Fairfax County students have already gotten a couple extra days of winter break, thanks to yesterday’s snowstorm, but some community members are calling on Fairfax County Public Schools to extend its closure further, citing concerns about rising COVID-19 cases.

A Change.org petition started over the weekend urges FCPS to utilize some of its built-in snow days to either delay an in-person return in the hopes of mitigating a post-holiday surge or establish an online option for students who would prefer to remain at home.

As of 9 p.m. today (Monday), the petition was nearing 5,000 signatures. Supporters cited fear of the omicron variant’s transmissibility and the challenges with getting tested among their reasons.

FCPS’s designated testing sites have been closed to students the past two days, though the system tentatively expects to open them for staff today (Tuesday). Testing is only required for employees who aren’t vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, a union that represents faculty and non-administrative staff, also argued yesterday that FCPS should extend winter break another week, stating that staff absences and a rush to roll out Virginia’s planned test-to-stay pilot program would create “stress, chaos and inequity.”

“Our biggest concern has always been the health and safety of our students and teachers, we know that there are ways to better communicate and ensure that safety is prioritized,” the FCFT said in a series of tweets.

As acknowledged by the petition writer, FCPS is required by Virginia law to provide in-person instruction, but it could provide a virtual option or go fully remote if it’s deemed necessary to address high COVID-19 transmission levels in a school.

So far, FCPS has maintained that in-person learning is best for students, though a message sent to families on Sunday (Jan. 2) noted that “it is possible that short-term closures of classrooms will be necessary.”

The Fairfax County Parents Association, an organization that grew out of the Open FCPS movement in the summer of 2020, released a statement yesterday urging the school system to keep its commitment to providing in-person learning.

“We cannot let this hysteria lead us to more disruptions, where students in Fairfax County are on their third school year of educational disruption,” the group said. “Exacerbating that disruption only adds to the damage already done to students.”

FCPS reported 759 COVID-19 cases among students, staff, and visitors for the month of December — fewer than the 850 cases seen in September — but with schools closed for winter break, its data hasn’t been updated since Dec. 17.

How do you think FCPS should handle the current COVID-19 surge? Should students have the option to learn remotely, or should they all return in person? Would your comfort level change if testing was required?

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The Fairfax Health District is doing well when it comes to getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

As of yesterday (Monday), 65.5% of residents are fully vaccinated, outpacing the 59.1% national rate, according to Fairfax County Health Department data.

Overall, 74.7% of residents have gotten at least one vaccine dose, including at least 80% of every age group except for 25-34 year olds (78.6%) and 5-11 year olds, who only became eligible in early November.

However, evidence suggests that the immunity provided by the vaccines has started to wane, prompting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to expand eligibility for booster shots to all adults earlier this month.

The vaccines remain effective overall, particularly at preventing severe illness and death, and offer more consistent protection from COVID-19 than the immune response that comes with infection, but recent data indicates their ability to counter infection and mild illness declines over time, according to the CDC.

In addition to reinforcing recipients’ immunity, boosters can also use updated versions of the vaccine tailored to target variants of the coronavirus that have emerged since the primary doses were administered.

While some parts of the world wait for any vaccine access, President Joe Biden and the CDC urged Americans yesterday to get vaccinated if they haven’t already and to seek a booster if they have, as scientists race to learn more about the new omicron variant.

So far, more than 180,000 Fairfax Health District residents have gotten a booster or a third dose, including 51.3% of 75 to 84 year olds, according to the FCHD.

Are you itching to get boosted, or are you more on the skeptical side?

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November is on the horizon, and in Virginia, that means it’s almost time for another Election Day.

This year, voters will determine the Commonwealth’s future for the next four years, casting ballots for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and all 100 seats in the House of Delegates.

In Fairfax County, the ballot also includes a $360 million question about school bonds that, if approved, will fund more than a dozen renovation projects.

Election Day polls aren’t set to open until 6 a.m. Tuesday (Nov. 2), but early voting has been underway since Sept. 17. Though the deadline for mail ballot requests passed on Oct. 22, Fairfax County’s 16 early voting sites will remain open through 5 p.m. Saturday (Oct. 30).

With anyone now allowed to vote absentee without needing an excuse, the county office of elections has reported a strong turnout for in-person early voting so far, including on the first Sunday that it has ever offered early voting. The county has also received 2.5 times more mail ballots than in the last gubernatorial election in 2017.

With polls suggesting a tight race between Terry McAuliffe (D) and Glenn Youngkin (R) for the governor’s seat, have you been motivated to cast your ballot already, or are you waiting for Election Day, which will be a state holiday for a second consecutive year?

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Fairfax County is considering taxing disposable plastic bags (via Takoma Park/Flickr)

The disposable plastic bags that remain ubiquitous at grocery and convenience stores could soon be subject to a five-cent tax in Fairfax County.

Under an ordinance proposed by county staff, the tax would be imposed on grocery, convenience, and drugstore retailers, rather than their customers. There would be some exceptions, including:

  • Plastic bags designed for reuse
  • Bags exclusively used to wrap meat, produce, and other perishable food items to avoid damage or contamination
  • Bags used to carry prescription drugs or dry cleaning
  • Bags sold in packages for garbage or other kinds of waste disposal

Building off of legislation passed by the Virginia General Assembly in April 2020, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted on July 14 to direct staff to draft the ordinance, which would take effect on Jan. 1, 2022 if adopted.

Proponents of the measure on the board argued that imposing a tax will incentivize individuals and retailers to use fewer disposable plastic bags, which generally wind up in landfills or as litter that can be harmful to the environment.

Revenue from the plastic bag tax could be used to fund environmental cleanup programs, education on reducing waste, pollution and litter mitigation programs, and reusable bags for food assistance benefit recipients, according to the state law.

Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, the lone board member to oppose drafting the ordinance, took issue with the idea of introducing a new tax in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Past research also suggests paper bags and reusable cotton bags require more carbon emissions to manufacture than disposable plastic ones, so they need to be reused a lot to be more environmentally friendly.

The timing of the ordinance is important, since the state law lets retailers retain two cents of the imposed tax to offset the cost of changing their operations until Jan. 1, 2023, at which point the discount shrinks to just one cent.

Community members will get their first chance to weigh in on the proposed tax at a public hearing scheduled for the Board of Supervisors’ upcoming meeting on Tuesday (Sept. 14). Speakers can register to deliver testimony in person, by phone or video, or in writing.

Photo via Takoma Park/Flickr

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