Closed sign (via Tim Mossholder/Unsplash)

As the holidays approach, here are a number of closures to keep in mind in the area.

Fairfax County Government offices officially close at noon tomorrow through Friday. Offices will also be closed on Friday, Dec. 31 for the New Year’s holiday. But some facilities are open and schedules may differ.

All library branches will be open from 10 a.m. to noon on Christmas Eve, but will remain closed on Friday, Saturday, Dec. 31, and New Year’s Day.  Fairfax County Public Schools are closed through Jan. 3. The school system is encouraging the school community to reach out to address mental health concerns.

The Fairfax Connector will operate on Saturday service schedules tomorrow and Friday.

The county’s Circuit Court will be closed on Thursday and Friday, along with Dec. 30 and 31.

Residents should contact their trash and recycling collection for service changes due to the holidays.

All recreation centers operated by the Fairfax County Park Authority are open tomorrow from 5 a.m. to noon, but closed on Christmas Day. The George Washington Recreation Center, however, will be closed both days.

All county parks and recreation facilities will be closed on Christmas.

Vaccination clinics at the Fairfax County and South County Government Centers will remain closed from tomorrow through Dec. 26, as will the county’s COVID-19 call center.

The Tysons Community Vaccination Center will be closed from tomorrow through Dec. 27 and from Dec. 31 through Jan 2. Between the 28th and 29th, the center will be open from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Dec. 30.

Public health officials are also encouraging residents to maintain social distancing measures in order to minimize hospitalizations during the winter surge of cases.

Photo via Tim Mossholder/Unsplash

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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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With Thanksgiving on the horizon, many local entities and organizations will be closed.

Fairfax County government offices and Fairfax County Public Schools will be closed for Thanksgiving (Thursday, Nov. 25) and Black Friday (Nov. 26). County libraries are also closed both days.

Fairfax County Circuit Court, General District Court, and Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court close at noon today (Wednesday) through Friday.

The Fairfax County Animal Shelter is open for services by appointment only. For emergencies, contact Animal Protection Police at 703-691-2131.

All Department of Motor Vehicle service centers will be closed from Nov. 25 through Nov. 27.

While the Fairfax Connector has regular service today, riders can expect Sunday service on Thursday and holiday weekday service on Friday. More details on specific routes are available online.

Metrorail and Metrobus will also operate on a Sunday school tomorrow and offer week day service on Friday.

All recreation centers will open Thursday from 5 a.m. to noon with the exception of George Washington Recreation Center. All centers reopen on Friday.

The Fairfax County Government Center and South County Government Center vaccine clinic and the Tysons Community Vaccination center will be closed Thursday through Sunday for Thanksgiving. More locations are available online.

For trash and recycling collection, residents should contact their trash and recycling collector directly for any schedule changes due to the holiday.

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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

After a slight delay, Fairfax County Public Library has come to the same realization as dozens of other library systems in the D.C. area and across the country: that fining patrons for overdue materials doesn’t work.

The library’s Board of Trustees got informal but clear support from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors at a joint meeting yesterday (Tuesday) to stop FCPL’s practice of charging late fees for unreturned books, DVDs, and other resources.

The trustees must still officially vote to eliminate library fines, but if that happens in November or December as anticipated, the new fine-free policy will take effect on Jan. 1, 2022, FCPL Director Jessica Hudson told the Board of Supervisors, noting that people will still be expected to pay back the cost of lost or damaged items.

“I have not heard anyone on this board that doesn’t wholeheartedly support [the fine-free strategy],” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “So, [I] look forward to the library board moving forward with that, and being able to accomplish that would be, I think, a big win for all our users.”

Fines Affect Library Access

Inspired by the One Fairfax policy, which commits the county to considering racial and social equity in its policies and decision-making, the FCPL Board of Trustees started exploring the idea of eliminating fines with the creation of an ad hoc committee in April.

Tasked with reviewing trends and determining the effectiveness of fines, the committee found that fines are not only futile at incentivizing the timely return of materials, but instead, actually discourage people from returning overdue items and utilizing library services.

“If you have a book checked out, and it’s a month late, and you know that you’ve got fines accrued on it, it doesn’t really make you want to run into the library and quickly turn it in and pay your fine,” Hudson said. “Instead, it acts as a punitive measure that ensures that some members of our population are never going to come back to the library.”

The committee recommended that FCPL eliminate fines at a Board of Trustees meeting on July 14, citing the policy’s ineffectiveness, its disproportionate impact on youth and low-income communities, and declining revenue from fines in a statement that the board accepted on Sept. 8.

According to the committee, 17% of the approximately 420,000 library cardholders that FCPL had prior to the pandemic — including 23% of cardholders younger than 18 — had their cards blocked because their accounts carried more than $15 in outstanding fines.

The number of blocked cards correlated closely with neighborhood income, with low-income areas served by the Reston, City of Fairfax, George Mason, Kingstowne, and Sherwood regional libraries having particularly high rates, according to Hudson. Read More

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