Arlington, VA

Arlington County has been working with a pair of local hotels in an effort to keep vulnerable populations safe during the pandemic.

Arlington’s Dept. of Human Services is currently renting out the Highlander Motel (3336 Wilson Blvd) in Virginia Square, and previously rented the Days Inn along Columbia Pike, to serve as a quarantine location for people with the virus or at high risk of complications.

Both hotels offer modestly-appointed rooms that have individual HVAC units and are accessible via open air walkways. Among those housed in the hotels are low-income and homeless individuals who have nowhere else to go.

ARLnow previously reported in early April that the Highlander was being looked at as an “alternative site” for temporary COVID-related housing.

“In April 2020, Arlington rented two hotels to provide quarantine/isolation space for low-income individuals who were living in overcrowded or congregate settings, and unable to effectively quarantine or isolate,” Dept. of Human Services spokesman Kurt Larrick confirmed to ARLnow last week.

“Individuals served are COVID-19 positive, presumed positive, directly exposed, or at high risk of complications due to health conditions,” Larrick said. “To date, the quarantine/isolation hotels have served 108 individuals.”

Larrick said the Days Inn was rented through June 30, but the Highlander is still being rented by the county.

“At the quarantine/isolation hotel, there are currently 39 individuals being housed, occupying 38 rooms,” Larrick said last week. “Four of these individuals are COVID-19 positive; 5 of these individuals are presumed positive; and the remainder of the individuals (30) are at the Highlander due to their high-risk status.”

Such utilization is considered a best practice for preventing the spread of disease. Other cities and counties have similarly rented hotels for coronavirus-related uses.

The use of the hotels came to light after ARLnow received a series of tips from local residents. Some noted that the Highlander had no vacancy and was booked solid indefinitely — unusual during a pandemic that has hit the hotel industry hard. Others, who live near the hotel, noted a frequent presence of police officers and county employees.

On Friday, July 31, there was a particularly jarring scene: several police vehicles and people in full hazmat suits in the Highlander parking lot.

“There are police there currently in gas masks and hazmat suits,” said a resident who contacted ARLnow. “I live in the area and am concerned that no one has been notified of what’s going on.”

“This is a frequent occurrence,” the resident said of the police presence. “I inquired with the county about what is going on but they told me they could not give me an answer.”

Larrick and a police spokeswoman said what the resident saw on July 31 was a death investigation — one of the hotel occupants died of suspected non-COVID-related natural causes.

“At approximately 9:56 a.m. on July 31, police were dispatched to the report of a possible death,” stated an Arlington County Police Department crime report. “Upon arrival, an adult male was located deceased inside a hotel room. Cause of death will be determined by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Based on the preliminary investigation, the death is not considered suspicious.”

Larrick said that the county is grateful to the owners of the hotels — including Billy Bayne, owner of the Highlander and frequent critic of the county, who “really stepped up and helped” by providing a service that other hotel operators might have shied away from.

“The County truly appreciates how these businesses stepped up in the pandemic crisis to address an emerging community need,” Larrick said. “This space has undoubtedly helped us keep people safe and contain the spread in the community.”

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A lot of local businesses are hurting during the pandemic.

Any business that relies on people congregating inside is having a tough time — restaurants, gyms, events organizers, etc. The economic hardship has hit ancillary businesses as well: dry cleaners, for example, are struggling due to few people going to offices and formal events.

Arlington has fared better so far than some other places. While there have been some business closures, it’s been more a trickle of closures than a flood.

That is partially due to Arlington being an affluent place with plenty of government-connected jobs that come with a steady paycheck even during a recession. But it is also, at least in part, due to Arlingtonians going out of their way to support local businesses.

The popular Arlington Neighbors Helping Each Other Through COVID-19 Facebook group regularly hosts discussions about ways to support locally-owned businesses, for instance, including a “Takeout Tuesday” thread where members say which restaurant they’re ordering from that night.

Making an effort to support more local businesses is certainly laudable, but we wonder whether on balance Arlington residents are spending more or less than they did before the pandemic. After all, you might be ordering more takeout, but perhaps when you used to go out in person you’d spend more on drinks, offsetting any increase.

Take a look at your spending habits and let us know where you stand.

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Morning Notes

One Rescued After Key Bridge Plunge — “DC water rescue Potomac River at Francis Scott Key bridge, 1 in water who may have jumped. Removed from water by Good Samaritan in Private vessel. #DCsBravest on scene and will be transporting a conscious patient.” [Twitter]

ART Bus Service to Increase — “Starting on Sunday, August 23, Arlington Transit will increase bus service. The majority of service will be restored to pre-Covid levels while Arlington Transit continues to take precautions to keep passengers and operators safe.” [Arlington Transit]

I-66 Ramp Closures Starting Tonight — “Overnight ramp closures are scheduled to occur this week on I-66 East in Arlington for asphalt paving as part of the I-66 Eastbound Widening Project. Detours will be posted to direct traffic.” [VDOT]

Yet Another Hot Day — “It’s a hot one! We haven’t been below 70 degrees at Reagan National since June 27th.” [Twitter]

Today: ACPD’s ‘Fill the Cruiser’ Drive — “The Community Resources Section will be collecting donations at drive-thru donation stations on Tuesday, August 11, 2020 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.  at three locations.” [Arlington County]

Nearby: Deadly Crash Sunday — “Two people are dead following a crash in Bailey’s Crossroads, Virginia, early Sunday. Fairfax County police said a single vehicle was involved in the crash, which happened on Carlin Springs Road near Columbia Pike around 1:30 a.m. Sunday.” [WTOP]

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Once upon a time, there was an Arlington restaurant called Buena Vida. It sat on the second floor of 2900 Wilson Blvd, but like many meals once served there, it has been devoured.

Buena Vida has been subsumed into TTT — an abbreviation of Tacos, Tortas and Tequila — the restaurant that inhabits the first floor of the building.

Both dining options have the same ownership and opened together last year. Buena Vida had focused on “traditional, indigenous fare that incorporates recipes that have been handed down through generations,” while TTT on the first floor was fast-casual, serving quick Mexican fare like tacos and and enchiladas. The third floor of the complex is a rooftop bar that was dubbed Buena Vida Social Club.

Now, both the Silver Spring and Arlington locations of Buena Vida are being rebranded to just TTT as part of a focus on the fast-casual option, Bethesda Magazine first reported.

Locally, staff said there was another reason.

“It’s a little misunderstanding with the guests,” an employee at TTT in Clarendon said. “We had three floors and people kept getting confused about that. They’re rebranding to change the whole thing to TTT.”

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Olson Weaver Question & Answer With A Landscape Lighting Designer

We are happy to announce that Olson Weaver Lighting Design & Install will host a landscape lighting related question and answer session to help homeowners/designers/architects and contractors learn more about landscape lighting and solve any existing lighting related problems they might have.

Arlington Public Schools is planning on paying workers whose job cannot be moved to telework through at least the first academic quarter, which ends on November 2.

Superintendent Francisco Durán laid out plans at the July 30 School Board meeting to have bus drivers and attendants, custodians, food service workers and Extended Day staff receive pay and a regular schedule during full-time distance learning.

“We honor and value all of our employees, and to strive and retain them as an excellent workforce during these unprecedented times, I am recommending that we continue to pay these employees throughout the first quarter of the school year… while we assess our long-term needs based on the changing situation and whether or not we return in hybrid,” Durán said in the meeting.

Durán also listed goals for shifting these staff members to different, temporary roles while APS buildings are closed.

New roles could include “providing direct support to connect with students and families regarding access and engagement” and aiding in “virtual social-emotional learning student activities and support,” slides in Durán’s presentation said.

Some Extended Day staff will also provide childcare for teachers and staff at cost in designated school facilities.

Paying these workers is estimated to cost $3,072,000 for the entire first quarter. Bus drivers and attendants are already included in APS’s Fiscal Year 2021 adopted budget, so are costs from Extended Day and food service employees.

Durán said this expense can be mitigated by revenue from the services that staff would provide, as well as from federal funds.

“This cost may be partially reduced for those who may provide childcare and meals,” Durán said. “Fees [for childcare] would cover the cost of staff providing childcare. Revenue and federal reimbursement would cover the cost of the food service staff working to provide meals to students.”

APS is now contacting impacted staff to clarify plans and next steps. Schools have been closed since March 13.

Photo via Arlington Public Schools

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Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

By Cragg Hines

I’m old and fat. That’s two strikes in the era of novel coronavirus.

But that may be far from the worst problem for many seniors in this plague-like period, especially those who are taking seriously the suggested safety precautions, including social distancing or self-quarantine. The pandemic has only sharpened one of the biggest mental — and, yes, physical — issues that confront older Americans. An ABC report cited “the unspoken COVID-19 toll on the elderly: loneliness.”

The pre-COVID-19 answer for some older Arlingtonians was one of the in-person senior programs at a County-run Community Center. But these are on hold because of the pandemic, and at least one was under the knife before coronavirus hit. Under the current budget, the Lee Community and Senior Center, Lee Highway at N. Lexington Street, is already scheduled to close at the end of the year. Programs are slated to be moved to other centers. Who knows, however, what the stringencies of County budget review will mean to the remaining senior centers?

Well before the novel coronavirus emerged late last year, the National Institute on Aging noted that “research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions: high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even death.”

It’s been five months since Susan Kalish, who works in Arlington, has seen her 92-year-old father, Jack Kalish, who is in an assisted living center in the area, although they speak by phone almost daily.

“He lived through WWII and the Depression and he says this is difficult in a totally different way,” his daughter said.

As of early August, he was not allowed to leave his floor nor allowed to eat with friends there, but restrictions will be lightening a touch. Visits can now be reserved ahead, so when we spoke, she had just been tested for the virus so she could get on the approved list. She booked one of the 45-minute visits — outside with masks, no touching, no food.

Kalish said her father is longsuffering but once did ask: “Can you remind me what I did to live in solitary confinement.” She told him that he had voted for the wrong presidential candidate.

Even as segments of society have started, often unadvisedly, to “re-open,” most seniors seem to stick pretty close to home. So the pressure on senior services – including opportunities for socialization – remains acute. Locations for congregate meals – with food and interpersonal contact – are still closed, and requests for popular services such as Meals on Wheels remain at high levels, even given the difficulties now with deliveries.

Lucy Theilheimer, an Arlington resident and chief strategy and impact officer for Meals on Wheels America, described the big jump in demand for food assistance and the need for fast adaptation of delivery models. The daily deliveries Monday-Friday and in-person visits have largely disappeared, replaced with fewer deliveries of frozen and shelf-stable food and a safe wave of the hand instead of a chat. And there has been a consequent decline in “eyes-on” checks on seniors. Daily check-in calls by new volunteers and paid staff have helped fill some of the gap.

Rob Swennes, an Arlington civic volunteer, a retired federal employee, and admitted extrovert, said it takes creativity to remain connected. He and his wife began walking regularly and have expanded their range. Activities like that “mentally engage a person and keep you from feeling lonely.” As a sponsor of non-profit farmers markets in Arlington, Swennes has been happy to see an uptick in attendance, with “a lot of people we’ve never seen before,” including more seniors. Yet Swennes knows not everyone can get out and that inability can lead to loneliness.

Arlington County government is battling this loneliness by offering virtual experiences and programs. The Department of Parks and Recreation, which ran a robust group of in-person activities under the 55+ brand, has launched new virtual programs over Zoom. Segments have included how-to tips, such as “Get Organized While You’re at Home,” and entertainment, such as an “Acoustic Hour Online” with rock n’ roll, ballads, folk and blues.

Arlington’s Aging and Disability Services Division is working to make certain that residents who were taking meals at the Social 60+ cafes are getting meals delivered.

Yet protecting vulnerable older adults against social isolation and further health problems doesn’t seem like a job solely for Arlington County.

Many people have a parent, grandparent or older neighbor whose social connections may have frayed during the pandemic. What can you, your company or organization do to knit our community fabric a little stronger?

Investing our time, resources and innovative ideas can protect a vulnerable population. It also helps build a lasting spirit of community in Arlington, and that seems a worthy endeavor.

Cragg Hines is a longtime journalist and former member of the Arlington County Commission on Aging. Photo via Cragg Hines/Facebook.

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A man allegedly chased a woman down the street and slapped her backside Saturday afternoon in Virginia Square.

The incident happened around 4 p.m., near the intersection of Wilson Blvd and N. Pollard Street. The man fled the scene and is now being sought on potential charges of sexual battery.

More from an ACPD crime report:

SEXUAL BATTERY, 2020-08080135, Wilson Boulevard at N. Pollard Street. At approximately 3:59 p.m. on August 8, police were dispatched to the report of an assault just occurred. Upon arrival, it was determined that approximately 10-15 minutes prior, the victim was walking in the area when the male suspect approached her from behind. The victim began walking in the opposite direction, at which point the suspect began to chase her. The suspect then moved towards the victim and smacked her buttocks, then fled on foot prior to police arrival. The suspect is described as a Black male in his mid 30’s, with a slim build, approximately 5’8″, clean shaven, with an almost buzzed haircut, wearing a brown t-shirt and eyeglasses. The investigation is ongoing.

File photo

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, StartupMonday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. Monday Properties is proudly featuring Shirlington Gateway. Say hello to the new 2800 Shirlington, which recently delivered a brand-new lobby and upgraded fitness center. Experience a prime location and enjoy being steps from Shirlington Village, a large retail hub with a variety of unique restaurants and shopping options. Spec suites with bright open plans and modern finishes are under construction and will deliver soon!

Ballston startup HyperQube recently announced a new batch of funding that will help boost its growth efforts.

The startup specializes in taking a company’s digital infrastructure, cloning it, then throwing every hack and virus imaginable at the clone to see what gets through. Once those weaknesses are found, HyperQube helps companies review, document, and fix their code to be more secure.

HyperQube raised $2.5 million in seed funding, primarily from Leawood Venture Capital, a fairly small Kansas-based investment group that also recently financed Sorcero, a language intelligence startup based out of D.C.

Craig Stevenson, HyperQube’s founder and CEO, said that more companies moving towards working from home as a result of the pandemic will result in an increased necessity to maintain safe and stable online infrastructure.

“With the growing remote workforce necessitating a rush to the cloud, HyperQube is poised to accelerate and manage that process while simultaneously reducing costs and enhancing security,” Stevenson said in a press release.

Beyond cybersecurity, HyperQube’s cloned structures allow companies to test and alter code on their websites safely to see what the results look like without compromising their main website.

The press release said HyperQube plans to use the funding to expand the sales, marketing, and engineering teams.

Photo via HyperCube

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