Arlington, VA

Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Francisco Durán announced return-to-school dates Tuesday afternoon, nearly 11 months since schools first closed at the outset of the pandemic.

Students will start trickling into their buildings by grade level on Tuesday, March 2. By Tuesday, March 16, all students who have chosen to be in-person will be able to go to school twice a week, either Tuesdays and Wednesdays or Thursdays and Fridays.

Teachers and staff, who have been re-entering their classrooms in phases since last week, will return one week before students, Durán said. This month, APS will end or scale back the programs currently providing some students with limited in-classroom instructional supports.

“I am encouraged by recent improvements in the health metrics, with case positivity rates and other indicators currently decreasing in Arlington and neighboring communities,” Durán told APS families via email. “Over the past two weeks, staff have returned to our buildings to prepare for the upcoming transition and to further strengthen our mitigation efforts.”

The superintendent was set to announce these dates during next week’s School Board meeting, but his plan changed last week, in response to a press conference in which Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam urged school systems to reopen by March 15.

More than half of APS staff members have received a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to date, according to Durán, with new appointments being added “all the time.” Staff who received the vaccine in mid-January are now scheduling their second dose appointments, he added.

Durán said families will be receiving further communication from APS regarding in-person days, the instructional model, transportation and any changes to teachers or classroom assignments.

He urged the school community to be “vigilant and work together,” after a year marked by protests and counter-protests over the ongoing closure of Arlington schools. Some APS families and many teachers have opposed the reopening of schools until more vaccinations could be administered.

“Our ability to continue moving ahead depends on all of us wearing masks, staying home when sick, and following all the other mitigation strategies recommended by Public Health to reduce the spread of the virus,” Durán said.

Durán added that he will share more information at the Feb. 18 School Board meeting.

The back-to-school scheduled announced today is below.

March 2-5:

  • PreK-2nd grade students
  • All students enrolled in Countywide Elementary Special Education Programs (PreK-5th grade – mini MIPA, MIPA, Life Skills, Communications and Deaf and Hard of Hearing – in person four days a week, Tues-Fri)
  • Elementary students enrolled in Interlude

March 9-12:

  • 3rd-5th grade students
  • 6th and 9th grade students
  • All students enrolled in Countywide Secondary Special Education Programs (6th-12th grade – MIPA, Life Skills, Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Shriver Program – in person four days a week, Tues-Fri)
  • Secondary students enrolled in Interlude and PEP program

March 16-19:

  • 7th-8th grade students
  • 10th-12th grade students

Special programs will end or be scaled back on the following days:

  • Friday, Feb. 19: five-day instructional learning supports for identified students at four elementary schools will switch to Mondays only.
  • Friday, Feb. 19: the seven meal drop-off locations that are not school-based will cease operating.
  • Friday, Feb. 26: the “work space” program for secondary students will stop running.

Image via APS/Twitter

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Amazon has unveiled plans for the PenPlace site in the second phase of its $2.5 billion HQ2 in Pentagon City, including a lush office building shaped like a double helix.

The company will build 2.8 million square feet of office space across three 22-story buildings, an amenity building with a community gathering space and daycare center, and three retail pavilions. The focal point will be The Helix: a 350-foot tall spiraling office building that recreates a climb in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

PenPlace will also have three acres of open space with a dog run and a 250-seat amphitheater, for public use.

Amazon will start filing designs and technical documents with Arlington County Tuesday morning, Amazon spokesperson Adam Sedó said during a call with journalists on Monday.

The tech giant aims to go before the Arlington County Board by the end of 2021, with construction starting in 2022 and ending in 2025, said John Schoettler, Amazon Vice President Global Real Estate and Facilities, during the call. He affirmed that so far, HQ2 remains on-schedule.

PenPlace is bounded by Army Navy Drive, S. Fern Street, 12th Street S. and S. Eads Street. Amazon owns the entire block after it bought a hotel on the site in September. The hotel is currently being torn down.

Schoettler said Arlington County has given Amazon more flexibility for this phase than for the first phase of development on the Metropolitan Park site, which includes two, 22-story concrete office buildings, retail and open space.

“The County Board told us for PenPlace, we really want you to push the envelope,” he said. “It really gave us a clean canvas to try new things.”

The Helix will be the highlight of the site and the tallest building, said Lead Architect Dale Alberda, who works for the international architecture firm NBBJ and helped to design The Spheres within the company’s Seattle headquarters. Throughout PenPlace, he said, the designs keep employees, who will number 25,000 across HQ2, close to nature and the community.

“Amazon has been challenging us to think about how people can connect to nature not just outside when the weather is good, but inside as well, so that it’s available all day, all the time,” Alberda said.

Schoettler said Amazon is also working hard to use sustainable energy. As part of its goal of LEED Platinum certifications — and to meet its pledge to be carbon neutral by 2040 — the buildings will be powered by a solar farm in southern Virginia.

The headquarters will feature one-quarter mile of new protected bike lanes and more than 950 onsite bike spaces as well as below-ground parking for about 2,100 cars and underground loading zones for trucks. There will also be a new bus platform on 12th Street S. near the main entrance to PenPlace.

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A widespread power outage is currently affecting parts of Arlington.

More than 3,500 Dominion customers were without power in the county as of 9:30 p.m. Affected neighborhoods include Ballston, Bluemont, Buckingham, Ashton Heights and Lyon Park, according to the power company’s outage map.

Residents near those neighborhoods might have seen their power flicker around 9 p.m.

The outage happened after a driver in a Toyota Prius slammed into a utility pole in the Buckingham area. On social media, the Arlington County Fire Department said it is “unknown” when power will be restored.

Update at 10:15 p.m. — Power has been restored to most customers, but about 500 in the Buckingham area, near the crash, remain in the dark.

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Police are releasing new photos, video and information in the year-old unsolved murder of a 24-year-old man in a Ballston apartment.

Scott Ratigan was founded bloodied and unresponsive in his bedroom, at the AVA Ballston Square apartment building (850 N. Randolph Street), around 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 17, 2020. Police now say he suffered “trauma to the upper body.”

ARLnow reported at the time that the 911 caller — now identified as a relative of Ratigan — reported a strong smell of bleach in the apartment. Police now say that “evidence recovered at the scene indicates the suspect(s) attempted to clean the crime scene prior to fleeing the residence.”

Today, ahead of the one-year anniversary of the crime, Arlington County police also released video and three surveillance images of a “person of interest” — seen leaving the area while wearing a mask, before that became commonplace during the pandemic.

“The individual is described as a White male, approximately 5’6″ – 5’8″ tall, weighing 150 – 175 lbs, dressed in all black, carrying a black backpack and walking with his feet turned inward, often referred to as a pigeon-toed gait,” ACPD said. “Detectives would like to identify and speak with this individual.”

Several months ago, an ARLnow reporter observed detectives holding large poles in the courtyard between the apartment building and Wilson Blvd, perhaps in an effort to ascertain the person’s height. Until this morning’s press release, police have steadfastly declined to divulge additional details about the case in response to numerous inquiries from ARLnow.

The Ratigan family is offering a $25,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest and conviction in the murder case.

The full ACPD press release and additional surveillance images are below.

The Arlington County Police Department’s Homicide/Robbery Unit is seeking the public’s assistance identifying a person of interest captured in surveillance video as they continue to investigate the circumstances that led to the death of 24-year-old Scott Ratigan one year ago. The Ratigan family has established a reward fund of $25,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction of the suspect(s) involved in Scott’s homicide.

At approximately 5:29 p.m. on January 17, 2020, police were dispatched to the 800 block of N. Randolph Street for the report of cardiac arrest. Upon arrival, it was determined a relative of the victim entered his bedroom after becoming concerned he had not recently been heard from. The adult male victim was located inside his bedroom suffering from trauma to the upper body and was pronounced deceased on scene by medics. An autopsy by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled the death a homicide. Evidence recovered at the scene indicates the suspect(s) attempted to clean the crime scene prior to fleeing the residence.

Surveillance video recovered from an exterior camera shows a person of interest leaving the area around the suspected time of the homicide. The individual is described as a White male, approximately 5’6″ – 5’8″ tall, weighing 150 – 175 lbs, dressed in all black, carrying a black backpack and walking with his feet turned inward, often referred to as a pigeon-toed gait. Detectives would like to identify and speak with this individual.

To date, detectives have conducted an intensive investigation into this incident including collecting information, analyzing crime scene evidence, speaking with witnesses and canvasing the area near the crime scene. Detectives continue to actively follow investigative leads in this case but believe there is someone, somewhere with information that will allow us to solve this case and seek justice on behalf of the Ratigan family. If you have information in this case, no matter how insignificant you may feel it is, we implore you to come forward and speak with detectives.

Anyone with information related to this incident is asked to contact the Arlington County Police Department’s Homicide/Robbery Unit at 703-228-4180 or [email protected]

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(Updated at 10:25 p.m.) Gov. Ralph Northam has declared a 6 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew in Arlington and Alexandria.

The governor says that there will be “limited exceptions” to the curfew. He has also declared a State of Emergency. The curfew matches that declared by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser amid chaos at the U.S. Capitol.

In a statement, Arlington County reiterated that during the curfew “it is illegal for any person to be present in any street, park, or other public place, unless an exception applies.” Those exceptions include “persons traveling to and from home, work, or places of worship; government, emergency services, and hospital personnel; members of the news media; and persons seeking emergency services. “

“Violation of the curfew order is a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in jail, a fine of up to $2,500, or both,” the statement said.

All was quiet in portions of Arlington’s Metro corridors seen by ARLnow reporters after 6 p.m. In Rosslyn, a group of men gathered at the Marine Corps War Memorial dispersed as night fell. No crowds could be seen in Ballston, Crystal City and Pentagon City, though a few individuals were walking around, perhaps unaware of the curfew that had gone into effect less than an hour prior.

A few pro-Trump supporters, sporting MAGA hats, were seen on the street clutching bags of take-out in Crystal City.

The curfew has prompted some businesses to close early. Among them is District Taco, which is closing its Arlington and Alexandria at 8 p.m. A Safeway spokesperson retracted an earlier statement that Arlington stores were closing early.

Several Arlington County offices will be closed on Thursday, the county announced Wednesday night.

“In the interest of public safety and to allow law enforcement officers to continue a visible presence in the community, Arlington County and the City of Falls Church Circuit Court, General District Court, and Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court will be closed on Thursday, January 7, 2021,” the county said.

More police and fire department resources, meanwhile, have been heading from Arlington into D.C., including several Arlington medic units and a convoy of Virginia State Police cruisers.

Earlier, the County Board convened a closed meeting at 4:45 p.m. today (Wednesday) to discuss “the events that have occurred” in D.C.

The meeting was closed so that the Board can consult “with the County Attorney concerning authority of the County Board to protect public safety by restricting the assembly of persons and movement of people, and discussions to protect public safety as it relates to potential terrorist activity,” said newly-elected Chair Matt de Ferranti said.

Also on the video conference were Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz, Alexandria City Manager Mark Jinks, and Arlington-Falls Church Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti.

“Folks, please stay safe,” de Ferranti said at the conclusion of the closed meeting. “We anticipate that within the coming minutes to the next half hour, we will be coming forth with a County statement with respect to this evening. So, stay home, stay safe, take care of yourselves and take care of each other.”

After the curfew was issued, Dehghani-Tafti issued a statement via social media.

“Our overarching goal is to keep the community safe,” she wrote. “And, while we respect the right to peacefully assemble and protest, Arlington will not tolerate violence or disorder in our community. These are difficult and stressful times, in which we all need to play our part in maintaining calm. We have much work to do when we get through this, and we have the fortitude to do it.”

Jo DeVoe, Jay Westcott and Matt Blitz contributed to this report.

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(Updated at 5:05 p.m.) Arlington ambulances have been ordered to avoid transporting patients to hospitals in the District, amid ongoing chaos around the U.S. Capitol.

The broadcast went out on Arlington County Fire Department channels just before 3 p.m.

ARLnow is hearing that additional Arlington police officers are heading to D.C., perhaps as well as officers from other law enforcement agencies. Video shows and at least one witness reports numerous emergency vehicles heading into the District.

As of 3:25 p.m., a convoy of more than dozen Arlington police and fire department vehicles — some unmarked — could be seen heading down Washington Blvd in Clarendon.

Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Ashley Savage declined to provide additional information about deployments today, beyond confirming her earlier statement that ACPD is assisting D.C. police under a mutual aid agreement.

“ACPD does not provide tactical information such as the number of officers deployed,” Savage said. “There has been no change to the deployment of officers to D.C. under the mutual aid agreement with the Metropolitan Police Department.”

The District has instituted a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew. Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz, via a spokeswoman, said Arlington has no plans for a curfew.

Just before 3:30 p.m., Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said members of the Virginia National Guard and Virginia State Troopers will be sent to D.C., at the request of Mayor Muriel Bowser. Maryland’s National Guard is also being deployed.

Arlington’s congressman, Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), tweeted just after 4 p.m. that he is “in a safe location” on Capitol Hill.

Businesses, including Safeway (in the District but not in Arlington or elsewhere) and the Arlington Community Federal Credit Union, are closing early due to the violence in the District. Metrorail service is ending early, at 8 p.m., while Metrobus and ART bus service is ending at 9 p.m., per the transit agencies.

As of 5 p.m., the Arlington County Board was discussing a possible response to security threats in closed session.

More via social media:

File photo (top). Matt Blitz contributed to this report.

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(Updated at 2:55 p.m.) Goodbye Ruby Tuesday, Microsoft is going to hang its name on 1300 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn.

The tech giant announced today that it has signed a lease to establish a new sales hub at the Arlington office building, which formerly housed the chain restaurant on the ground floor. Last month the County Board voted to allow the former Ruby Tuesday space to be used for office purposes, in anticipation of “a sizeable office tenant.”

In a LinkedIn post, Microsoft said its new hub at 1300 Wilson Blvd, also known as Commonwealth Tower, would “become the new home of our regional Global Sales and Marketing Organization teams, and the Microsoft Sales Headquarters Office for the [D.C.] area”

The office is expected to open in mid-2022, after a construction project set to kick off this summer. The office brings Microsoft closer to a major customer: the Pentagon, which awarded the company a $10 billion cloud computing contract in 2019.

Microsoft will occupy more than 180,000 square feet of space in the 15-story, 360,000 square foot building, a source told the Washington Business Journal after the announcement.

It’s the latest D.C. area move for the Redmond, Washington-based company. In May, Microsoft announced that it would be creating 1,500 jobs at a new research and development hub at Reston Town Center.

The full LinkedIn post is below.

With Microsoft’s growing presence in the Washington, D.C. area, today we signed a new lease at 1300 Wilson Blvd in Arlington, VA. This will become the new home of our regional Global Sales and Marketing Organization teams, and the Microsoft Sales Headquarters Office for the DMV (Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia) area. My U.S. Regulated Industries team, including our Microsoft Federal organization, will operate out of this new facility.

These new offices will feature a Microsoft Technology Center, state-of-the-art customer facilities, and innovative employee workspaces to support collaboration and innovation. It is built to help us engage with customers more personally, using our latest technologies to help them reimagine the digital transformation efforts of their organizations and agencies.

From the facility to the location itself, everything about this project was planned with our customers in mind, creating a proximity that enables us to support their evolving needs. Additionally, this move unites our teams in the mid-Atlantic region, fostering a communal atmosphere that can inspire us to do our absolute best work.

While we are all navigating the remote work environment, securing this space is an exciting step that maps to current needs around our growing presence, and ensures that when we transition back to the workplace, we can do so as seamlessly as possible. Construction on the site will begin this summer and we look forward to opening it to employees in mid-2022.

I am excited about the potential that this new DMV Sales Headquarters enables for our growth in the region, our ability to create more meaningful customer engagements, and the opportunity to provide modernized workplaces for our teams.

Photo via Microsoft

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(Updated at noon) Both Arlington and Virginia as a whole reached fresh one-day and trailing seven-day peaks for new coronavirus cases today.

In Arlington this morning, a record 98 new cases were reported, bringing the trailing seven-day average to its eighth consecutive daily record: 68 daily cases, or 476 cases over the past week.

The county’s test positivity rate is currently 7.1%, and an average of 773 tests are being performed per day; the latter is also a record. The cumulative total of reported COVID-19 cases in Arlington during the course of the pandemic is now 5,856.

It’s a similar story regionally.

“The number of new COVID-19 cases in the Fairfax and Loudoun health districts is officially surging, according to new analysis from the University of Virginia, and the Northern Virginia region’s overall caseload is at its highest level since it peaked May 31,” InsideNova reported on Sunday. Case averages are also at a new high in Montgomery County, Maryland, Bethesda Magazine reports.

Throughout Virginia, 3,242 new cases were reported today, according to Virginia Dept. of Health data, bringing the trailing seven-day average of new daily cases to 2,343. The state’s test positivity rate is 7.2%.

VDH noted that Monday’s case counts are higher “in part due to a catch-up from the VDH data system being down for upgrades for a few hours over the weekend.”

Despite the surge in cases locally, hospitalization and fatality figures for Arlington, as reported by VDH, remain relatively low. One new hospitalization and one new COVID-related death were reported overnight. Only eight hospitalizations have been reported in the county over the past week.

Nationally, however, coronavirus hospitalizations have “reached new record highs every day since Nov. 10,” Axios reports.

There is more positive vaccine news this morning, but that doesn’t mean that the pandemic will end and life will get back to normal in the near term. In his weekly public Facebook post, Virginia Hospital Center ER chief Mike Silverman suggested that the second half of 2021 might be when to expect a return to normal.

“Although vaccines will roll out in the near future, it will take until summer of 2021 before the last cohort (young, healthy people) are able to get vaccinated,” Silverman wrote. “This means mask wearing and COVID restrictions well into next year. But I think the light at the end of the tunnel could be school starting next fall and life returning to normal. We’re 9 months in with likely another 9 or 10 to go, but at least we now know the end point.”

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Update at 2:20 p.m. — Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy has directed Arlington National Cemetery to host the Wreaths Across America event this year, despite the worsening pandemic, per a tweet Tuesday afternoon. McCarthy said the event will be held safely, but it was not immediately clear how.

Update at 3:50 p.m. — President Trump now says that he reversed the decision to cancel the annual holiday wreath event this year.

Earlier: The annual holiday wreath-laying event at Arlington National Cemetery has been cancelled this year due to the pandemic.

“Due to the current COVID-19 situation across the nation and within the [National Capital Region], it is with great regret that ANC is cancelling Wreaths Across America,” the cemetery said in a tweet Monday night.

The average daily case rate hit a new all-time high in Arlington and across Virginia today. Nationwide, the number of people hospitalized due to COVID-19 reached a new peak today.

The wreath event attracts tens of thousand of volunteers, who lay wreaths at the cemetery’s hundreds of thousands of graves a week or two before Christmas. More crowds of volunteers then help to “retire” the wreaths after the holiday.

In a press release, below, the cemetery’s Executive Director said that officials “did not make this decision lightly.”

Due to the current COVID-19 situation across the nation and within the National Capital Region, it is with great regret that Arlington National Cemetery is canceling Wreaths Across America at Arlington National Cemetery and the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home Cemetery on December 19, 2020.

Following a thorough analysis of the annual Wreaths Across America Wreaths-In event this year, and in close collaboration with the Joint Task Force, National Capital Region, we determined that we could not implement sufficient controls to mitigate the risks associated with hosting an event of this size under current and forecasted infection and transmission rates, while still conducting a respectful and honorable public event.

“We did not make this decision lightly. Despite the controls developed to disperse potential crowds in time and space, and required personal safety protocols, we determined that hosting any event of this scale risked compromising our ability to accomplish our core mission of laying veterans and their eligible family members to rest,” stated Karen Durham-Aguilera, Executive Director, Office of Army National Cemeteries and Arlington National Cemetery. “We reviewed various options to safely execute this long standing event and held numerous consultations with WAA leadership and local government and public health officials. We understand that although this is disappointing for so many, we could no longer envision a way to safely accommodate the large number of visitors we typically host during this event.”

ANC’s most sacred mission to lay our nation’s veterans and their family members to rest continues during this COVID-19 environment. In order to ensure that our primary mission takes place, and to protect our workforce and visitors, the cemetery is taking this proactive step to adhere to the guidance outlined by the CDC to prevent contracting or spreading respiratory illnesses like the flu or COVID-19.

“Our strong hope is to be able to resume hosting this great event next year in 2021,” said Charles “Ray” Alexander, Superintendent, Arlington National Cemetery.  “While many of our families and visitors associate the wreath event with the holiday season, we thank all the thousands of volunteers who had planned to take this time to Honor, Remember, and Explore those who are laid to rest at our nation’s most hallowed ground. We invite everyone to virtually visit the cemetery through our multimedia platforms @ArlingtonNatl.”

Family pass holders and visitors are still welcome to visit the cemetery on their own schedules and place graveside tributes of privately purchased flowers or wreaths in accordance with our floral policy.

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(Updated at 3:25 p.m.) Arlington County has just recorded the highest seven-day total of new coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic.

New data from the Virginia Dept. of Health brings the county’s seven-day total to 320 cases, topping the previous peak of 316, at the height of the spring epidemic on May 3. The 320 total cases represents a seven-day trailing average of just under 46 cases per day.

Arlington’s test positivity rate, a key metric, is also soaring, reaching 6.8% today, the highest point since early June.

Two new COVID-related deaths and three new hospitalizations have been reported since Friday. The seven-day hospitalization total in Arlington currently stands at 15.

VDH also reported the highest one-day spike in new cases in Arlington today — 82 new cases — but that comes with an asterisk. The state health department says numbers were higher today because its systems were catching up from a backlog over the weekend caused by technical upgrades. Despite the backlog, VDH reported 50 local cases on Saturday and 57 cases on Sunday.

Virginia, like Arlington, also reached a new seven-day case record today. The Commonwealth’s seven-day trailing average of new daily cases is now 1,594. Statewide, the test positivity rate is 7.3%.

Across the Potomac, the District of Columbia also reached a seven-day case record on Sunday. The District imposed new travel restrictions last week.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced new restrictions on Friday, which took effect this morning. Those restrictions include slashing the maximum size of indoor and outdoor gatherings to 25, reducing the age for the state’s mask requirement to 5, and a 10 p.m. alcohol sales curfew at all dining and drinking establishments. The Commonwealth also plans to step up enforcement.

Ryan Hudson, spokesman for Arlington County’s Public Health Division, said in a statement Monday afternoon that residents should continue wearing masks but should also “stay home as often as possible.”

Unfortunately, Arlington County is indeed seeing a rise in cases, much like Virginia and the rest of the country. As our recent contact tracing data shows, 33% of Arlington’s cases have reported contact with a known case and 17% reported going to a gathering. An increase in people gathering together allows for germ spread, which makes it easier for COVID-19 cases to rise. We know you are likely fatigued by the pandemic and restrictions. But we also know that these mitigation efforts work: Avoid large gatherings, wash your hands, wear a face mask and maintain proper physical distance. Now is not the time to get complacent.

We’re imploring all Arlingtonians to continue to abide by the public health guidance to help us flatten the curve again:

  • Stay home as often as possible, but especially when you are sick
  • Wear a face covering when interacting with those outside of your household. This protects others, and it also protects you
  • Get your flu shot
  • Get tested for COVID-19 as needed; Arlington has resources for testing in all groups, including underinsured and uninsured
  • Cooperate with public health by answering the call to help with contact tracing
  • Adhere to the guidance of a 14-day quarantine if instructed to do so (remember: a negative test does NOT mean you can end quarantine early)

Despite the backdrop of rising cases locally and nationwide, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Today pharmaceutical company Moderna announced that preliminary trial data shows that its coronavirus vaccine is nearly 95% effective. That tops the 90% efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine, announced last week.

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