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
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.
Drug use in schools has emerged as a concern in light of overdoses in Alexandria City and especially Arlington County, where a 14-year-old student died earlier this month.
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.
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 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.
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
Curative is set to shut down all of its public COVID-19 testing sites in the D.C. region, including Fairfax County, by the end of the year.
All six Covid public testing sites run by Curative in collaboration with Fairfax County are expected to cease operations sometime next month, a Fairfax County Health Department spokesperson confirmed to FFXnow.
While the county didn’t confirm a specific date, DCist reported earlier this week that all of Curative’s testing sites will be closed by Dec. 15.
Per the county health department, the reason for the closure is a lack of demand.
“The County health department has closely collaborated with Curative over the past several months,” FCHD spokesperson Lucy Caldwell wrote FFXnow in an email. “There has been a decline in demand for testing in recent months, perhaps since home tests are widely available and convenient for people to use at home, as well as ample supplies available at pharmacies and retail locations.”
Fairfax County partnered with Curative this summer to open six new mobile testing sites at community centers, libraries, and a church in Bailey’s Crossroads, Centreville, Springfield, and Groveton.
An additional site was added in Annadale on Hummer Road, but that one closed earlier this week due to “low utilization and ongoing maintenance issues with the van used for this specific route,” Caldwell said.
Other neighboring localities had partnered with the California-based contractor dating back to early 2021. At times, there were long lines at the Arlington sites, particularly during the holiday season.
Over the last year, the county has gradually seen a number of covid testing sites close. The mass Covid testing site at the Fairfax County Government Center was closed in February, only a month after its launch.
The county’s mass vaccine clinics have also been winding down and are scheduled to close in mid-December.
There will still be Covid testing options in the county, however. The health department offers testing at five county clinics, per the website, but an appointment is required.
Additionally, Fairfax County Public Schools will offer diagnostic testing to all teachers, staff, and students from Nov. 28 to 30 from 5-8 p.m. at five locations. Registration is required, and testing is intended for those who have Covid symptoms or have been exposed to someone who has Covid.
For the moment, no additional county testing sites are scheduled to launch, but any changes will be posted on the health department website.
(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) While the wave of COVID-19 cases seen over the past two winters hasn’t yet materialized this year, increased reports of other respiratory illnesses have local hospitals and health officials bracing for a particularly tough cold season.
Fairfax County and other Northern Virginia public health leaders are urging community members “to maintain their vigilance” and help prevent the spread of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which are both surging earlier than usual.
“This is especially important because as temperatures cool, we spend more time indoors with others, and may travel to gather with friends and family for celebrations who are at increased risk of severe complications from infection,” the Northern Virginia Regional Commission (NVRC) said in a news release yesterday.
Inova activated its emergency plan to handle a surge in patients last month. The health care provider resumed normal operations on Nov. 8, but said “volumes continue to be high across the health system, particularly in pediatric services.”
HCA Healthcare, which owns Reston Hospital Center and Tysons Emergency, said its facilities in the area have also seen an increase in flu and RSV cases.
“We have been able to manage this increase in volume. We are increasing our staff and streamlining our processes in anticipation of a challenging winter season,” Reston Hospital Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Carnell Cooper said.
Flu season is here
The Fairfax County Health Department confirmed that both flu and RSV cases have been rising locally.
“There is an increasing trend in visits to emergency departments and urgent care centers for influenza-like illness and laboratory results of confirmatory tests, and we have investigated a higher number of outbreaks than expected for this time of year,” the FCHD told FFXnow.
Virginia is seeing a very high level of activity for influenza-like illnesses (ILL), as of the week that ended Nov. 5, according to the Virginia Department of Health. The rating by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is based on outpatient visits to health care providers for respiratory illness involving a cough or sore throat and fever.
Per VDH, 9% of emergency department and urgent care center visits in the state are ILL-related, with kids 4 and younger making up 21.4% of visits — continuing a trend that health officials fear signals a worse flu season than in recent years, according to the NVRC.
While no deaths have been reported, Virginia has recorded 5,997 infections and 58 outbreaks so far this flu season, which started in mid-October and typically peaks between December and February.
“While it is unclear what exactly is driving this earlier increase in ILI activity from previous years, based on recent flu season reporting from the Southern Hemisphere, we anticipated this early peak to our own flu season,” the FCHD said.
County health officials recommends annual flu vaccinations for everyone 6 months and older. Shots are available from the county by appointment and at pharmacies, doctor’s offices and other locations in the community.
What to know about RSV
In addition to the disproportionate number of flu infections, young kids are getting hit hard by RSV, a common virus that produces usually mild, cold-like symptoms but “can be very dangerous for babies, young children or those who are immunocompromised,” the NVRC says.
“Emergency department and urgent care visits with diagnosed RSV have been increasing rapidly since early September,” the commission said. Read More
The days of getting COVID-19 vaccinations at the Fairfax County and South County government centers are numbered.
The mass vaccine clinics will reduce operations from five to three days per week, starting Monday (Nov. 7), the Fairfax County Health Department announced last week.
Local health workers and volunteers have been administering doses at those sites since early 2021, but large-scale clinics are being phased out now that shots are “widely available at pharmacies, urgent care centers and medical providers throughout the community,” the FCHD noted.
In addition, 1,016,466 Fairfax Health District residents, or 85.9%, have gotten at least one dose, including 93.2% of people 18 and older, according to FCHD data. 926,024 residents, or 78.2%, are fully vaccinated, including 85.8% of adults.
“In keeping with the federal and state levels strategy to transition vaccine efforts away from government and into community providers, the FCHD has worked with community providers to ensure robust availability of vaccine in our community,” spokesperson Lucy Caldwell said. “As there are fewer unvaccinated residents, and greater availability of vaccines in the community, FCHD can now demobilize its large dispensing sites.”
The reduction in hours will precede scheduled permanent closures of the Fairfax County Government Center site on Saturday, Dec. 17, and the Hyland South County Center site on Wednesday, Dec. 14.
For the next month, the new schedule will be:
Hyland South County Center (8350 Richmond Highway)
- Mondays: walk-in hours from noon-5:45 p.m., appointments from 11:30 a.m.-6:15 p.m.
- Tuesdays and Wednesdays: walk-in hours from 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., appointments from 9 a.m.-3:45 p.m.
Fairfax County Government Center (12000 Government Center Parkway)
- Thursdays: walk-in hours from noon-5:45 p.m., appointments from 11:30 a.m.-6:15 p.m.
- Fridays and Saturdays: walk-in hours from 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., appointments from 9 a.m.-3:45 p.m.
Schedule changes can also be expected during upcoming holidays, with the South County clinic closing on Tuesday (Nov. 8) for Election Day and the main county government center’s clinic closing on Veterans’ Day (Nov. 11) and over Thanksgiving (Nov. 24-26).
Since December 2020, more than 2.6 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been given in the Fairfax Health District, which also includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church.
Fairfax County is still seeing a low level of Covid in the community, as measured by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with the district averaging 146.7 cases per day for the past week.
However, the county health department urges everyone to get their initial and booster shots, if eligible, before the winter months and holiday gatherings arrive, since in the past, cases have surged as the weather cools. Notably, the Fairfax Health District is seeing a weekly average of two deaths per day from the coronavirus, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
“Even if you or your child or family member has had COVID, vaccination is still strongly encouraged as it provides added protection against the virus that causes COVID-19,” FCHD said. “Vaccination is one clear way to provide everyone, six months and older, with increased protection from severe illness.”
Options for getting a Covid vaccination can be found at vaccines.org. FCHD will also still offer vaccines to its clients at its district offices.
In total, the district has reported 246,298 cases, 5,065 hospitalizations, and 1,683 deaths during the pandemic.
(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) Booster COVID-19 vaccinations for kids aged 5 to 11 were put on hold late last week, as the Fairfax County Health Department transitions to updated vaccines that target omicron variants of the disease.
Federal health officials expanded their recommendation for the bivalent booster vaccines to include that younger age group on Wednesday (Oct. 12), saying the updated shots will provide better protection against “more transmissible and immune-evading” variants.
The bivalent boosters were authorized for people 12 and older at the end of August. The county health department says it has seen “a mild demand” for the vaccine since it became available in September.
“Typically, there is a surge when additional eligibility is updated, but the situation cools after a couple of weeks. That is typical of this update as well,” FCHD spokesperson Lucy Caldwell said. “We have no issues with vaccine supply and it is widely available throughout the community, pharmacies, medical providers, and our County sites, at this time.”
The authorization for the previous Pfizer booster shots for kids 5 to 11 ended on Oct. 12, so the health department stopped administering boosters for that age group until the new ones arrive.
The bivalent boosters will be available for kids at the Fairfax County Government Center and South County Hyland Center vaccine clinics starting tomorrow (Tuesday). Appointments are encouraged, but walk-ins are also allowed.
About 14% of kids aged 5 to 11 have gotten a Covid booster since they became eligible in May, according to FCHD data.
The FCHD reports that 85.7% of residents in the Fairfax Health District, which includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church as well as the county, have gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, including:
- 93% of people aged 18 and older
- 99.5% of 16-17 year olds
- 95.9% of 12-15 year olds
- 63.6% of 5-11 year olds
- 18.6% of kids aged 6 months to 4 years old
After an initial surge, vaccine demand has slowed among families with infants and toddlers, a nationwide trend that worries public health experts. While still low, Fairfax County’s rate for that age group is more than twice as high was the national rate of 9%, FCHD Director of Epidemiology and Population Health Dr. Benjamin Schwartz said.
“Despite this higher rate, the health department continues to stress the importance of protecting these young children who can suffer severe COVID-19 and who may bring COVID-19 into a family where it can spread to others who may be vulnerable,” Schwartz said.
Overall, 78.1% of the district’s population, or 924,525 people, are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, including 85.7% of adults. Read More