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Arlington dropping Covid emergency declaration as cases hold steady

Covid cases in Arlington as of 7/21/22 (via Virginia Dept. of Health)

The news this morning brought a good reminder that Covid is very much still circulating.

President Biden has tested positive for the virus and is receiving antiviral treatment and has “very mild” symptoms, the White House said. Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) was among those wishing the president well.

In Arlington, meanwhile, the average number of daily Covid infections has remained remarkably steady over the past month, in contrast to the ups and downs of the past 2+ years.

As of today the county is seeing a seven-day moving average of 124 cases per day. Weekly Covid-related hospital admissions are up slightly from earlier this month, from 5.9 to 6.3 weekly admissions per 100,000 residents, according to CDC data.

Arlington’s test positivity rate is still above 20% — it’s 20.7% as of this morning — amid continued low rates of PCR-based testing, according to Virginia Dept. of Health data.

Covid test positivity rate in Arlington as of 7/21/22 (via Virginia Dept. of Health)

Covid might not be going away any time soon, but Arlington County’s Local Emergency Declaration, made in response to the pandemic, is.

The declaration is being sunsetted as of Aug. 15, County Manager Mark Schwartz announced at Tuesday’s County Board meeting. That will mean a return to more in-person county commission meetings and a need for County Board action to allow expanded outdoor restaurant seating areas past February 2023.

Schwartz declared a local emergency on March 13, 2020. It was approved by the Board the next day.

More from a county press release:

County Manager Mark Schwartz announced the end of the Local Emergency Declaration on Aug. 15, 2022. The declaration was established to assist in the response and recovery efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The declaration allowed the County to shift to virtual operations, including online permitting, appointments, remote inspections, County Board and Commission meetings, as well as public comment.

A few highlights as the County moves beyond the local emergency declaration:

Virtual and Hybrid Commission and Advisory Board Meetings

A new Virginia Electronics Meeting Policy goes into effect September 1, 2022, that will offer additional flexibility for hosting virtual and hybrid meetings. This new policy offers most of our Commission and Advisory Boards the option to conduct an all-virtual meeting two times (or 25 percent of all meetings) annually and allows for remote participation for the public and individual Commission Members on exception.

Temporary Outdoor Seating Areas (TOSAs) for Outdoor Dining

During the pandemic, the County stood up TOSAs as an emergency response to indoor dining restrictions and to provide an expedited process for new or expanded outdoor seating at restaurants. Many people have enjoyed outdoor dining with family, friends, and colleagues and these provisions have been critical to restaurant owners for business operations during this time.

Even with the ending of the state of emergency, the TOSA permissions continue under the Continuity of Government Ordinance for another six months through February 2023. Over the next six months, the County will be working to create longer-term solutions that apply the lessons learned from TOSAs to permanent zoning regulations for outdoor seating. The County Manager will provide an update to the County Board in November.

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