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
Vaccines designed to combat omicron subvariants of COVID-19 are now available in Fairfax County for everyone 6 months and older.
The Fairfax County Health Department has obtained updated or bivalent vaccines for kids 6 months to 5 years old after federal health officials approved the shots to that age group last week.
The shots became available to people 12 and older in August, and eligibility expanded to kids 5 to 11 years old in October.
“The updated vaccines provide protection from both the original virus strain as well as the more recently circulating Omicron variant,” the FCHD said. “Getting the updated booster dose is important because protection decreases over time and as the virus changes.”
Time is running out, though, to get shots from the county’s mass Covid vaccine clinics. As announced last month, the clinic at the Hyland South County Center administered its last dose yesterday (Wednesday), and the Fairfax County Government Center clinic will close at 3:45 p.m. on Saturday (Dec. 17).
The county will still distribute Covid vaccines, but after Saturday, those seeking an appointment at one of the health department’s district offices must contact their call center at 703-324-7404. Other options for getting a shot can be found at vaccines.gov.
Kids under 5 can get the bivalent vaccine as either a booster if they’ve gotten the Moderna vaccine or the third dose in their “primary series” of Pfizer vaccinations.
“Children 6 months-4 years who already completed their three-dose primary series with the original Pfizer vaccine are not eligible for an updated booster dose at this time,” the department said. “The data to support giving an updated bivalent booster dose to these children are expected in January.”
It’s now been almost two years since the county received its first Covid vaccine shipment. In that time, more than 2.8 million doses have been administered to residents of the Fairfax Health District, which also includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church.
Over 1 million residents — 85.9% of the population — have gotten at least one dose, including:
- 93% of people 18 and older
- 99% of 16-17 year olds
- 95.6% of 12-15 year olds
- 64% of 5-11 year olds
However, just 21.9% of kids under 5 have received a dose, per FCHD data. While the vaccines don’t provide complete protection against contracting Covid, they lower the risk of serious illness, hospitalization, and both short and long-term complications from the disease, health officials say. Read More
The Fairfax Health District saw an uptick in COVID-19 cases in Thanksgiving’s wake, a reminder that the coronavirus hasn’t disappeared even if the face masks and other health protocols aimed at limiting its spread mostly have.
The district, which includes Fairfax County and the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church, is averaging 238 cases per day for the past week, as of yesterday, according to Virginia Department of Health data.
Cases remain far below previous winters or even the surge seen in late May fueled by omicron subvariants, but there has been an increase since Nov. 19 after a plateau through most of the fall. This is the first time the weekly average has exceeded 200 cases since Sept. 15.
In addition, the district is averaging 1.7 deaths per day from Covid. During the pandemic, it has reported 251,405 cases, 5,149 hospitalizations and 1,702 deaths.
Though past years suggest cold weather exacerbates Covid transmission, Fairfax County is set to close its mass vaccine clinics and mobile testing sites next week.
Citing “low demand,” the Fairfax County Health Department confirmed Friday (Dec. 2) that the startup Curative will stop operating in the county after Thursday, Dec. 15, as first reported by DCist. The partnership launched in July, bringing Curative’s vans with no-cost PCR tests to six locations in the community.
With rapid at-home testing more widely available now, albeit not necessarily for free, residents can find Covid testing options using VDH’s online search tool, calling health care providers directly or contacting the Fairfax County Call Center at 703-324-7404.
“Call takers will discuss their individual situation and what options may work best for them, which could include an appointment at one of the Health Department’s District Offices,” an FCHD spokesperson said. “We also continue to work on establishing additional options for distribution of rapid COVID-19 tests with our community partners. Many testing options are available in the community and the Health Department remains committed to helping residents find an option that works for them.”
According to its website, the county health department offers testing for individuals who have Covid symptoms, lack access to testing options in the community, are identified as close contacts, or have returned from traveling outside the country.
The county will also close its vaccine clinics at the South County Government Center on Wednesday, Dec. 14 and the Fairfax County Government Center on Saturday, Dec. 17. The operating hours for both sites have been reduced since early November. Read More
(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) While the wave of COVID-19 cases seen over the past two winters hasn’t yet materialized this year, increased reports of other respiratory illnesses have local hospitals and health officials bracing for a particularly tough cold season.
Fairfax County and other Northern Virginia public health leaders are urging community members “to maintain their vigilance” and help prevent the spread of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which are both surging earlier than usual.
“This is especially important because as temperatures cool, we spend more time indoors with others, and may travel to gather with friends and family for celebrations who are at increased risk of severe complications from infection,” the Northern Virginia Regional Commission (NVRC) said in a news release yesterday.
Inova activated its emergency plan to handle a surge in patients last month. The health care provider resumed normal operations on Nov. 8, but said “volumes continue to be high across the health system, particularly in pediatric services.”
HCA Healthcare, which owns Reston Hospital Center and Tysons Emergency, said its facilities in the area have also seen an increase in flu and RSV cases.
“We have been able to manage this increase in volume. We are increasing our staff and streamlining our processes in anticipation of a challenging winter season,” Reston Hospital Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Carnell Cooper said.
Flu season is here
The Fairfax County Health Department confirmed that both flu and RSV cases have been rising locally.
“There is an increasing trend in visits to emergency departments and urgent care centers for influenza-like illness and laboratory results of confirmatory tests, and we have investigated a higher number of outbreaks than expected for this time of year,” the FCHD told FFXnow.
Virginia is seeing a very high level of activity for influenza-like illnesses (ILL), as of the week that ended Nov. 5, according to the Virginia Department of Health. The rating by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is based on outpatient visits to health care providers for respiratory illness involving a cough or sore throat and fever.
Per VDH, 9% of emergency department and urgent care center visits in the state are ILL-related, with kids 4 and younger making up 21.4% of visits — continuing a trend that health officials fear signals a worse flu season than in recent years, according to the NVRC.
While no deaths have been reported, Virginia has recorded 5,997 infections and 58 outbreaks so far this flu season, which started in mid-October and typically peaks between December and February.
“While it is unclear what exactly is driving this earlier increase in ILI activity from previous years, based on recent flu season reporting from the Southern Hemisphere, we anticipated this early peak to our own flu season,” the FCHD said.
County health officials recommends annual flu vaccinations for everyone 6 months and older. Shots are available from the county by appointment and at pharmacies, doctor’s offices and other locations in the community.
What to know about RSV
In addition to the disproportionate number of flu infections, young kids are getting hit hard by RSV, a common virus that produces usually mild, cold-like symptoms but “can be very dangerous for babies, young children or those who are immunocompromised,” the NVRC says.
“Emergency department and urgent care visits with diagnosed RSV have been increasing rapidly since early September,” the commission said. Read More
The days of getting COVID-19 vaccinations at the Fairfax County and South County government centers are numbered.
The mass vaccine clinics will reduce operations from five to three days per week, starting Monday (Nov. 7), the Fairfax County Health Department announced last week.
Local health workers and volunteers have been administering doses at those sites since early 2021, but large-scale clinics are being phased out now that shots are “widely available at pharmacies, urgent care centers and medical providers throughout the community,” the FCHD noted.
In addition, 1,016,466 Fairfax Health District residents, or 85.9%, have gotten at least one dose, including 93.2% of people 18 and older, according to FCHD data. 926,024 residents, or 78.2%, are fully vaccinated, including 85.8% of adults.
“In keeping with the federal and state levels strategy to transition vaccine efforts away from government and into community providers, the FCHD has worked with community providers to ensure robust availability of vaccine in our community,” spokesperson Lucy Caldwell said. “As there are fewer unvaccinated residents, and greater availability of vaccines in the community, FCHD can now demobilize its large dispensing sites.”
The reduction in hours will precede scheduled permanent closures of the Fairfax County Government Center site on Saturday, Dec. 17, and the Hyland South County Center site on Wednesday, Dec. 14.
For the next month, the new schedule will be:
Hyland South County Center (8350 Richmond Highway)
- Mondays: walk-in hours from noon-5:45 p.m., appointments from 11:30 a.m.-6:15 p.m.
- Tuesdays and Wednesdays: walk-in hours from 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., appointments from 9 a.m.-3:45 p.m.
Fairfax County Government Center (12000 Government Center Parkway)
- Thursdays: walk-in hours from noon-5:45 p.m., appointments from 11:30 a.m.-6:15 p.m.
- Fridays and Saturdays: walk-in hours from 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., appointments from 9 a.m.-3:45 p.m.
Schedule changes can also be expected during upcoming holidays, with the South County clinic closing on Tuesday (Nov. 8) for Election Day and the main county government center’s clinic closing on Veterans’ Day (Nov. 11) and over Thanksgiving (Nov. 24-26).
Since December 2020, more than 2.6 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been given in the Fairfax Health District, which also includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church.
Fairfax County is still seeing a low level of Covid in the community, as measured by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with the district averaging 146.7 cases per day for the past week.
However, the county health department urges everyone to get their initial and booster shots, if eligible, before the winter months and holiday gatherings arrive, since in the past, cases have surged as the weather cools. Notably, the Fairfax Health District is seeing a weekly average of two deaths per day from the coronavirus, according to the Virginia Department of Health.
“Even if you or your child or family member has had COVID, vaccination is still strongly encouraged as it provides added protection against the virus that causes COVID-19,” FCHD said. “Vaccination is one clear way to provide everyone, six months and older, with increased protection from severe illness.”
Options for getting a Covid vaccination can be found at vaccines.org. FCHD will also still offer vaccines to its clients at its district offices.
In total, the district has reported 246,298 cases, 5,065 hospitalizations, and 1,683 deaths during the pandemic.
(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) Booster COVID-19 vaccinations for kids aged 5 to 11 were put on hold late last week, as the Fairfax County Health Department transitions to updated vaccines that target omicron variants of the disease.
Federal health officials expanded their recommendation for the bivalent booster vaccines to include that younger age group on Wednesday (Oct. 12), saying the updated shots will provide better protection against “more transmissible and immune-evading” variants.
The bivalent boosters were authorized for people 12 and older at the end of August. The county health department says it has seen “a mild demand” for the vaccine since it became available in September.
“Typically, there is a surge when additional eligibility is updated, but the situation cools after a couple of weeks. That is typical of this update as well,” FCHD spokesperson Lucy Caldwell said. “We have no issues with vaccine supply and it is widely available throughout the community, pharmacies, medical providers, and our County sites, at this time.”
The authorization for the previous Pfizer booster shots for kids 5 to 11 ended on Oct. 12, so the health department stopped administering boosters for that age group until the new ones arrive.
The bivalent boosters will be available for kids at the Fairfax County Government Center and South County Hyland Center vaccine clinics starting tomorrow (Tuesday). Appointments are encouraged, but walk-ins are also allowed.
About 14% of kids aged 5 to 11 have gotten a Covid booster since they became eligible in May, according to FCHD data.
The FCHD reports that 85.7% of residents in the Fairfax Health District, which includes the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church as well as the county, have gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, including:
- 93% of people aged 18 and older
- 99.5% of 16-17 year olds
- 95.9% of 12-15 year olds
- 63.6% of 5-11 year olds
- 18.6% of kids aged 6 months to 4 years old
After an initial surge, vaccine demand has slowed among families with infants and toddlers, a nationwide trend that worries public health experts. While still low, Fairfax County’s rate for that age group is more than twice as high was the national rate of 9%, FCHD Director of Epidemiology and Population Health Dr. Benjamin Schwartz said.
“Despite this higher rate, the health department continues to stress the importance of protecting these young children who can suffer severe COVID-19 and who may bring COVID-19 into a family where it can spread to others who may be vulnerable,” Schwartz said.
Overall, 78.1% of the district’s population, or 924,525 people, are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, including 85.7% of adults. Read More
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
(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
County Offers New Covid Vaccine — “Starting this week, adults 18 years of age and older who have never received a COVID-19 vaccine and are interested in getting one, can now make an appointment for the recently authorized Novavax COVID-19 Vaccine, Adjuvanted. Due to limited availability, Novavax will only be offered by appointment only.” [Fairfax County Health Department]
Teen Takes Stand in Springfield Murder Trial — “A teenager on trial in the killings of two Fairfax County high school students took the stand Tuesday and said he was defending a friend when he opened fire inside a Springfield, Virginia, home last year…Ersheen Elaiaiser, 17, was shot twice in the chest and 16-year-old Calvin Van Pelt was shot once in the back at a home in the 8000 block of Winding Way Court, prosecutors said. Both teens died.” [NBC4]
Detective Testifies in Tysons Shooting Case — “A detective told the Fairfax County court that Noah Settles, 22, of Southeast D.C., fired three times inside the crowded mall on June 18, over Father’s Day weekend. The shooting caused scared shoppers to run for exits and hide inside the mall. The mall was temporarily closed by authorities.” [NBC4]
Chicken Restaurant Coming to Annandale — “O’my ChiQ & Bar is expected to open in late September at 7023 Columbia Pike in Annandale. A patio is under construction. The restaurant will specialize in rotisserie, grilled, and barbecue chicken and barbecue ribs, says the future manager, who now works at Omy Hot Pot on Annandale Road.” [Annandale Today]
Firefighter Rescues Stuck Kitten — “Kitten stuck in a storm drain? No problem for the crew of Engine 409, Mount Vernon, B-Shift! Probationary Firefighter James Gupton made the grab to get kitty to safety! @FairfaxCountyPD Animal Protection took the kitten to @fairfaxanimals for eventual adoption.” [FCFRD/Twitter]
Fairfax Speed Cameras Will Be Back Monday — “Speed enforcement cameras have been installed in SCHOOL ZONES on Old Lee Highway, Route 236/Main Street, and Jermantown Road, near the city’s four schools and two Fairfax County schools (Woodson High School and Frost Middle School).” [City of Fairfax Police Department/Facebook]
Community Center and Day Care Workers Needed — “The Fairfax County Department of Neighborhood & Community Services is hosting an Open Hire Event on Wednesday, August 31 to fill multiple Activity Facilitator and SACC Day Care Teacher positions located at various community centers and SACC program sites…The event takes place August 31 from 5-7 p.m. at the Pennino Building.” [NCS]
Family-Owned Fairfax Restaurant Gets Notice — The winners of WTOP’s Top 10 contest are pretty Arlington and Maryland-centric, but Captain Pell’s Fairfax Crabhouse on Fairfax Blvd managed a runner-up mention in the “Best Seafood” category. Other local restaurants are featured further down the lists, which were determined by the news outlet’s readers and listeners. [WTOP]
It’s Wednesday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 81 and low of 65. Sunrise at 6:26 am and sunset at 8:02 pm. [Weather.gov]
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