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Morning Notes

Cherry blossoms on cloudy day in Vienna (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Life Sentences Recommended in McLean Murder Case — “A Fairfax County jury delivered a guilty verdict Monday against a woman accused of killing her own mother and sister in 2017. Megan Hargan, 35, was convicted on two counts of first-degree murder, and two counts of using a firearm in committing a felony.” [WUSA9]

Great Falls Fire Caused by Garage Door Opener — A house fire in the 9900 block of Deer Pond Drive on March 22 was caused by “an electrical event involving wiring to a garage door opener,” Fairfax County Fire and Rescue investigators say. The fire didn’t result in any injuries or displacements, but it caused approximately $87,500 in property damages. [FCFRD]

Dead Fish Near Frost Middle School Under Investigation — “Construction at Frost Middle School in Fairfax may be the cause of a significant fish kill incident that occurred last week in the nearby Long Branch Stream, state officials said…The cause of the fish kill remained under investigation as of 3 p.m. Monday, according to VEDQ’s incident report.” [Patch]

Reston National Developers Propose “Quality of Life” Study — “Reston National Neighborhood Study Group will be examining ‘quality of life’ gaps between north and south Reston and the implications those purported gaps may have on property values…The group plans to finish its study in April and follow it up with a round of community meetings.” [Patch]

Tysons Company Anticipates Eventual Relocation — “Tysons residential and commercial security company Alarm.com Holdings Inc. (NASDAQ: ALRM) expects to continue building its Northern Virginia headcount to the point it will outgrow its nearly 190,000-square-foot facility. That’s after it announced earlier this year the addition of another 180 jobs at its headquarters as part of a $2.6 million investment to grow its research and development operation there.” [Washington Business Journal]

“Manageable” Growth Expected for Region — “Northern Virginia localities should expect moderate levels of jobs growth in the coming two decades, with the metropolitan area as a whole adding perhaps 880,000 new ones by 2045…During that 23-year period, employment is slated to rise 27 percent in both Arlington and Fairfax counties” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

DMV Coming to Reston Tomorrow — “DMV Connect, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles’ mobile service, will be at Reston Community Center Hunters Woods this week: Wednesday, March 30, Thursday, March 31 and Friday, April 1, 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.” [RCC/Twitter]

Learn About Home Buying at Tysons Library — “In the market to buy your first home, #Fairfax? Join us and @kwri McLean Realtor Tom Hanton at our Tysons-Pimmit Regional branch April 5 at 7:30pm to learn how to navigate the process of #homebuying and be prepared emotionally and financially.” [Fairfax County Public Library/Twitter]

It’s Tuesday — Clear throughout the day. High of 43 and low of 21. Sunrise at 6:59 a,m. and sunset at 7:30 p.m. [Weather.gov]

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Fairfax County Public Library eliminated overdue fines, saying they discouraged patrons from returning (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

There have been no headline-making returns of books 50 years overdue, but Fairfax County Public Library is nonetheless seeing some encouraging trends after eliminating fines on Jan. 1.

The library system saw a 2 to 3 percentage point uptick in the amount of materials returned versus checked out in January and February of this year compared to those same months in 2020, according to data shared by FCPL.

This February, patrons returned 314,648 physical materials and checked out 300,836 materials. In February 2020, there were 426,352 returns and 419,642 checkouts. That makes a 3 percentage point difference in the amount of materials returned year over year.

January of both years saw library patrons check out more materials than they returned, with a return rate of 96% in 2020 and 98% this year.

Fairfax County Public Library materials checked out and returned in January and February 2020 and 2022 (courtesy FCPL)

The data only includes physical materials, such as paper books and DVDs, since digital materials like ebooks are automatically returned, FCPL spokesperson Erin Julius noted.

The library offered 2020 as a comparison, because patrons were largely limited to online and curbside pickup services due to the COVID-19 pandemic during the first half of 2021. FCPL didn’t resume indoor services until late March 2021, and capacity limits remained in place until June.

“Of course, [the] last two years have been so unusual for all organizations and people’s habits have changed so much that comparing January and February 2022 to previous years is not apples to apples,” Julius said.

The FCPL Board of Trustees approved its new policy eliminating fines for most overdue materials and resetting already accrued penalties on Dec. 8.

The vote came after a committee created by the board found that fines are ineffective at motivating people to return overdue materials and instead discourage individuals from using library services — a conclusion that has led library systems across the country to scrap late fees.

FCPL does still charge daily late fees for some materials, including Chromebooks and interlibrary loans, and patrons are billed the replacement costs for materials that are more than 35 days past their due date, at which point they’re considered lost.

While the new policy has only been in place for a couple of months, and more detailed data would require reports from vendors, Julius says library patrons have been decidedly supportive of the county’s move away from fines.

“We’ve had really positive responses from library users about our shift away from overdue fines and we thank everyone for continuing to return their library materials promptly so that others may enjoy them,” Julius said.

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For years, Fairfax County officials have conceded that county services in the Kingstowne area are scattered and its facilities small and outdated.

The county hopes that a multi-million-dollar project for a new government campus and library will help shift that narrative.

Construction is expected to begin this summer on the 90,000-square-foot project, which will house the Franconia Governmental Center, the Franconia Police Station, and Kingstowne Regional Library. The building will occupy a county-owned site between Beulah Street, Silver Lake Boulevard, and Interparcel Road.

“The design of the facility is complete, and we are currently in the process of getting bid authorization from the Cap Deputy Director,” said Sharon North, a spokesperson for the county’s Department of Public Works and Environmental Services.

North declined to provide a construction cost estimate because the project has not gone out to bid yet. That will happen in late March or early April.

Expected to be complete by 2024, the project is being funded partly through a $23 million public safety bond from fiscal year 2015 and a library bond referendum in fiscal year 2020.

The campus is expected to be the new home of an Active Adult Center with 7,200 square feet of space — nearly double its current size — and a 10,000-square-foot child care center for infants and preschool.

The Kingstowne Regional Library’s footprint will expand from 15,000 square feet to 30,000 square feet. It will include more space for seating, four group study rooms, a teen zone with a gaming station, and extended hours for public meeting rooms.

Three public meeting rooms are also incorporated in the campus. A 182-space parking garage is planned for the public, along with a 172-space garage for the police station.

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Kanopy promotional image (Image via Kanopy/Twitter)

Fairfax County Public Library now offers access to Kanopy, a subscription on-demand streaming video service.

As of Feb. 1, library patrons can sign up for an account with five play credits per month, allowing users to have access to more than 30,000 films, documentaries and classics.

Kanopy is the first video streaming service tested by FCPL. Others like Hoopla — a library-focused version of popular streaming service Hulu — were simply too costly for the library system to consider, according to FCPL Director Jessica Hudson.

FCPL anticipates that the service will be well utilized by the community. The project was funded partly by money from the American Rescue Plan Act, a $1.9 trillion federal stimulus bill passed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Grant funding for the project is expected to run through the end of September.

“Our goal was to have this for a year and to assess community interest and to go from there,” Hudson said at a FCPL Board of Trustees meeting on Feb. 9.

Kanopy includes access to Arthouse Favorites, British Cinema, the Criterion Collection, the Great Courses, world cinema, Kanopy Kids and short films.

The streaming service is only available through libraries. Most users need a valid public library card number and a password or PIN. Universities also offer access to the service.

In Virginia, a limited number of libraries participate in the service, including Loudoun County. Arlington County offered it through May 18, 2020.

FCPL has an online guide to help patrons interested in setting up an account. Play credits reset on the first of each month, and unused credits from the previous month do not carry over.

Once a user presses play, one play credit is used, and the title expires after three days. But films in The Great Courses and Kanopy Kids do not use up any play credits.

Hudson noted that other streaming services could cost up to $1 million per year — a price tag that is not sustainable for the county. FCPL may consider making the service permanent, depending on utilization and the availability of long-term funding.

“This is a good way for us to test the waters and see how it goes,” she said.

Image via Kanopy

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Fairfax County Public Library has received a new shipment of rapid COVID-19 testing kits, but supplies are extremely limited, even compared to previous rounds of distribution.

Exactly 300 kits each will be available tomorrow (Wednesday) at the county’s Reston, George Mason, Chantilly, and Sherwood regional branches, FCPL announced this morning (Tuesday).

Because of the limited availability, each household will only be allowed to take up to four kits.

This is the first testing kit shipment of the year for Fairfax County as part of the Virginia Department of Health’s ongoing Supporting Testing Access through Community Collaboration pilot program.

FCPL has now gotten 35,862 kits since it joined the program on Dec. 1.

Shipments had stalled over the winter holidays due to government closures and supply-chain issues that have made rapid tests hard to obtain nationwide.

FCPL doesn’t have a timeline right now for its next shipment, advising community members to check its website and call their local branch for up-to-date information on testing availability.

“All we can do is make requests, and VDH fulfills them as they are able,” spokesperson Erin Julius said. “At this time we don’t know when the next will arrive or how many test kits it will contain.”

Demand for Covid testing remains high in Fairfax County, which is currently averaging 2,275 new cases a day. Details about a state-run community testing center coming to the county are expected to be announced this week.

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Library shelves (via Fairfax County Public Library)

(Updated at 2:40 p.m.) Fairfax County Public Library will close on Sundays and Mondays starting this coming Sunday (Jan. 16) through April 1 to deal with a staffing shortage.

Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik said on Twitter this morning (Monday) that the changes were prompted by staffing issues due to the ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases and recruitment challenges.

FCPL confirmed that all of its branches will be closed on Sundays and Mondays for the near-future in a news release:

  • Regional libraries: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays
  • Community libraries: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. on Tuesdays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays
  • Access Services branch located at the Fairfax County Government Center will maintain its usual hours from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays

Libraries will remain open for regular hours Tuesdays through Saturdays.

“The current surge in COVID-19 cases and a high number of vacancies necessitated this change in hours,” FCPL spokesperson Erin Julius confirmed to FFXnow.

Fairfax County is currently averaging 2,168 cases per day, more than at any other point in the pandemic. That’s three times the peak case rate seen last winter, when the library system was still limited to online and curbside pickup services.

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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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Fairfax County Public Library is all out of COVID-19 rapid tests once again.

The library system has received 34,652 test kits since Dec. 1 as part of the Virginia Department of Health’s free testing kit pilot program, but as of 10:30 a.m. today (Tuesday), they have all been distributed.

“We are distributing these tests as part of a partnership with the Virginia Department of Health, which sends us the tests,” FCPL Director Jessica Hudson said. “We know VDH is working hard to distribute tests throughout the state, including to other libraries participating in this pilot program.”

Interest in the take-home test kits has been high since they were introduced in 21 of the county’s public library branches on Dec. 3, when supplies were gone within an hour of their availability.

While FCPL has received thousands of additional kits since then, community members will have to turn to other sources if they want to get tested during the holidays, since it’s unclear when the next shipment will arrive.

“We do hope to get in tests soon after the Christmas holiday but don’t have a firm delivery scheduled yet,” Hudson said.

Fairfax County residents aren’t alone in making a run for COVID-19 tests amid rapidly rising cases, fueled by the more transmissible delta and omicron variants. Arlington County Public Library announced this morning that it was also out of kits and doesn’t anticipate its next shipment coming until next year.

In an emailed statement, VDH attributed the gap in shipments to a combination of increased demand for testing, national supply chain issues, and the upcoming holidays:

Kit availability at a given location is subject to supply. VDH does not guarantee that all participating libraries will always have supply available. Additionally, demand spiked last week, over previous weeks. That along with the holiday and supply chain issues on a national level have impacted supplies. VDH continues to supply test kits to participating libraries; deliveries may be impacted by holiday closures or other factors.

FCPL will be closed this Friday and Saturday (Dec. 24-25) as well as New Year’s Eve and Day.

Pharmacies and COVID-19 testing sites across the country have reported overwhelming demand in recent days, with supplies slow to ramp up after manufacturers decreased production earlier this year. President Joe Biden is expected to announce a federal program today that will mail 500 million free at-home kits next year.

In the Fairfax Health District, testing encounters have climbed from a seven-day moving average of 3,620 on Nov. 28 to 6,075 as of Dec. 17, according to VDH data. Over that same time period, the rate of positive tests has increased from 4.6% to 7.4%.

While the Fairfax County Health Department primarily encourages testing for people who have COVID-19 symptoms or have encountered someone with symptoms or a positive diagnosis, there are a number of available testing sites, including some that provide free or low-cost options and accept individuals who don’t have insurance.

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Fairfax County Public Library branches that serve low-income neighborhoods, including Reston Regional Library, tend to have more cards blocked due to fines

Fairfax County Public Libraries will no longer charge fines for most overdue materials, joining other jurisdictions in the D.C. area in an effort to maintain equity.

The FCPL Board of Trustees unanimously approved the policy in a meeting on Wednesday (Dec. 8). The new system, which begins on Jan. 1, would also reset fines that have already been incurred.

Board of Trustees Chair Fran Millhouser said the policy change is intended to encourage all individuals to take advantage of the library system.

“The FCPL Board of Trustees has approved eliminating fines on most materials and joins surrounding jurisdictions in removing this significant barrier to equitable access to information and library services,” said Millhouser.

The move comes after the board discussed the issue with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in mid-October. An FCPL analysis showed that overdue fines affect young people and individuals in low-income areas.

Blocked cards — cards that are not allowed to check out materials due to fines exceeding $15 — were more prevalent in the following areas:

  • Reston Regional Library
  • City of Fairfax Regional Library
  • George Mason Regional Library
  • Kingstowne Library
  • Sherwood Regional Library

Before the pandemic, 17% of all cardholders had blocked cards. Blocked youth cards accounted for 23% of the total youth cardholder population. A link was found between low-income communities and blocked cards.

Library systems across the country, including in neighboring Alexandria City, Loudoun County, and Prince William County, have adopted fine-free models — a move that has resulted in a surge of returned materials.

Fines will still apply to materials in special collections like interlibrary loan materials, Chromebooks and mobile hotspots.

At the Thursday meeting, board trustee Liz Walker encouraged the library system to further identify what items were still not fine-free. 

But Millhouser noted that a prescriptive approach was not appropriate because the library offers many resources.

“It’s good to leave it open as the library just becomes so diversified… we’re not just a library anymore.”

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A rapid COVID-19 at-home testing kit (via Jernej Furman/Flickr)

Fairfax County Public Library offered at-home COVID-19 test kits to the community for the first time this morning (Friday). An hour later, they were all gone.

The county announced on Monday (Nov. 29) that it would join a pilot program that the Virginia Department of Health launched last month to distribute free COVID-19 tests through participating public libraries.

FCPL received 2,300 BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Card Home Test that were made available at its 13 open community branches and eight regional libraries when they opened at 10 a.m. today.

All of the kits were distributed within the first hour, according to FCPL spokesperson Erin Julius, who says demand was high at all branches.

“The high demand for these test kits this morning indicates a continued need for accessible COVID-19 testing kits in Fairfax County, and FCPL is pleased to help distribute them,” FCPL Director Jessica Hudson said. “Libraries are trusted community hubs and we are glad to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in our community by making testing kits more accessible. We will continue to distribute tests as more are made available to us.”

Julius said the state is sending more test kits that will arrive next week, but she advises residents to call their local branch to ensure their availability before visiting. The library system also asks that anyone with COVID-19 symptoms request a kit using its contactless curbside pickup service.

VDH says the number of test kits distributed to participating localities depends on the size of each library system and feedback about how much interest they expect in the program, along with the general availability of supplies.

“The uptake varies,” VDH spokesperson Cheryl Rodriguez said. “However, some library systems are reporting that distribution has been brisk.”

According to VDH data, COVID-19 testing has been trending upwards in the Fairfax Health District since early November, with a spike seen in the days leading up to Thanksgiving (Nov. 25).

Fairfax County joined the state’s library test kits pilot slightly later than the other participating localities, but the move comes amid rising COVID-19 cases and renewed anxiety over the new omicron variant, which was confirmed in the U.S. for the first time on Wednesday (Dec. 1).

The Fairfax County Health Department said there has been increased demand for testing throughout Virginia recently, and offering free test kits at libraries gives people an alternative when retail supplies have been low.

Rapid COVID-19 tests have been in short supply since this summer after declining testing rates led manufacturers to decrease production. As infections surged again due to the delta variant, the federal government committed over $560 million to help boost the country’s supply.

“During the late summer months and early fall, many states across the country experienced limited access to rapid testing kits, due in part to slower production,” Rodriguez said. “However, production is increasing and more rapid tests should become available.”

Photo via Jernej Furman/Flickr

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