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A view of the Aug. 21, 2017, total solar eclipse from Madras, Oregon (via NASA/Gopalswamy)

In just three days, the moon will cross right in front of the sun, creating a total solar eclipse that will be visible from more than a dozen states.

Virginia isn’t one of those states, but in Fairfax County, an estimated 87.4% of the sun will still be blocked when the eclipse peaks around 3:20 p.m. — a bigger percentage than the 2017 event, according to the Fairfax County Park Authority.

The prospect of a total solar eclipse that scientists say could be even more exciting than the last one has sparked tourism booms in rural towns and states in the path of totality, which is home to about 31 million people. At least one projection suggests that as many as 3.7 million people will travel to see the total eclipse.

Splurging on a rare celestial event comes with risks, though, as forecasts currently indicate that storms may obscure the eclipse in the central U.S.

County residents who decide to stay local will have plenty of viewing options, including events at county parks, Reston Station and the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly. Students at Daniels Run Elementary School will take an “Eclipse Walk.”

We’re curious about how you’re preparing for the solar eclipse on Monday (April 8). Have you snagged a pair of the glasses needed to safely watch a partial eclipse, or are you opting for a pinhole projector? Is anyone traveling into the path of totality?

Photo via NASA/Gopalswamy

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A rendering of Monumental’s proposed sports arena in Alexandria’s Potomac Yard (courtesy JBG Smith)

State lawmakers punted consideration of a casino in Fairfax County to next year, but that hasn’t stopped some proponents from seeking to assist in the divisive plan to bring the Washington Wizards and Capitals to Northern Virginia, whose odds of a comeback win are looking slim.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Surovell, who represents Fairfax County’s Richmond Highway corridor, recently pitched the idea of bringing both a casino and the sports arena to Tysons to a representative of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns the basketball and hockey teams, the Washington Post reported on Sunday (March 24).

According to the Post, Surovell dropped the idea after Monumental President of External Affairs Monica Dixon “immediately” rejected it, but Christopher Clemente, CEO of the aspiring casino developer Comstock, and Ben Tribbett, a prominent consultant whose clients include Comstock and Surovell, “continued shopping the idea last week.”

The suggestion of combined arena/casino site in Tysons emerged as Monumental’s much-hyped plan to move the teams from D.C. to Alexandria’s Potomac Yard flailed for support. The Virginia General Assembly adjourned on March 9 without including funding for a state authority to finance the $2 billion entertainment district in their budget proposal, and at least one Alexandria City elected official withdrew her endorsement of the project.

Clemente told the Post that a joint development could “enhance financing options for the arena” by using tax revenue generated by the casino to guarantee bonds that would pay for the stadium, but Potomac Yard developer JBG Smith’s CEO, Matt Kelly, noted the deal could be used to evade Virginia’s requirement that casinos get approved by voter referendum.

Like the arena, Fairfax County’s potential casino is envisioned as part of an entertainment district, according to State Sen. Dave Marsden, who sponsored legislation to make the county eligible for a gambling establishment this past session and in 2023.

After vocal opposition from local residents and some officials, though the county board stopped short of taking an official position, a Senate committee voted on Feb. 6 to continue this year’s bill to 2025 to allow for more study and public engagement.

The combined facility proposal appears to be dead on arrival, with Monumental owner Ted Leonsis and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin reportedly expressing “disgust” and “no interest,” respectively. But hypothetically, would you support the Wizards and Capitals calling Fairfax County home? Would it alter your stance on a casino?

Rendering courtesy JBG Smith

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Fairfax Connector buses parked at the West Ox Bus Facility (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

(Updated at 10:30 a.m.) Fairfax Connector is now in its sixth consecutive day without service, as workers continue their strike for better pay, benefits and working conditions.

More than 600 bus drivers and mechanics ceased working last Thursday (Feb. 22) when their union — Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 689 — called for a strike after months of negotiations with Transdev, the private company that operates Fairfax Connector, for a new labor contract to replace one that expired on Nov. 30.

In a press release, the union said yesterday (Monday) that it met with Transdev but didn’t reach an agreement, stating that the company “failed to offer an acceptable deal,” particularly when it comes to retirement contributions.

The Fairfax County Department of Transportation has said Northern Virginia’s largest public bus system can’t resume service until the strike ends, forcing the Connector’s approximately 26,000 daily riders to find alternate travel options. The county has suggested teleworking, carpooling, walking, bicycling or using other transit, such as Metro and Virginia Railway Express (VRE).

County data indicates that most commuters drive to work, as public transportation usage fell during the COVID-19 pandemic, from 10% in 2019 to 5% in 2022. However, Fairfax Connector’s ridership appears to have bounced back last year, exceeding 2019 levels with 774,875 passengers as of June, according to the Northern Virginia Regional Commission’s transit data dashboard.

In addition to workers, the Connector provides a crucial travel option for many students, who can get a free pass if they’re in middle or high school that can also be used for Fairfax City’s CUE bus and, for select schools, Metrobus.

According to ATU Local 689, the next bargaining session isn’t scheduled until March 5, when federal mediators are expected to attend. This strike has already surpassed the last Connector work stoppage, which lasted four days in 2019.

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A tissue box with a mug (via Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash)

(Updated at 12:05 p.m.) Colds are in the air this winter, as a new COVID-19 variant has joined forces with the flu and RSV to produce a particularly challenging respiratory illness season.

Covid-related hospitalization levels remain low in Fairfax County, where 145 patients were admitted in the week that ended on Dec. 30 — a 46% increase from the previous week. But hospital visits and deaths are on the rise in Virginia and nationally, with the U.S. death toll exceeding 1.1 million people since the first case in 2020.

As of Tuesday (Jan. 9), 1,758 people have died from Covid in the Fairfax Health District, which includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, according to the latest Virginia Department of Health data.

The district has had 23 COVID-19 deaths in the past 13 weeks — an increase from previous months, but overall, 2023 saw fewer deaths each month than previous years, according to the Fairfax County Health Department.

“The average age of the individuals who have passed due to COVID in the past 13 weeks is 80 years old and a third of these were associated with a long-term care or skilled nursing facility,” an FCHD spokesperson said. “Although COVID deaths are down from previous years, it does remain a threat in our communities and particularly for older populations with comorbidities.”

Now the most prevalent variant in the country, JN.1 appears to spread more efficiently than other forms of the coronavirus, but the vaccines updated last fall are still effective, though only 17.4% of residents have gotten those shots, the county health department said in an update yesterday.

According to the FCHD, Northern Virginia is experiencing a “very high intensity level” of influenza-like illnesses, which make up 6.7% of all emergency department and urgent care visits, led by young kids 4 and under. Inova reinstated a face mask requirement on Jan. 4 in response to the prevalence of respiratory illness.

The county health department says RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection) activity is decreasing in the Fairfax Health District, but it’s still elevated elsewhere in the country, especially among young kids and older adults.

“If you are at high risk for severe illness from RSV, you should continue to take steps to protect yourself, especially if you are traveling or hosting a visitor,” the FCHD said.

The department is encouraging residents to get vaccinated against Covid and the flu and to take other steps to prevent spreading illness, including wearing a high-quality mask, covering coughs and sneezes and staying home when sick.

Photo via Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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People clinking beer mugs together (via kazuend on Unsplash)

A Reston-based pub was voted as the best place to get a drink in the D.C. area.

A WTOP poll by readers and listeners ranked Makers Union, which is located at 1811 Library Street in Reston Town Center, as the best restaurant to get a drink. The pub beat out hundreds of other bars in the area.

Clyde’s — a chain that has locations throughout the region and is bringing a new one to Reston Station — and Bethesda, Maryland-based Caddies On Cordell came in third and second respectively.

Also named a runner-up for best brunch, Makers Union describes itself as a pub for the people. It has two new locations in the works at The Wharf in D.C. and at Metropolitan Park in Arlington, which are slated to open this summer.

According to its website, the pub uses local ingredients “whenever possible” and showcases destination drinks from local makers.

The poll also ranked restaurants and establishments across several other categories, including best bakery, brunch, burger, coffee shop, international cuisine, seafood and comfort food.

Other chains also ranked high on the lists. For example, Big Buns Damn Good Burger — which has locations in Reston, Herndon, Vienna and Fairfax — was voted as the best burger spot, and Ledo Pizza was named the best pizza spot.

Outside of Reston, Fairfax City’s High Side — an Asian street food restaurant and bar located at 4009 Chain Bridge Road — topped the list for best international cuisine. L’Auberge Chez Francois in Great Falls and Our Mom Eugenia, which has restaurants in Great Falls and Merrifield, also made the top 10 for that list.

Photo via kazuend on Unsplash

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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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Tysons Corner Center remains the biggest and one of the busiest malls in the D.C. area (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Northern Virginia is the place to be if you’re shopping in the D.C. area, a recent poll of local residents found.

A handy 61% of respondents favored Northern Virginia when asked what’s the best place to shop in the region by the Washington Post and George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, which conducted the wide-ranging poll from Feb. 17-27.

In comparison, just 18% of respondents chose suburban Maryland, and 13% chose D.C., with 7% saying they had no opinion, according to results released on Friday (April 7).

Northern Virginia’s dominance in this particular area can likely be traced to Tysons — at least based on a comment by James Hackley, identified by the Post as chief style officer for a clothing store in Takoma Park, Maryland.

In the DMV area, without a doubt, Northern Virginia has the best shopping. The reason? You have the old Tysons and Tysons II. So if you’re looking for the higher-end designer things, that’s where you go. That’s just a known quantity. No one else really competes with that. D.C., they tried to make major inroads with the CityCenter area, but it’s still a nascent being compared to Tysons and Tysons II. Those are big malls. That’s where people go to shop, because if you’re driving in your car, you’re getting an hour to go shopping someplace, you want it to be a destination. You’re not just going to one store. You want to hit a bunch of other stores as well.

Established in 1968 and 1988, respectively, Tysons Corner Center and Tysons Galleria transformed once-rural farmland into a regional retail destination, a reputation that has persisted even as malls decline nationwide and high-profile crime and gun violence incidents leave some skittish.

Touching on topics ranging from Metro to the Washington Commanders, the Post-Schar poll was administered by phone to a random sampling of 1,668 adults in the D.C. area.

While we don’t have the capacity to match that level of scientific rigor, FFXnow is curious how the results line up with your perception of the region. Is Tysons still a go-to place for shopping, or do you have another preference — perhaps even outside Northern Virginia?

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A worker conducts a COVID-19 test for sick visitor at Fairfax County Government Center site (courtesy Fairfax County Health Department)

This month marks the third anniversary of the first Covid case in Fairfax County, and the Board of Supervisors has voted to bring the state of emergency to a close.

The emergency declaration that has been in place since March 17, 2020 officially ends today (Wednesday).

The declaration provided increased flexibility and resources to address public health issues. The county said in a release there will be no direct impact of the declaration ending on the county’s operational responses, which were already scaled back in December.

The county’s relaxed policies on outdoor dining and using speakers for activities will continue until March 2024.

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Casino (image via Kvnga/Unsplash)

A new set of bills before the General Assembly would allow a casino to be built somewhere along the Silver Line corridor, Washington Business Journal first reported.

The casino could be placed somewhere around Tysons, the Reston Town Center or Herndon based on the stipulations of the proposed legislation, which would allow a casino in an urban county with at least 1 million residents.

Legislatively speaking, the casino isn’t a sure bet. It’s got a long way to go before it’s a reality, as it would still need to be approved by the Board of Supervisors and a ballot referendum.

The proposal comes amid a rush of new legislation around gambling, with several types being recently legalized over recent years. New casinos are planned in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Danville and Bristol.

The legislature is also looking at some ways to offer additional support for those suffering from a gambling addiction.

Photo via Kvnga/Unsplash

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The newly constructed I-66 Express Lanes from Gainesville to Centreville will open ahead of schedule (courtesy FAM Construction)

If you’re driving along the highways in Northern Virginia, do you usually hop into an express lane or do you prefer to tough it out in the normal lanes with the rest of the proletariat?

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) announced last week that the new I-66 Express Lanes running from the Beltway down to Centreville are set to fully open today (Tuesday).

“[VDOT and partners] announced today that the westbound direction of the new 66 Express Lanes from I-495 (Capital Beltway) to Route 28 in Centreville remains on schedule to open on or about this Saturday, Nov. 19,” VDOT said in a release. “The eastbound direction of this same 13-mile section of express lanes is expected to open by the end of November and could open as early as next Tuesday, Nov. 22, depending on weather and other factors.”

Along with the expansion, this month marks the 10-year anniversary of the express lanes opened on I-495. Since Express Lanes started being added to the highways around Northern Virginia, they’ve become largely ubiquitous along I-495, I-95 and I-395.

Intended to allow faster travel, the lanes charge vehicles based on demand, which can lead to eye-popping tolls. In two weeks, drivers will need to have at least two passengers to use the I-66 lanes for free, an increase from the current HOV-2 requirement.

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