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The Capital Beltway at Lewinsville Road is hazy and congested (via VDOT)

(Updated at 10:30 a.m.) It’s another day of poor air quality for Fairfax County and the rest of the D.C. area.

As wildfires continue to burn in Canada, the resulting smoke has clouded the East Coast in a sometimes orange-tinted haze of particulate matter. As of 9 a.m., Fairfax was at 313 on the Air Quality Index (AQI) — a Code Maroon for hazardous air that’s even more severe than yesterday’s Code Red.

Today’s AQI appears to be the highest for the D.C. region since records began in 1999, according to Ryan Stauffer, a NASA scientist who studies air pollution.

The highest alert on the official AQI, Maroon is a health warning of emergency conditions that can affect everyone, according to AirNow, which monitors official air quality based on data reported by federal, state and local agencies.

Everyone is advised to limit their exposure to the air pollution by staying inside or limiting the level of exertion required for outdoor activities, Fairfax County says.

Fairfax County Public Schools has canceled all outdoor activities on school grounds for the day, including recess, P.E., sports and after-school programs. The Fairfax County Park Authority has also canceled all outdoor classes, activities and amusements.

“Wildfire smoke is a mix of gases and fine particles from burning trees and plants, buildings, and other material,” the county said in an emergency blog post. “Wildfire smoke can make anyone sick, but people with asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), or heart disease are more likely to experience health effects of smoke. Pregnant women, babies and children are also at risk.”

In a twist, the masks that proliferated during the COVID-19 pandemic have made a comeback as the most effective way to filter particles from air pollution. In New York, which had the world’s worst air quality yesterday, N95 masks are being handed out for free today.

The worst of the pollution is expected to start clearing tomorrow (Friday), when a Code Orange AQI is forecast, but until then, it’s probably best to stay indoors if possible and mask up.

Image via VDOT

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A haze hangs over I-66 in Dunn Loring (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

(Updated at 11:35 a.m.) Smoke drifting south from wildfires in Canada has introduced unhealthy levels of air pollution in the D.C. area.

A Code Red Air Quality Alert has been issued for the entire region, including Fairfax County, signaling that the air is unhealthy for everyone today (Wednesday), according to AirNow.

AirNow collects official air quality data reported by the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other federal, state and local agencies.

Fairfax County is advising residents to limit the time they spend outside, particularly if they’re vulnerable to breathing or lung issues:

People with heart or lung disease, older adults, children, and teens – take any of these steps to reduce your exposure:

  • Avoid strenuous outdoor activities.
  • Keep outdoor activities short.
  • Consider moving physical activities indoors or rescheduling them.
  • Avoid waiting in long drive-thru lines, for example, at coffee shops, fast-food restaurants, or banks- park your car and go inside.
  • Combine trips.

Everyone else – take any of these steps to reduce your exposure:

  • Choose less strenuous activities (like walking instead of running) so you don’t breathe as hard.
  • Avoid waiting in long drive-thru lines, for example, at coffee shops, fast-food restaurants, or banks- park your car and go inside.
  • Re-fuel your vehicle after dark.
  • Shorten the amount of time you are active outdoors.
  • Be active outdoors when air quality is better.

Fairfax County Public Schools has canceled all outdoor activities until 6 p.m. and implemented indoor recess, spokesperson Julie Moult confirmed to FFXnow, adding that all information will be posted to the school system’s website.

Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw noted that, around 10 a.m., the air quality in Fairfax had actually tipped over into very unhealthy Code Purple territory due to the amount of particulate matter in the air, as measured by the EPA’s Air Quality Index, according to AirNow.

A Code Orange was previously anticipated for today, as smoke from wildfires in Quebec blankets the East Coast.

According to AirNow, the Code Red could be extended into tomorrow (Thursday) with a Code Orange forecast for Friday (June 9).

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Fairfax County nurse holds a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine (Staff Photo by Jay Westcott)

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

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Construction continues on the Reston Row neighborhood in Reston Station (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County staff have pared down the draft of Reston’s proposed comprehensive plan from 180 pages to 133.

At a Fairfax County Planning Commission workshop on March 30, staff walked through their amendments to the proposed plan, a process that kicked off more than two years ago with a community-driven task force initiated by Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn.

The task force approved draft recommendations on Aug. 28 after 58 public meetings, significant public feedback and rigorous debate. Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn convened the task force after he took office in 2020.

Overall, staff’s version of the plan avoids policy and prescriptive language in specific areas, particularly land use. It also combines chapters about equity and community health — previously created by the task force as separate chapters — under the umbrella of “new town elements.”

St. Clair Williams, senior planner with the county’s Department of Planning and Development, said the change was intended to avoid language that could clash with current county policies, particularly the county’s One Fairfax policy on equity.

“There were concerns raised regarding new chapters. Was it created new policy or was it something that was exceeding current county policy?” Williams said.

Revising the community health section was challenging due to the lack of a formalized, countywide health policy that the plan could use as a basis, he said.

Hunter Mill District Planning Commissioner John Carter emphasized that staff’s edits are intended to “implement…instead of create new policy.”

“We’ve tried to emphasize the use of active verbs,” Carter said.

A road network near Association Drive was revised by staff in order to allow flexibility in the future. It now highlights that an east-west connection between Soapstone Drive and Association Drive should avoid tree areas.

The county is considering a major site-specific plan amendment (SSPA) that would redevelop the buildings on Association Drive into a mostly residential project.

Braddock District Commissioner Mary Cortina said she hoped that nomination would preserve some of the historic aspects of the site.

Other major land use decisions in Reston’s transit-oriented areas were removed from the plan. Those proposals are currently being pushed through the SSPA process, which includes several redevelopment pitches for major projects in Reston.

The plan also adds additional water retention and quality targets for new development. Other general elements related to air, climate, resiliency and invasive plant species were removed, though the new draft has sections on vegetation and “green buildings.”

Staff also revised language guiding the number of full-size athletic fields in Reston’s TSA, saying that the “equivalent of 12 fields” should be provided.

“Staff had identified some of the challenges with finding sufficient space for full-size fields,” Williams said.

No land use changes for Reston’s golf courses are recommended — a major point of contention in the community.

For affordable housing, the plan ups the bar on requirements for developers on Reston projects.

In Reston’s transit station areas, affordable housing requirements for rental workforce dwelling units (WDU) are higher than surrounding areas. In the TSAs, 12% of units should be set aside as rental WDUs — half of which should target households making between 71 and 80% of the area’s median income.

The countywide policy requires that 8% of rental units in residential developments be set aside as WDUs.

Staff will release their final version of the plan on May 11. Public hearings are slated before the planning commission on June 14 and June 28, with potential action on the latter date. Meetings are tentatively scheduled with the Board of Supervisors this month, though the schedule is subject to change.

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The centers will open locations in Great Falls and Reston (courtesy Serotonin Centers)

A new anti-aging treatment center called Serotonin is opening two locations in Fairfax County.

Seratonin Center, which describes itself as a human longevity treatment franchise, plans to open in Reston and Great Falls.

The company has also identified locations in Sterling and Ashburn. The franchises are operated by Brian Weinstein, a Marine Corps veteran who owns two senior home care franchises.

“Much in the same way that my senior-care businesses exist to improve quality of life, owning multiple Serotonin Centers franchises gives me an opportunity to extend that mission in a different way to a wider demographic of people,” Weinstein said.

While the exact locations have not yet been made public, a company spokesperson tells FFXnow that the site selection process is currently underway in Reston.

The centers offer a tiered-membership model include hormone restoration, aesthetic enhancements, weight management and immunity recovery treatments.

The company kicked in Florida and began franchising in 2021. There are currently 43 new franchise agreements in the works, according to the company.

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A bag of fentanyl pills (via DEA/Flickr)

Fairfax County could be getting more money from opioid settlements, funding that local leaders said is desperately needed to stem a growing crisis.

Opioid Task Force Coordinator Ellen Volo spoke to the Board of Supervisors’ Health and Human Services Committee at a meeting last Tuesday (Feb. 28).

“Across the state, there’s been a shocking increase in overdoses in the last couple of years,” Volo said. “We’ve seen an increase across all ages locally as well.”

Opioid overdose deaths in Fairfax County (image via Fairfax County)

Volo said Fairfax County has seen a concerning increase in youth overdoses. Nearly all of them involved fentanyl.

The report to the Board of Supervisors said fatal and non-fatal overdoses for youth trended higher in 2022 compared to previous years.

Opioid overdoses for teens and children ages 19 and younger (via Fairfax County)

The report also indicated that 6 out of every 10 counterfeit prescription pills in a Drug Enforcement Agency test contained a lethal dose.

Volo said Fairfax County’s focus is on expanding substance abuse treatment facilities.

“The big bucket of work has been enhancing and expanding substance abuse treatment for youth,” Volo said. “When you look at the nation, certainly the region as well, there is a scarcity of appropriate treatment options.”

Volo said a regional, multi-pronged approach is needed to build capacity for substance abuse treatment, but Fairfax County has hit some stumbling blocks along the way.

“It’s been difficult to find providers of detox and residential service,” she said. “We’re working to establish partnerships. It’s ideal to have this capacity in the region and in-house.”

For the opioid settlements, Volo said the situation is “very fluid” in terms of how much money is available, but it’s clear that the funds must be used for abatement purposes.

In the near-term, Fairfax County should apply this spring to the Virginia Opioid Abatement Authority to fund detox and treatment services at a regional level, Volo said. The county should also launch a survey to gather local and regional input on substance abuse treatment services and other opioid resource needs.

In the October 2023 to April 2024 time frame, Volo said the county should undergo an internal process to organize requests for funding to opioid-related projects and an Opioid Settlement Executive Committee will vet the proposed projects.

County leaders said the help can’t come soon enough.

“We lost a 17-year-old student in my community last summer,” Franconia District Supervisor Rodney Lusk said. “We’ve heard consistently [there’s a] need for additional treatment service, for inpatient and outpatient services, but the outpatient ones are critical.”

Photo via DEA/Flickr

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A new vitamin drip therapy business is opening soon in Reston (via Google Maps)

A new vitamin therapy business is coming soon to Reston.

The DRIPBaR, a business that relies on intravenous therapy and boosting cellular health with IV drips, is opening in the Home Depot Center (1675 Reston Parkway), according to Renauld Consulting.

The lease was signed for a 1,000-square-foot space at the center, according to the commercial real estate firm.

Customers who make appointments can select specific “drips,” which take between 20 minutes to one hour to administer.

Options include “lifestyle” drips that reportedly target vitamins and nutrition to cells, “health support” drips that the company says are engineered to help the body heal, and “IM” shots that include full vitamin infusion.

The company also offers other services like botox, red light therapy and hydrafacials. Drips are made to order and not premixed, according to the website.

Dripbar has multiple locations in Virginia, including Charlottesville, Richmond and Virginia Beach. There are also other locations throughout the country.

The company did not return multiple requests for comment from FFXnow.

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A bag of fentanyl pills (via DEA/Flickr)

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.

Fairfax County opioid overdoses, as of Feb. 14, 2023 (via Fairfax County Health Department)

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

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The Fairfax County Government Center (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 11:20 a.m. on 2/8/2023) When March arrives, the COVID-19 pandemic will no longer be an officially declared emergency in Fairfax County.

After honoring individuals and organizations in the community who helped the county respond to the pandemic this weekend, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously today (Tuesday) to terminate the local state of emergency declaration that has been in place since March 17, 2020.

The declaration, which activated the county’s Emergency Operations Plan and allowed increased flexibility and resources to address the public health crisis, will end on March 1.

“This is a milestone,” Chairman Jeff McKay said. “We would not be here without the work of so many people in our county. We recognized our nonprofits, our county staff, really the vigilance of our community during some really difficult times, and so, it’s great that we’re able to do this.”

Fairfax County is possibly the last locality in Northern Virginia to end its emergency declaration. Loudoun CountyPrince WilliamAlexandria, and Arlington all took that step last year.

Keeping the declaration in place gave the county “a lot of flexibility in collecting federal funds and other strategic advantages,” McKay said.

As fears of a surge in Covid cases akin to last winter’s omicron wave have dissipated, the county says that the time is right to end the declaration.

“The Declaration of Local Emergency has been an extremely valuable tool for us throughout the pandemic,” County Executive Bryan Hill said in a statement. “It gave us greater flexibility and authority to purchase supplies, find resources, move to virtual operations and meetings, support the business community, and protect the health and safety of our community. I commend our employees who have done an impressive job of reinventing how we deliver services to Fairfax County residents.”

At this point, the move won’t affect the daily lives of most community members. Since the county’s mass vaccine clinics shut down in December, there will be “no direct impact” on the health department’s approach to Covid.

The Health Department will continue to share important updates and resources concerning COVID-19 on its webpage and social media channels…Vaccines continue to be widely available throughout our community and at Health Department District Offices by appointment. Residents who are unable to access vaccines or boosters may call the Health Department Call Center at 703-267-3511 for assistance.

The end of the declaration is most notable for starting the clock on the county’s relaxed regulations for outdoor dining and other activities, such as the use of speakers during outdoor religious services, to use an example cited by Department of Planning and Development Director Tracy Strunk.

Any businesses with an emergency waiver will be allowed to continue using it until March 1, 2024 — 12 months after the declaration ends.

Strunk said county staff will present options for allowing outdoor dining in parking lots to continue on a universal basis this spring, as requested by the board at a land use policy committee meeting in October.

“I know there are a number of locations in my district where we see more outdoor dining that didn’t have it before — not necessarily right now, but certainly when the weather’s just a little bit warmer,” Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross said. “We need to make sure they all understand what happens and how some of those things will go forward.”

The county’s Covid community level is low, as of Thursday (Feb. 2). The Fairfax Health District, which includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, is currently averaging 119 cases and 4.6 deaths per day for the past week, according to county health department data.

There have been 265,428 Covid cases, 5,307 hospitalizations and 1,775 deaths in the district.

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The baseball diamond at Linway Terrace Park (via Fairfax County Park Authority)

The McLean Citizens Association (MCA) wants Fairfax County to reconsider its embrace of synthetic turf for athletic fields, as a decision nears on whether to replace the grass baseball diamond at Linway Terrace Park (6246 Linway Terrace).

The organization, which represents residents of the greater McLean area, has called for a review of the county’s practices regarding synthetic turf, particularly the potential health and environmental risks posed by crumb rubber — bits of recycled tire commonly used for artificial fields.

Approved by the MCA board of directors at a meeting last Wednesday (Feb. 1), the resolution builds off a February 2018 request that the county test field drainage for possible water contamination and create a citizen task force to explore the issue.

“Looking at the issue anew this year, we learned that concerns about the environmental and health effects related to synthetic turf fields continue to be significant and in some ways have grown,” Barbara Ryan, who chairs MCA’s environmental committee, said.

The Fairfax County Park Authority announced in December that McLean Little League had offered to help fund a conversion of Linway Terrace Park’s baseball field.

Synthetic turf requires less upkeep than natural grass and can be used regardless of weather, McLean Little League board member Bryan Orme told FFXnow at the time, noting that the 10-acre park’s nearby soccer and lacrosse field has been converted.

The Fairfax County Park Authority uses a mix of sand and cryogenic crumb rubber for most of its synthetic turf fields in accordance with a countywide policy last reviewed in 2016, according to FCPA Public Information Officer Ben Boxer.

In response to community concerns about crumb rubber possibly contributing to cancer and other health issues, the county conducted “extensive review” of scientific studies in 2012 and 2015 and data from the Virginia Department of Health, then-county executive Edward Long Jr. said in a May 2016 memo.

The county determined it didn’t need to change the materials in its synthetic fields or reconvene a task force that had been created in 2012.

“No study exists that has shown an elevated health risk from playing on fields with crumb rubber,” Long wrote. “The general conclusion for all the studies reviewed is that health effects are unlikely from exposure to the levels of chemicals found in synthetic turf with crumb rubber infill and that these fields do not pose a serious public health concern.”

However, athletes and health advocates have argued that existing research is limited, prompting the Environmental Protection Agency, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal agencies to launch a joint study in 2016.

While that study is still underway, some localities in the U.S., including Boston, D.C. and Montgomery County, have banned or limited the use of synthetic turf.

Beyond the much-debated possible health risks, MCA said it’s also concerned about the heat generated by synthetic turf fields, their limited lifespans of eight to 10 years, and the impact on the county’s waterways.

“Given the concerns cited above regarding synthetic turf fields, MCA recommends that the Environmental Quality Advisory Council (EQAC) investigate how the county is reviewing the environmental and health risks associated with the county’s current practices related to synthetic turf fields to determine if the county should…revisit its…decision that crumb rubber is an acceptable infill material,” the resolution said.

MCA also urged the county to reconvene its Synthetic Turf Task Force, implement a system to track where and how fields are disposed of, and install enhanced stormwater management at Linway Terrace if the baseball diamond conversion is approved.

Boxer says the park authority’s turf fields are designed to “drain primarily downward and have extensive underground stormwater management practices,” per county code requirements.

As stated at a Jan. 12 community meeting, the FCPA will talk to the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services about potential enhancements, though the focus will be on meeting permitting requirements “and not directed at crumb rubber,” Boxer told FFXnow.

The FCPA is accepting public comments on the Linway Terrace proposal until Sunday (Feb. 12).

As for its overall use of synthetic fields, the county isn’t planning another reevaluation — at least not until that federal study is released.

“At such time as a new EPA or CDC study on crumb rubber use on synthetic turf fields is completed, then based on the results of such Federal level studies, the County as a whole may elect to revisit current synthetic turf practices,” Boxer said.

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