Most booster shots against COVID-19 were put on hold over Labor Day weekend, as Fairfax County prepares for newly authorized vaccines designed to target omicron variants of the coronavirus.
Appointments for the updated boosters are expected to be available through the county’s Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS) by tomorrow (Wednesday), the Fairfax County Health Department confirmed to FFXnow.
Known as bivalent vaccines, the new shots from Pfizer and Moderna contain the original strain of COVID-19 as well as a component that can be found in the two most dominant omicron subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5, according to the Food and Drug Administration, which authorized the vaccines on Aug. 31.
As a result, the updated boosters will “provide better protection against COVID-19 caused by the omicron variant,” the FDA said.
However, as part of the new authorization, the emergency use authorizations for the existing Pfizer and Moderna boosters were suspended on Friday (Sept. 2). Both vaccines can still be used for the primary two-dose regimen, and the Pfizer vaccine can be used as a booster for kids aged 5 through 11.
For people 12 and older, though, the county health department ceased administering booster doses at its offices and clinic sites on Friday.
“We had a handful of booster appointments set for the past weekend and our Call Center team contacted these individuals to let them know that they could re-schedule appointments when the bivalent boosters arrived,” FCHD spokesperson Lucy Caldwell said.
The health department has ordered 12,900 Pfizer bivalent vaccines and 8,100 Moderna shots and “plans to begin vaccinating this week,” according to Caldwell.
Pfizer’s vaccine has been authorized for people aged 12 and older, and Moderna’s is for adults 18 and up. Eligibility for the doses begins at least two months after getting the primary vaccinations or the most recent booster.
Appointments for the updated boosters won’t be required, but they are recommended, given the limited initial supply. Shots will eventually become available at private medical offices, pharmacies and other locations in the community.
“We thank everyone for their patience,” Caldwell said. Read More
Put in your final requests for free at-home COVID-19 tests now, because once Labor Day weekend arrives, that will no longer be an option.
The federal government’s offer of free, at-home test kits to all households will be put on hold Friday (Sept. 2) after Congress failed to renew funding for the program, which launched in January during the pandemic’s biggest surge so far.
According to CNN, the government’s remaining stockpile will be reserved for distribution later this year, as cases typically climb as the weather cools, contributing to a severe shortage of testing supplies last winter.
The federal program has gone through three rounds so far, allowing up to 16 test kits per household. The Postal Service had distributed approximately 350 million kits to over 70 million households nationwide and overseas as of mid-May, the White House said at the time.
Since at-home tests aren’t reported, it’s unclear how much of an impact the program’s suspension will have in Fairfax County, but PCR tests have declined since late May. The Fairfax Health District, which includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, is averaging 1,067 testing encounters per day compared to over 6,200 at the peak of demand on Jan. 12, according to Virginia Department of Health data.
As of last Thursday (Aug. 25), 18.3% of PCR tests have come back positive in the past week, down from 22.8% in early August.
The Fairfax County Health Department notes that there will still be options for obtaining both at-home and PCR tests. Private insurers are required to reimburse up to eight at-home tests bought from retail stores or online per month, though that won’t help those without health insurance.
“Vaccination and testing — and staying home when ill — remain important strategies to keeping Fairfax County healthy and minimizing the spread of COVID-19,” the county health department said by email.
Another medical cannabis dispensary is opening this week in Fairfax.
Beyond/Hello will open its second local dispensary at 10521 Fairfax Blvd in the City of Fairfax. The new location will begin serving patients on Wednesday (Aug. 29) at 10 a.m.
Beyond/Hello, owned by Flordia-based Jushi, is one of the only four companies currently allowed to sell cannabis in Virginia. FFXnow first reported the news of the company’s plans in April.
Fairfax County got its first medical cannabis dispensary in late July, with Beyond/Hello opening a site just off of Richmond Highway in Huntington.
The new 10,500-square-foot Fairfax dispensary is located in a former RiteAid. It will feature a licensed pharmacist, 26 patient checkouts, and 45 parking spots with “easy in-and-out access.”
In July, Chief Commercial Director Trent Wolveck told FFXnow that the attraction of this particular spot was its parking and proximity to the highway. Jushi CEO and founder Jim Cacioppo noted in a press release that the closeness to George Mason University was a selling point as well:
Known for its hallmark landscaped and leafy street medians, Fairfax is recognized by Forbes as one of the top places to live in the nation. Beyond Hello™ Fairfax is in a prime location, located in close proximity to George Mason University, a host of shopping centers and independently owned retail shops in the heart of Northern Virginia, and nestled in the suburban expanse of the Washington, D.C. metro region. We are very excited to serve patients in this region and deliver a retail experience that exceeds expectations.
A new state law that took effect July 1 makes it easier for Virginia residents to purchase medical cannabis, removing a requirement that patients register with the state. Now, patients just need written certification from a licensed practitioner. The law passed this year with bipartisan support.
Passed earlier this year with bipartisan support, the law is expected to encourage more residents to obtain their medical cannabis certification and greatly expand the industry.
However, retail sales of cannabis remain illegal after another bill failed in the General Assembly. As of now, cannabis retail sales won’t be allowed in Virginia until Jan. 1, 2024.
Meanwhile, Beyond/Hello is continuing its expansion in Northern Virginia. A location in Clarendon is expected to open by the end of the year, with a Woodbridge dispensary starting to serve patients in early 2023.
The Fairfax location will be Beyond/Hello’s fourth dispensary in Northern Virginia, joining ones in Huntington, Manassas and Sterling. The company also has dispensaries in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Pennsylvania.
(Updated at 4:10 p.m.) More monkeypox cases have been reported in the Fairfax Health District than anywhere else in Virginia, as officials grapple with a national outbreak of the disease.
The district, which includes Fairfax County and the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, has now seen 58 cases, as of Friday (Aug. 19), according to Virginia Department of Health data. That’s more than any region in the state other than Northern Virginia, which has 163 confirmed or probable cases overall.
All but two of the state’s monkeypox patients so far have been men. The median age is 32, and Black individuals account for the most cases at 92, or 37%, though cases have been recorded for every race and ethnicity.
While not on the level of COVID-19, the continued spread of the smallpox-like disease since Virginia reported its first case of the outbreak in late May has prompted some changes in how state and local health officials have responded.
Most recently, the Fairfax County Health Department introduced an online vaccine interest form on Wednesday (Aug. 17) that residents can fill out to determine their eligibility and potentially get in line for a vaccine appointment.
As of Friday, more than 300 people have submitted the survey, FCHD told FFXnow. Since the outbreak began, the department has administered 1,485 vaccinations, with partner organizations delivering another 171 doses.
“So far, the online screening form has been well received by people and has helped streamline the process,” FCHD spokesperson Lucy Caldwell said by email.
People can also see if they’re eligible for vaccination by contacting the department’s call center at 703-267-3511 between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m.
According to Caldwell, the county has increased the availability of appointments by adding more clinic days at the Fairfax County and South County government centers, including a clinic on Saturdays at the former site.
While those remain the only sites for vaccinations, appointments can be made in person at the county’s health district offices during regular business hours.
With supplies still limited, the vaccine is only recommended right now for:
- People with a known exposure to someone with monkeypox (VDH updated its guidance to include this category today)
- People 18 and older who have sex with men and have had more than one or anonymous sexual partners within the past 14 days
- Sex workers
- Staff or patrons of establishments where sexual activity occurs, such as bathhouses and sex clubs
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that the vaccine be given within four days of when a person is exposed to the disease to prevent them from contracting it.
FCHD says it is preparing to administer smaller doses of the approved JYNNEOS vaccine, “which will stretch vaccine supply several-fold while maintaining a good immune response and vaccine safety,” as authorized by the Food and Drug Administration on Aug. 9.
Nationwide, there have been 14,115 monkeypox cases in the ongoing outbreak, with more than 1,000 each reported in New York, California, Florida, Georgia and Texas.
Graph via CDC
Fairfax County’s COVID-19 community level has dropped from “medium” to “low,” as anticipated based on a steady decline in case numbers over the past month.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed the county’s community level with its weekly update on Thursday (Aug. 11), as its case rate of 187.71 cases per 100,000 residents dipped below the 200 mark for the first time since early May.
However, with an estimated 94 new COVID-19 patients admitted last week, the county is seeing 8.4 new admissions per 100,000 residents, and 5.2% of staffed, inpatient beds are being used by people with the disease. While those numbers have stayed in “low” range since the CDC revised its metrics, hospitalizations have been steadily rising since April.
“The Fairfax County Health District is now listed as ‘low’ community level — which is good news — and we are grateful to our community for continuing to take precautions to get us to this level,” the Fairfax County Health Department said by email. “However, as viruses mutate and change, it would not be unusual for the community level to fluctuate.”
With 195 new cases reported today (Monday), the Fairfax Health District is averaging 288.1 cases per day for the past week, continuing a decline that extends back to July 14, according to Virginia Department of Health data.
The district’s testing positivity rate has also taken a downward turn in the past week, dipping from a summer high of 22.8% on Aug. 4 to 19.6%, as of Aug. 11.
The district, which includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, has now totaled 232,235 Covid cases, 4,857 hospitalizations, and 1,592 deaths during the pandemic. Fourteen of those deaths were recorded in the past week — an average of two per day.
The shift in Fairfax County’s community level comes as the state and county health departments reassess their testing, isolation and quarantine guidelines in the wake of the CDC changing its guidance on Thursday. Read More
In the Fairfax Health District, COVID-19 cases are on the decline, and vaccinations have continued to rise.
At least one Covid vaccine dose has been administered to 85% of all residents in the district, which includes Fairfax County and the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, according to the Fairfax County Health Department’s data dashboard.
That amounts to 1,005,887 residents, including:
- 92.8% of people aged 18 and older
- 99% of 16-17 year olds
- 95.4% of 12-15 year olds
- 61.8% of 5-11 year olds
- 12% of kids aged 4 months through 4 years
The district has 914,421 fully vaccinated residents, or 77.3%, including 85.2% of adults. Booster rates have ticked up slightly since last week, with over 10% of kids aged 5 to 11 years old having now gotten an additional dose.
Though the test positivity rate has soared to 23.1%, meaning that nearly one out of every four PCR tests is coming back positive, the overall number of cases reported in the Fairfax Health District has dropped from an average of over 455 cases per day on July 14 to 317 cases today (Monday).
That remains roughly twice as high as the case levels seen last August, when a surge tied to the then-dominant delta variant prompted local health officials to revive guidance that everyone wear face masks indoors.
Still, if the current downward trend in cases holds, Fairfax County could potentially soon see its COVID-19 community level drop from “medium,” where it has been since early May.
As of this past Thursday (Aug. 4), the county is seeing 206.36 cases per 100,000 residents. If that drops below 200 cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would rank its community level as “low” based on its rates of new COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 residents (6.6) and staffed inpatient beds used by Covid patients (4.9%).
There were an estimated 79 new hospital admissions of county residents with COVID-19 through last Wednesday (Aug. 3), a 12.7% decline from the previous seven days, per the CDC.
The Fairfax Health District has recorded 230,218 Covid cases, 4,824 hospitalizations, and 1,578 deaths during the pandemic.
After staying level in the early summer, COVID-19 cases have been on a more decisive downward trend since mid-July in the Fairfax Health District, which includes Fairfax County and the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church.
The 231 new cases reported today (Monday) are the fewest to come in on a single day since just 169 cases were added on May 2, according to Virginia Department of Health data.
More tellingly, the district’s seven-day average has declined from 455.3 cases on July 14 to 354.4 cases today. The last time the weekly average was in the mid-300s was early May, when cases were surging with the arrival of new omicron subvariants.
Even with overall cases dropping, though, hospitalizations have been on an upward trajectory since the spring.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which continues to classify Fairfax County’s community level as “medium,” an estimated 90 county residents were admitted to a hospital with confirmed COVID-19 from July 20-27 — a 26.6% increase from the previous seven days.
Those individuals are occupying 5.2% of staffed, inpatient hospital beds and 3.6% of intensive care unit beds.
In addition, roughly one out of every five PCR tests are still coming back positive for Covid, with the Fairfax Health District reported a 20.3% positivity rate, as of Thursday (July 28). After plummeting in June, testing encounters in the district plateaued in July, hovering between 1,400 and 1,650 tests on average.
Overall, the district has recorded 227,999 Covid cases, 4,792 hospitalizations, and 1,565 deaths during the pandemic.
Vaccinations have incrementally but steadily climbed since late March, according to the Fairfax County Health Department’s dashboard, which shows that 1,004,414 district residents — or 84.9% — have now received at least one dose.
- 92.8% of people 18 and older
- 99.1% of 16-17 year olds
- 95.3% of 12-15 year olds
- 61.6% of 5-11 year olds
- 11% of kids aged 6 months to 4 years
The district has 913,243 residents who are now fully vaccinated, which is 77.2% of the population, including 85.2% of adults.
The highest percentage of booster shots has been among residents aged 65 to 84, more than 70% of whom have gotten the additional doses. All age groups under 55 years old are still below 50%.
Fairfax County’s first medical cannabis dispensary is opening today (Wednesday) in Huntington.
There will be an official ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by local lawmakers on Aug. 4, a company spokesperson told FFXnow.
The company will also open a store in Fairfax City at 10521 Fairfax Blvd, likely in September. Another one in Arlington is due later this year, and there are plans for a Woodbridge dispensary in 2023.
Beyond/Hello is owned by Flordia-based Jushi and is one of four companies currently permitted to sell cannabis in Virginia. The company is legally allowed to operate six dispensaries in Northern Virginia.
The Huntington dispensary moved into the former home of Great American Steak & Buffet Company, which appears to have closed in 2020. The store is 9,600 square feet and has more than 50 parking spots.
It’s also just south of Alexandria, as Jushi CEO Jim Cacioppo highlighted in a press release:
We’re thrilled to open up our new dispensary in Alexandria — a town famous for its nationally recognized landmarks, rich history, vibrant arts, pristine waterfront and charming restaurants and boutiques. Beyond Hello Alexandria captures the best of our thinking and combines our digital and physical retail experiences with the flexibility and convenience of our express checkout services. In addition, Beyond Hello Alexandria is strategically positioned near the ‘Beltway’ with easy highway access, and is conveniently located within a 15-minute drive to approximately 400,000 people.
While retail sales of cannabis remain illegal in Virginia, the medical cannabis industry is expected to explode in the coming months after a new state law went into effect July 1, removing the need for patients to register with the Commonwealth. Now, patients just need a certification from a licensed medical practitioner to make a purchase.
Already, Beyond/Hello officials say they are seeing a significant increase in patient sign-ups in July compared to last month.
“Since the patient registration process requirement has been removed, the Company has seen a 2.3x increase in patient sign-ups in the first three weeks of July as compared to the entire month of June,” the press release said.
As of last Tuesday (July 19), there have been 11 cases reported in Virginia, including two in the state’s northern region, the Virginia Department of Health said. Eight of the cases have been tied to exposure to live poultry, and one resulted in a hospitalization.
It’s unclear whether either of the Northern Virginia cases occurred in Fairfax County, since the data typically isn’t released on a local or county level, according to the Fairfax County Health Department.
For the three cases not linked to poultry exposure, VDH says it’s unsure how the illness was contracted.
“Those cases could be either lost to follow-up (unable to contact them for interview/investigation) or we have not received their exposure information from the local health district that conducted the investigation for that case,” wrote Kelsey Holloman, who manages VDH’s Foodborne Disease Epidemiology program.
Overall, the U.S. poultry salmonella outbreak has led to 92 hospitalizations and two deaths. It has been more than a month since the last recorded case on June 22, though the CDC says the actual case numbers are likely higher since many people recover without medical care and don’t get tested.
Caused by a bacteria that lives in the intestines of people and animals, salmonella can be spread through contact with contaminated food or drink as well as infected animals and their environment. The most common symptoms are diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps.
While most people recover without treatment in four to seven days, the illness can be more severe for young children, adults over 65, and immunocompromised individuals, according to the CDC.
Per VDH, tips for avoiding infection include:
- Always wash your hands with soap and water after touching live poultry/backyard flocks, their eggs, or anything in the area where they live and roam.
- Keep backyard flocks and flock supplies outside.
- Do not let young children (under 5) handle backyard flocks, including chicks and ducklings
Earlier this year, salmonella outbreak tied to Jif peanut butter led to 21 total cases in 17 states, including four hospitalizations, VDH says. The CDC closed its investigation into that outbreak earlier in July.
The CDC estimates salmonella cause about 1.35 million illnesses, 26,500 hospitalizations, and 420 deaths in the U.S. annually.
Photo via James Wainscoat/Unsplash
More than 1 million residents of the Fairfax Health District have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
The milestone in the roughly 19-month-long vaccination campaign came within the past week, according to the Fairfax County Health Department, which puts the current count at 1,001,144 people, or 84.6% of the population. The health district encompasses Fairfax County and the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church.
The breakdown by age group is as follows:
- 92.7% of people 18 and older
- 98.9% of 16-17 year olds
- 95.1% of 12-15 year olds
- 61.1% of 5-11 year olds
The dashboard doesn’t list a percentage for kids under 5, who became eligible for the shots last month.
As of today (Monday), 910,685 district residents are fully vaccinated — 76.9% of the population, including 85.1% of adults.
The Virginia Department of Health reports slightly higher vaccination numbers, showing that 1,004,820 residents in Fairfax County alone have gotten at least one dose.
“We get our vaccination coverage data from the VA Immunization Information System (VIIS),” a county health department spokesperson told FFXnow by email. “VDH gets additional data on Fairfax County residents who receive their vaccination in other states and therefore don’t have the data included in VIIS.”
For the sake of consistency, FFXnow has generally reported vaccination data from the county, which provides information for the whole district and for more specific age groups.
COVID-19 cases in the district continue to stay fairly steady, with no clear indication of a coming surge or decline.
With 236 new cases reported today, the district is averaging 423.3 cases per day for the past week, per VDH data. The seven-day average has hovered between 370 and 455 cases since June 10.
The district’s testing positivity rate is still elevated at 21% — up from the 16.1% recorded on June 18.
Reporting 270.06 cases and 6.3 new hospital admissions per 100,000 residents, Fairfax County is still seeing a “medium” level of COVID-19 in the community, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 4.2% of staffed, inpatient hospital beds are currently being used by patients with the disease.
As of last Wednesday (July 13), the county saw an estimated 72 people admitted to a hospital for COVID-19 in the preceding week, a 16.7% increase from the previous seven days.
In total, there have been 222,694 COVID-19 cases, 4,730 hospitalizations, and 1,553 deaths among Fairfax Health District residents since the pandemic spread to the area in March 2020.