Turnpike among the areas most vulnerable to flooding, though Homer says the evenly distributed flood map in the report doesn’t fully align with the county’s data.

“I think it’s sort of biased towards the areas where people lived that are taking the survey,” she said. “Our most flood-prone roads in reality are mostly concentrated towards the eastern part of the county.” Read More

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Fairfax County’s Confederate Names Task Force convenes for a meeting on Oct. 18 (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Though they have cropped up with increasing regularity both locally and nationally in recent years, conversations about how to handle symbolic reminders of the Confederacy remain as emotionally charged as ever.

That was evident in the most recent meeting of Fairfax County’s Confederate Names Task Force, which has been charged with determining whether the county should rename Lee and Lee-Jackson Memorial highways.

“We have a nice taste of different people from different parts of Fairfax that want to weigh in,” task force chair Evelyn Spain said. “We value all of their opinions on whether this end result comes to change the name or not change the name of Fairfax streets.”

The two-hour meeting at the Fairfax County Government Center on Monday (Oct. 18) followed the launch of a community survey last week. Postcards advertising the survey are expected to roll out to residents across the county starting this weekend.

Also accepting public comments by email, phone, mail, and at four upcoming listening sessions, the task force will use the input to inform its recommendation to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

“I don’t want people to be back here in 30 years because we made a wrong decision,” one member said.

The Financial Cost of Changing the Names

Changing the names of both highways could cost Fairfax County anywhere from $1 million to $4 million, Fairfax County Department of Transportation Director Tom Biesiadny told the task force.

According to FCDOT, there are 171 Lee Highway signs along the county’s 14.1-mile stretch of Route 29 and 55 Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway signs on 8.4 miles of Route 50.

The cost varies depending on each kind of sign, particularly ones on traffic light mast arms or other overhead structures. If a new street name is longer than the existing one, replacing the signs will require more work due to the added weight, Biesiadny explained.

“What we’re going to replace it with does matter,” he said.

Biesiadny also reported that, based on estimates from neighboring localities that have adopted new highway names, a name change would cost businesses about $500 each to update their address on signs, stationary, and legal documents, among other possible expenses.

Other jurisdictions are looking at providing grants to cover businesses’ costs, according to Biesiadny, who noted that the county would need to conduct a survey of businesses to get a more precise estimate.

What’s in a (Street) Name?

For the task force, however, the question of whether to rename the highways hinges less on money than on what the names say about a community’s values and identity.

In a facilitator-led discussion on street name criteria, several members cited inclusivity and reflecting Fairfax County’s increasingly diverse population as key concerns. Read More

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Fairfax County’s logo on the government center (via Machvee/Flickr)

For the first time in decades, Fairfax County workers have collective bargaining powers.

The county Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance 9-1 yesterday (Tuesday) allowing unions to negotiate for pay, benefits, working conditions, scheduling, and more. The lone opposing vote came from Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity.

Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik called it a historic day, marking the first time in 44 years that collective bargaining is allowed for county government workers.

Collective bargaining will improve the county’s ability to retain employees and result in better services for the community, Chairman Jeff McKay said after the vote.

“Approving this ordinance allows us to go to the next step to work on and establish a collective bargaining agreement, something that I know our employees have been asking for for a very long time,” McKay said.

Virginia had banned collective bargaining for government workers since the state Supreme Court ruled against the practice in 1977.

That changed last year when the General Assembly passed legislation giving local governments the option to create ordinances recognizing their employees’ labor unions and allowing collective bargaining for public workers.

The ordinance doesn’t affect the county’s 24,000-plus public school employees. The school board would have to adopt its own collective bargaining ordinance for Fairfax County Public Schools. But the ordinance could act as a model for other local governments and the county’s school board.

The new state law and Fairfax County’s ordinance still restrict workers’ ability to strike. If government employees do so, they will be fired and prohibited from working for a governmental body in Virginia for one year.

In response to the state law, Fairfax County created a collective bargaining workgroup on Sept. 29, 2020 that included elected officials, employee group representatives, and county government and school staff.

The board’s personnel committee received its first draft of the ordinance on May 25 and spent the summer working to refine it. The board held a public hearing on Oct. 5 but deferred a vote on the matter to its next regular meeting.

David Broder, president of SEIU Virginia 512, which represents over 2,000 Fairfax County general government workers, celebrated the vote as a historic victory achieved after years of advocacy.

“Our union is thrilled to usher in a new era where employees and management collaborate to solve workplace issues, where workers have a real voice to improve their pay, benefits, and working conditions, and where every constituent in this community gets the quality public services we all deserve,” Tammie Wondong, president of SEIU Virginia 512’s Fairfax chapter, said in a statement. “Together, and with meaningful collective bargaining rights, we will transform Fairfax into a place where every working family can thrive.”

Other unions for groups ranging from firefighters and police to public works employees had advocated changes to the ordinance, including at this month’s public hearing. Read More

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