A raccoon struck by two different vehicles on Route 29 last weekend has tested positive for rabies, Falls Church City says.
The drivers hit the animal near the 500 block of S. Washington Street in the West Falls Church area on Saturday, Sept. 23, according to the city. The raccoon’s resulting injuries led Falls Church City police to euthanize it.
Before police arrived, however, at least two people came into contact with the animal.
“A witness stated that prior to officers arriving, both he and an unidentified driver came in direct contact with the injured raccoon while removing it from the roadway,” the city said in a news release.
The Fairfax County Health Department tested the raccoon for rabies and reported that it was positive on Tuesday (Sept. 26).
“The City of Falls Church Animal Control Officer and Fairfax County Health Department are seeking to identify the unknown driver (and any other individuals) who came in contact with the raccoon to clear them of rabies exposure,” Falls Church City said. “Please call the Fairfax County Health Department Rabies Program immediately at 703-246-2433 (TTY 711) if you believe that you were exposed.”
Falls Church says this is the first animal found within its city limits to test positive for rabies in 2023.
The Fairfax County Health Department typically identifies 40 to 60 rabies cases annually. Cases so far this year have included a raccoon that got attacked by a dog in Vienna and a skunk that chased, sprayed and bit hikers on the Bull Run Occoquan Trail in Clifton.
Rabies cases often increase in the spring, summer, and end of the fall, Fairfax County health officials previously told FFXnow.
“Rabies is a viral disease that people and pets can catch from infected animals through a bite, scratch, broken skin, and mucous membranes (eyes, nose, or mouth.),” Falls Church City said. “It is fatal if medical care is not given promptly.”
The city advises anyone who encounters sick, injured or aggressive wildlife that appear injured, sick, lethargic, disoriented, or aggressive to avoid it and call its non-emergency line at 703-241-5053.
In Fairfax County, community members can report incidents to the Animal Protection Police at 703-691-2131.
Photo via Pete Nuij/Unsplash
(Updated at 4:45 p.m.) A new batch of COVID-19 vaccines is on the way, as the disease appears to be surging once again.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Tuesday (Sept. 14) that it recommends everyone 6 months and older get the shots, which have been updated to provide improved protection against the variants fueling the current rise in illness and hospitalizations.
Slated to become available this week, the new vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are rolling out in time to coincide with the annual fall flu shot season, an approach that the Fairfax County Health Department supports.
“People are able to get the flu shot and the updated COVID-19 vaccine together and this fall (September or October) is a good time to be protected against these illnesses as people spend more time indoors and viruses may be more apt to spread,” FCHD spokesperson Lucy Caldwell said by email.
With Covid no longer considered a federal health emergency, the updated vaccines are the first ones not being allocated by the government. Instead, doctor’s offices, pharmacies and other providers must order them directly, making it less clear when they’ll become available.
The FCHD advises residents to check vaccines.gov or contact their doctor, pediatrician or local pharmacy to see if they’ll have the vaccine. Retail pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS have said that appointments will become available through their websites this week.
The cost of the vaccines is covered by private insurance, along with Medicare and Medicaid. The roughly 7% of Fairfax County residents who aren’t insured should be able to get the shots for free from providers participating in the CDC’s Bridge Access program, according to the FCHD.
The county health department also anticipates obtaining a vaccine supply later this month, Caldwell says. Residents of the Fairfax Health District, which also includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, will be able to make an appointment by calling 703-246-7100.
Caldwell noted that the health department’s supply is typically reserved for individuals who don’t have a primary care provider or another option for getting vaccinated. It also doesn’t accept private insurance as payment, though it’s in-network for Medicaid.
“Staying up to date and getting the new, updated vaccine is important,” the FCHD said. “The virus continues to evolve and protection against it from previous vaccination decreases over time. Getting a COVID-19 vaccine is a safer, more reliable way to build protection than getting sick with COVID-19. Getting vaccinated also reduces your chances of getting long COVID, which can last weeks, months, and even years, after initial illness.”
About 80% of Fairfax Health District residents 6 months and older — or 942,180 people — completed their initial round of vaccinations, according to FCHD data. About 50% of that population has received at least three doses, but just 25.7% got the most recent booster.
People should wait two months after their last Covid shot or two to three months after an infection before getting the updated vaccine, according to the FCHD.
After a relatively quiet spring and early summer, Fairfax County has seen an increase in Covid since July, including upticks in hospitalizations, emergency department visits and outbreaks, the health department says.
As of Sept. 2, the county admitted 52 new hospital patients with Covid over that week, a 15.6% increase over the preceding week for a hospitalization rate of 2.6 people per 100,000 residents, according to the CDC.
As of Tuesday, the Fairfax Health District was averaging 111.7 cases over the past seven days — case levels not seen since February, per Virginia Department of Health data.
The FCHD says it has been “closely tracking emergency department visits and hospitalizations from COVID-19 and identifying and investigating clusters of cases in schools, long-term care facilities, and other settings.”
“FCHD has the ability to scale up resources if necessary,” Caldwell said. “But the optimal situation is for people in our community to get the updated COVID-19 vaccine and take other measures that reduce the spread of illness, like good handwashing, so that we can prevent or mitigate a possible surge.”
Fairfax County health officials are monitoring a new COVID-19 variant that has gained traction in the U.S., becoming the most prevalent strain of the disease.
Fairfax County’s hospitalization rate remains low at 1.8 admissions per 100,000 residents for the week of July 30 to Aug. 5 — an increase from 1.2 admissions over the previous week. There were 35 hospital admissions that week, a 45.8% increase, and the percent of emergency department visitors diagnosed with Covid has gone from 1.1% for the week of July 2 to 3.2% last week.
The increase in Covid-related hospital visits coincides with the spread of the EG.5 variant, though officials say there’s no indication so far that it has exacerbated the disease’s severity. The variant now accounts for over 17% of cases nationwide, according to the CDC.
The Fairfax County Health Department says it’s “closely” tracking the variant’s circulation, but in Northern Virginia, levels were “either below detection or unchanged for the most recent reporting period available” based on wastewater surveillance, which can be used to detect the coronavirus that causes Covid.
“While the increase in the EG.5 variant may not be considered of high concern to most people in the general population, those who are more vulnerable to serious illness are urged to take steps to prevent illness and protect their health,” the FCHD said, advising community members to watch out for symptoms and get a test if needed.
Covid testing has become more complicated since the federal state of emergency ended, prompting a suspension of the government’s free program and enabling insurers to start charging for at-home kits. Testing sites can be found through the Virginia Department of Health’s online locator.
The FCHD will still provide testing to people who have symptoms, lack access to other options, have been identified as a close contact of someone with Covid or recently returned traveling internationally. Appointments can be scheduled by calling 703-246-2411.
With Fairfax County Public Schools kicking off its new academic year today (Monday), the county health department will “work closely with FCPS on health issues that impact the student and staff populations,” FCHD spokesperson Lucy Caldwell said.
“The Virginia Department of Health provides free at-home COVID test kits to all K-12 schools and childcare facilities in Virginia, so FCPS and other school systems have testing resources available upon request,” Caldwell told FFXnow. “It is my understanding that FCPS has ordered tests and will provide them to students who appear ill with covid-like symptoms in the health rooms.” Read More
Black residents have experienced worse health outcomes than other populations across Northern Virginia, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, a new report found.
Commissioned by the Northern Virginia Health Foundation (NVHF) and conducted by the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University, the Fairfax County section of the “Dying Too Soon” report found “stark” disparities across the county in the rates at which people die before the age of 75.
The report attributed the dramatic differences in life expectancies — from 76.5 years to 91.1 years — to an individual’s race, ethnicity and address, reflecting the influence of socioeconomic conditions on health outcomes.
According to the report, a lack of access to health care contributed to 66% of premature deaths in the county from 2015-2019 that were avoidable with preventative measures or treatment.
Throughout Northern Virginia, premature deaths are more concentrated within “islands of disadvantage,” where residents experience poor living conditions, higher mortality rates, and food and housing insecurity, the report says.
Residents of these neighborhoods are more likely to be people of color and immigrants, a disparity resulting from “the region’s history of segregation and systemic racism” and policies that “systematically block access” to health opportunities and increase exposure to unsafe health conditions, the report said.
Prior to the pandemic, Black people in Fairfax County had a premature death rate of 221.0 per 100,000 residents, exceeding the rates for white people (165.8 per 100,000), Hispanics (126.2 per 100,000) and Asians and Pacific Islanders (112.4 per 100,000).
Those disparities were consistent throughout the region, which “exhibits smaller racial-ethnic disparities” that other parts of the U.S., according to the report.
Though Fairfax County is often touted as one of the richest counties in the U.S., with a median income of $133,974, many of the wealthiest census tracts are located just a few blocks from islands of disadvantage.
In fact, the study says one census tract in Springfield has a premature death rate twice as high as that of a census tract in Franconia only two miles away. Each census tract also showed drastically different education and poverty rates and racial and ethnic compositions.
“I don’t think there’s a sense among the general public that these kinds of health inequities exist in a wealthy area like Northern Virginia, which in aggregate is doing quite well and has a very high quality of life,” Dr. Steven Woolf, lead study author and director emeritus of VCU’s Center on Society and Health, told FFXnow. “But when you zoom in like this to see what’s actually happening, neighborhood by neighborhood, you expose these these pockets of disadvantage that we want the public to know about.”
Census tracts with the highest premature death rates were in Seven Corners/Bailey’s Crossroads and Route 1 regions, according to the report’s summary. The study also reported that poverty rates in Seven Corners/Bailey’s Crossroads, Mount Vernon and Oakton “exceeded 20%, higher than poverty rates in countries like Estonia, Lithuania, Peru, Tajikistan, and Uganda.”
The Covid pandemic only worsened inequitable health outcomes, according to data collected in 2020-2021. The report says the county’s islands of disadvantage “experienced higher COVID-19 death rates,” and Northern Virginia as a whole saw “much higher” death rates among Hispanic and Black populations compared to Asian and white groups. Read More
A rabid skunk was found on the Bull Run Occoquan Trail on Saturday, June 10, the Fairfax County Health Department confirmed today (Tuesday).
The skunk reportedly chased, sprayed and bit multiple hikers before it was found near Balmoral Terrace and Cannon Fort Drive in Clifton. Health officials advise that it may have had contact with other people or pets during the time that it was sick.
The skunk was described as an adult largely black animal with a large white stripe covering most of its back. It was reported several times between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m. before it was captured by Animal Protection Police.
Rabies can infect wildlife — especially foxes, raccoons, skunk, bats and domestic animals. People get rabies when they are bitten or scratched by an animal infected by it.
To date, 10 animals have been diagnosed with rabies in the county this year, including a raccoon that was bitten by a dog in Vienna last month.
Here’s more from the health department on what to look out for:
Animals with rabies may act normally during the early stages of the disease, making it difficult to know if the animal is infected. As the disease progresses, animals often show changes in behavior. For example, wild animals may act very docile and domestic animals may become aggressive. Rabid animals may stagger, drool, or become paralyzed. Protect yourself and your family from rabies: stay away from wild animals and be sure pets are vaccinated against rabies every year. Remember, if the animal is not your own, leave it alone!
If bitten or scratched by an animal that might have rabies, wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical attention right away. When vaccinations are provided in time and appropriately, rabies treatment is 100 percent effective in preventing the disease. But if not treated, rabies is 100 percent fatal.
If anyone was bitten or scratched by the animal on or around June 10, county health officials urge individuals to call the Fairfax County Health Department Rabies Program at 703-246-2433, extension 711.
Photo via Bryan Padron/Unsplash
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 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
Opioid overdoses have been on the rise in Fairfax County since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
After declining between 2017 and 2019, overdoses increased in the Fairfax Health District from 285 in 2019 — 83 of them fatal — to at least 366 in 2022, including 63 fatalities, as of Sept. 30, according to the data dashboard that the Fairfax County Health Department launched last fall.
The department updated the dashboard last week to better illustrate two trends: the presence of fentanyl in nearly all overdose deaths and an increase in overdoses among youths, including kids and teens.
The dashboard now lists people 17 and under as a distinct age group and provides data specifically on fatal overdoses involving fentanyl “to help Fairfax County residents better understand the threat that opioids, including fentanyl, pose in the community,” Director of Epidemiology and Population Health Dr. Benjamin Schwartz said.
The platform previously only highlighted fatalities based on whether they involved prescription opioids or heroin, though the health department notes that overdoses may stem from multiple drugs.
Of the 63 deaths reported in 2022 through September, 61 or 97% involved fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that can be used for pain management like morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. In 2021, fentanyl was used in 103 fatal overdoses, compared to 23 for other prescription drugs and 12 for heroin.
“There is an urgent need to bring information to light to make sure teens and families know that the risk is real and that fentanyl poisonings are happening here in our communities,” Schwartz said, stating that the epidemic continues to affect people of all genders and all racial and ethnic groups.
Fairfax County has recently focused its efforts to combat opioids on teens after seeing “a concerning number” of nonfatal overdoses in early 2022, specifically in the Richmond Highway corridor.
The Fairfax Health District, which includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, saw five nonfatal overdoses among kids 17 and under just this past January, according to the opioid dashboard. There were 27 nonfatal overdoses in that age group in 2022.
As of Feb. 4, the Fairfax County Police Department had responded to 26 overdoses among youths 17 and under since Aug. 1, 2022, including one death. Police responded to 30 youth overdoses — five of them fatal — between Aug. 1, 2021 and July 31, 2022.
FCPD spokesperson Tara Gerhard says none of the fatalities occurred on school grounds, noting that the provided statistics “are subject to revision based on lab results and or additional investigation.” Read More
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.
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.
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.
Vaccines designed to combat omicron subvariants of COVID-19 are now available in Fairfax County for everyone 6 months and older.
“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