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(Updated at 1:40 p.m.) For the second year in a row, the in-person Marine Corps Marathon and associated festivities have been cancelled.

The Marathon, a major tourism event for Arlington, had been scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 31. It kicks off in Rosslyn and winds with way into and through D.C. before crossing the 14th Street Bridge, rounding the Pentagon, and finishing in Rosslyn.

Organizers cited health concerns as the reason for the cancellation.

“After exhausting all possibilities, the opportunity to safely operate and execute a live event is just not feasible at this time,” said Rick Nealis, director of Marine Corps Marathon Organization, in a statement.

The cancellation is mostly Covid related, we’re told.

“Due to the current Health Protection Condition level as well as the workplace safety measures directed by the White House Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, the Marine Corps Marathon Organization had to make the difficult decision to cancel this year’s live and in-person events,” Nealis clarified, in response to an inquiry from ARLnow. “Our main priority is to preserve total force readiness as part of the Department of Defense and the National Capital Region.”

The full press release about the cancellation is below.

The 2021 Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) Weekend events scheduled for Friday, October 29 through Sunday, October 31 in Arlington, Virginia and the nation’s capital, have been canceled due to security and safety precautions currently in place.

“After exhausting all possibilities, the opportunity to safely operate and execute a live event is just not feasible at this time,” said Rick Nealis, director of Marine Corps Marathon Organization (MCMO). “Though we had high hopes to welcome home our running community this October, we are excited to still be able to celebrate the 46th running of “The People’s Marathon” virtually. We are anxiously looking forward to next year when we can #RunWithTheMarines in person once again.”

“The 46th Marine Corps Marathon is now a virtual event! We are excited and look forward to seeing the results of your hard work and dedication over the past year,” said Colonel Brooks, commanding officer of Marine Corps Installations National Capital Region – Marine Corps Base Quantico. “Although we were not able to conduct a live event for 2021, we trust that each of you understand that safety for you and our great support team took priority. As Marines, we are trained to adapt and overcome, and this is a great test of your ability to adapt and overcome all things this year has presented. I ask that you run hard and with purpose, and finish strong! Be safe everyone! Semper Fi!”

Runners currently in the live MCM, MCM10K and MCM50K categories have the option to:

  • Receive a virtual entry to the distance of the same race.
  • Receive a full registration refund.
  • Defer entry to 2022 at no additional fee.

Further instructions and a link to the registration change form will be sent to the e-mail address provided by participants during registration.

The virtual MCM Weekend events including the MCM, MCM50K and MCM10K must be completed between October 1 and November 10 – the Marine Corps Birthday. All participants will receive via mail the corresponding participant shirt, commemorative patch, bib and finisher medal. Runners will also have access to an online event program, personalized finisher certificate and several digital engagement platforms.

The 47th MCM Weekend is scheduled for October 28 – 30, 2022.

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The union representing Arlington Public Schools teachers is calling for “drastic and immediate” improvements to the school system’s new remote learning program.

This school year, when most students returned to their brick-and-mortar buildings, others continued online learning through the newly-created APS Virtual Learning Program.

Four weeks in, staff say that the program still has deep problems, in addition to the staffing shortages which ARLnow previously revealed. We’re told by teachers that the issues range from communication to teacher treatment to a lack of needed resources.

“Every day our educators are being forced to go above and beyond the call of duty,” Arlington Education Association President Ingrid Gant said during a press conference yesterday afternoon on the steps of the union’s headquarters along Columbia Pike. “We, the members of AEA insist the School Board members take action regarding the poor state of communications, staffing and support across APS, particularly in Virtual Learning Program.”

She outlined a variety of concerns, including missing textbooks, incomplete schedules, inadequate substitute coverage, and programming for special education students and English learners, as well as abrupt teacher transfers and long work days.

In response, APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said the school system has not yet had a conversation with AEA about these concerns.

“We welcome that dialogue and have been transparent about the challenges with the Virtual Learning Program and the steps we are taking, as well as the timeline for the distribution of summer school bonuses,” he said.

A number of teachers — some speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution — tell ARLnow that they feel abandoned. They say there are no regular faculty meetings, emails to administrators go unanswered, and new teachers do not know where to turn to for instructional support and lesson plan help.

“Everything is falling on the teachers to make it work, with no leadership whatsoever. Where is the leadership? Where is the support? There’s no community, nothing,” said one secondary teacher.

“Communication has been dreadful,” said a special education teacher. “It has gotten better, but it has a long way to go. It’s not just with administration, but with home schools as well.”

Bellavia suggested that VLP staff struggling with internal communication issues use the same paths available to other employees.

“As is the expectation for all APS staff, they should start with their administrator to seek help or express concerns,” he said. “If they continue to have concerns, teachers are welcome to reach out to Office of Academics content supervisors or directors.”

Educators also say they’ve been moved to other positions within the program but have not had instructional support or tools to develop lesson plans. Veteran teachers say they’re grateful to have years of experience and their own resources at their disposal in order to get through the myriad of problems.

In one instance, seven teachers signed up to teach English learners were reassigned to teach whatever else they had certifications in — from elementary classrooms to specific high school subjects — in order to address shortages. Teachers tell us that this hasn’t been good for morale.

“Based on teacher credentials, teachers were placed in classes for which they were certified to teach or reassigned to a brick and mortar school​, as necessary,” Bellavia confirmed.

Up until this week, staff say they did not know who within or outside the VLP to consult for instructional help, absences or problems with students’ schedules. Each physical school has support staff and administrators equipped to handle these problems, but the chain of command in the VLP has not been clear, they say.

In contrast, Bellavia said VLP has support staff, including a math coach, a reading coach, a counselor and an assistant administrator. Teachers have been informed about available resources and can begin picking up items at APS headquarters.

“A counselor? What counselor? I don’t think that’s accurate,” the secondary teacher said in response.

Meanwhile, the special education teacher described her program as “a mess.” Special education teachers’ caseloads have yet to be finalized, and in some cases, students with varying needs and different education plans are placed in one classroom, with the teacher expected to deliver individualized instruction.

Still, she said, “I’m not going to give up. I’ll keep beating my head against the wall until things change.”

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New Covid cases in Arlington as of Sept. 23, 2021 (via Virginia Dept. of Health)

There’s a bit of good news for Arlington on the Covid front.

The county has seen a more than week-long decline in its seven-day moving average of new Covid cases. The average currently stands at 33 cases per day, down from a seasonal peak of 48 cases per day on Sept. 14.

The daily case average was last below 30 in early August, as the delta-variant-fueled wave of cases was on the rise in Arlington.

The county’s test positivity rate has also been dropping, but more modestly. The rate currently stands at 3.1%, according to Virginia Dept. of Health data.

Serious health complications from Covid remain at a relatively low level in Arlington. Nine Covid-related hospitalizations and one death have been reported in the county since the start of September.

As of this morning, VDH reports that 76.3% of Arlington’s adult population has received at least one vaccine dose.

Covid cases have been falling both statewide and nationally, suggesting that the delta wave has crested. One influential mathematical model is predicting a steady decrease in both new infections and deaths nationally through March, barring a new, even more infectious variant or an unexpected winter surge.

New Covid cases in Virginia as of Sept. 23, 2021 (via Virginia Dept. of Health)
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Morning Notes

Storm Damage Closes Covid Testing Booth — From Arlington County: “The Curative testing kiosk at Virginia Highlands will be closed today and tomorrow (Sept. 20 & 21) as it repairs storm damage. Visit our other kiosks at Arlington Mill Community Center and Court House Plaza.” [Twitter]

Frank O’Leary Pushing for Museum Funding — “Now, in retirement, the former Arlington treasurer is equally unfiltered, when it comes to issues dear to his heart. And few, at the moment, are more dear to O’Leary than the effort to obtain the county government’s participation in funding renovation and expansion of the Arlington Historical Society’s Hume School museum. ‘It is time for our local government to step forward. Every local government in Northern Virginia – except Arlington – has fully funded one or more local museums,’ he said.” [Sun Gazette]

Inner Ear’s Visual Art — “Don Zientara is known for his ears. I wanted to hear about his eyes. ‘Right here is a painting by Jay Stuckey, who was a punk rocker in D.C.,’ says Zientara, showing me around the control room at his famed Inner Ear Recording Studios in Arlington… After more than 30 years in this former Hair Cuttery training center, Inner Ear is closing, making way for redevelopment.” [Washington Post]

Arlington GOP Comms Director Quoted — “Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) has called Republicans hypocritical for greenlighting trillions in spending under former President Donald Trump only to turn around and object under President Biden. Matthew Hurtt, who became active in politics during the tea party’s rise and is communications director for the Arlington County Republican Committee in Virginia, said Mr. Schumer ‘has got a good point… our tribal politics means frequently people don’t hold their own side accountable.'” [Wall Street Journal]

Flickr pool photo by C Buoscio

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Morning Notes

A deer and a fox in the rain, near the Arlington-Fairfax border (photo courtesy Marc Roth)

‘Kindness Yard Sale’ in Penrose — “Susan Thompson-Gaines wants to spread kindness. This weekend, she’s doing it through a big yard sale at her house. She says it’s hard to miss the home she shares with her husband, David — it’s the yellow house with purple trim at the corner of South Second and South Fillmore streets in Arlington… what makes this yard sale different is that the proceeds are all spent on acts of kindness.” [WTOP]

Flood Cleanup for Pike Businesses — From WUSA 9’s Matthew Torres: “A dental hygienist sent me this other video of the flash flooding in Columbia Pike in Arlington. Their business had to close today as they clean up the water that seeped through. Other businesses are having to do the same thing.” [Twitter]

More Vaccinations Added to State Stats — “Today, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has incorporated vaccination data from jurisdictions in Maryland. Virginians who received vaccinations in Maryland that were not reported through the Virginia Immunization Information System are now included in the locality and statewide dashboards. The updated data reflects an increase in COVID-19 vaccine first dose rates of 0.33% Alexandria, 0.46% Arlington, and 0.39% Eastern Shore.” [Virginia Dept. of Health]

AFAC Gets Donation from Library Program –“Representatives of the Friends of the Arlington Public Library (FOAL), together with the Arlington Public Library and Arlington County Department of Technology Services, presented a check for $4,525 to the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC). The donation represents the number of Library readers who successfully completed the 2021 Summer Reading Challenge. The Library’s popular Summer Reading program helps children avoid the ‘summer slide.'” [Arlington County]

Fmr. County Board Member Dies — “Jay Edwin Ricks, 88, passed away at home in Arlington, Virginia on July 18, 2021 due to complications of Parkinson’s Disease… In 1967, Jay was elected to the Arlington County Board where he served until 1971. During this time, he was active in transportation issues and Vice Chairman of Metro during the critical phase of planning the Metro system.” [Legacy]

Local Church Adapts to Pandemic — ‘As another wave of the pandemic comes at us, we are different as a congregation,’ said the Rev. Amanda Poppei, senior minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, Virginia… Poppei’s congregation began hosting outdoor events in spring 2021, including a handbell parade to ring in Pride Month in June and a Flower Communion in May, which they intentionally designed as a multiplatform event.” [UUWorld]

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Arlington County says it will explore ways to make it easier for restaurants to establish or expand outdoor dining after the pandemic ends, according to a county report.

During the pandemic, the Arlington County Board approved a temporary way for restaurants to circumvent the normally lengthy county process for getting an outdoor dining permit. Many restaurants debuted outdoor seating over the last year to make up for the indoor space lost to social distancing requirements and give guests a safer dining experience.

Since then, the County Board has amended the outdoor dining ordinance to expand it and mold it to changing circumstances.

In December, the Board granted restaurant and bar owners the ability to set up temporary outdoor seating areas (TOSAs) in common areas, such as plazas. When capacity restrictions were lifted this spring, the County Board gave restaurants a way to request temporary certificates of occupancy (TCOs) for their TOSAs so they could operate the seating areas while operating at full capacity indoors.

The county report said staff will be looking to see if some aspects of the program could be worked into the regular outdoor seating approval process. It did not include a timeline for this inquiry.

“Specifically, staff will be working to commence a strategic exploration of whether certain flexibilities provided as part of the TOSA program initiated in response to the COVID-19 emergency should be incorporated into established regulatory provisions for outdoor dining,” it said. “This future process will have a robust engagement element and would also include public hearings prior to the County Board’s consideration of any recommended policy or regulatory changes that might result from the study,”

All this is being considered in the background of a technical change that will give restaurateurs a little leeway in phasing out the outdoor seating when the local pandemic emergency is declared over.

When the county passed a continuity of governance emergency ordinance last spring to keep government and business operations afloat, it said any flexibility allowed by the ordinance, such as TOSAs, would expire six months after the declared end of the emergency. But in reality, the document’s section on TOSAs said they expire with the declared end of the emergency.

On Saturday, the County Board is slated to consider advertising a public hearing to amend the ordinance so it’s clear that eateries also have six months to phase out the seating.

“In addition to providing consistency with the Ordinance and continued support of Arlington’s businesses, this proposed amendment will also ensure that food establishments are not required, immediately at the end of the emergency, to make significant changes to their operations and allows time for business planning,” the county report said.

Kate Bates, President and CEO of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber supports this change but urged the county to get cracking on the study of permanent options.

“Given the time it will take for Arlington County to set the rules for permanent, expanded outdoor dining, and the further time it will take for restaurants to adapt to new rules, the Chamber encourages Arlington County to advance its work on making the TOSA program permanent,” she said. “While the 2022 outdoor dining season feels far off as the summer of 2021 winds down, restaurants will need to start making investments soon to be prepared in the spring.”

As part of the upcoming request to advertise, staff said they will do outreach to see how locals feel about TOSAs. Staff report fielding a range of comments, questions and opinions on them, from support from the business community to concern that outdoor dining makes it harder for pedestrians and cyclists to get around. The report said neighbors near TOSAs tolerate the noise associated with them provided that TOSAs would end along with the emergency.

Bates said making the provisions permanent will allow restaurants to invest in their spaces in ways that could mitigate these concerns.

“We expect that there will be some refinements to the outdoor dining rules as they are made permanent, but we encourage Arlington County not to risk the success of outdoor dining by over-regulating to ameliorate any possible complaint,” she said.

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Another week, another high point for Covid cases in Arlington since the winter peak reached earlier this year.

The trailing seven-day average of new daily cases in Arlington is now 48, an increase of nearly 50% since the start of the month. Thirty-two new cases were reported this morning by the Virginia Dept. of Health, bringing the local pandemic case total to 17,207.

With 73.5% of the county’s adult population having received at least one vaccine dose, the rate of serious illness and death remains relatively low. Over the past 90 days the county has averaged just under three Covid-related hospitalizations per week and just over one death per month.

Nationally, there are signs that the current wave of cases fueled by the more contagious delta variant is peaking or has peaked, though some parts of the country are still seeing growth in cases.

Arlington County, meanwhile, is preparing for the expected rollout of vaccine booster shots.

From WJLA:

“We expect to have a busy winter,” said Hannah Winant, the Public Affairs Manager for Arlington County Emergency Management.

It’s all hands on deck as the county prepares to assist thousands of people arriving at vaccination sites wanting their booster shots as soon as next week.

“All eyes are on the feds with the booster rollout and youth approvals, but again we are going to have the people and resources in place,” said Winant. “As soon as those approvals are in place, we will be ready to roll.”

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After a pre-Labor Day dip, Covid case counts in Arlington are again heading upward.

As of this morning the county is seeing just over 44 cases per day, based on a seven-day moving average. That’s the highest point since mid-February.

Though likely inflated due to the Labor Day holiday, 77 cases were reported on Wednesday alone, the highest one-day total since early February.

Reports of Covid-related serious illness remain at a relatively low level: three hospitalizations and one death over the past week, according to the Virginia Dept. of Health.

Amid a continued rise in cases, but relatively low incidence of serious illness among those who are vaccinated, President Biden today is set to announce a stricter vaccine requirement for federal workers and contractors. From CNN:

President Joe Biden on Thursday will impose more stringent vaccine rules on federal workers, and take steps to encourage private businesses to do the same, during a major speech meant to lay out a new approach to combating the coronavirus.

Among the steps the President will take is signing an executive order requiring all federal workers be vaccinated against Covid-19, with no option of being regularly tested to opt out of the requirement, according to a source familiar with the plans.

The President will also sign an executive order directing the same standard be extended to employees of contractors who do business with the federal government.

In Arlington, 73.1% of the adult population has received at least one vaccine dose. That number, which excludes doses administered directly by the federal government, continues to slowly rise over time.

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Arlington County is launching an awards program that aims to publicly recognize locals who stepped up to the plate to help their neighbors through the COVID-19.

Nominations for the “Community COVID-19 Hero Awards” are currently open online or in-person at any library.

Anyone who lives, works, or just spends “significant time” in Arlington can submit their nominee by Thursday, Sept. 30. According to a press release, the awards “honor Arlington residents, community groups and businesses which have made significant impact in the fight against the effects of the pandemic.”

Winners will be recognized at the October 16 County Board meeting.

“The County is home to many unsung heroes who have continually sacrificed to support others throughout the pandemic while enduring their own hardship — from driving neighbors to vaccine appointments, to donating meals from their small businesses, to organizing groups to share reliable health and safety information with those who may not otherwise have access to it, and beyond,” Aaron Miller, Director of the County’s Department of Public Safety Communications and Emergency Management, said in the press release. “We want to thank them for all they’ve done and use their stories as examples of exemplary citizenry to encourage others to do the same.”

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(Updated 9:25 a.m. on 9/8/21) The new virtual learning program in Arlington Public Schools, available to anyone uncomfortable with going to school in-person, has gotten off to a rocky start due to severe teacher shortages.

During the first week of school, 340 of the more than 700 students enrolled in the program were assigned subs rather than permanent teachers, and many did not receive class schedules. Instead, many virtual students saw their classes canceled or they were shuffled into multi-grade classes and “virtual waiting rooms” without teachers or monitors.

And today (Tuesday), APS announced another upheaval: the administrator assigned to the new program, Verlese Gaither, has been replaced. Amy Jackson, Supervisor of Educational Technology & Programs, will lead the Virtual Learning Program until a new administrator is appointed.

Complaints started shortly after the first day of school. A discussion thread on a local parenting message board titled “APS VPL is a dumpster fire” has garnered more than 200 comments since it was first posted last Tuesday.

Parents of virtual students are also raising their concerns with the School Board and administrators, asking for appropriate staffing and improved communication. One of their requests — a meeting with APS — will be met with a town hall set for tomorrow (Wednesday) night at 7 p.m.

“The VLP is a critical program for vulnerable students and their families during this unprecedented pandemic,” Laura Haltzel, whose son is learning at home for health reasons, tells ARLnow. “Families want the virtual program to succeed and would like to work with APS to try to resolve some of the challenges we experienced in the last week. We believe that many problems can be solved with the appropriate allocation of teaching staff and administrative support.”

APS apologized in a School Talk email sent to families this afternoon.

“As we prepare to start the second week of school, we want to apologize for the challenges students encountered accessing their classes in the Virtual Learning Program last week,” the school system said. “We understand that this was a frustrating and unacceptable start to the school year for our VLP families and are working to ensure that these issues, related to staffing, scheduling, technical support and communication, are addressed as quickly as possible. We are also committed to ensuring that VLP students will have permanent teachers assigned to their classes as soon as possible.”

School Board Chair Barbara Kanninen likewise apologized and affirmed the board’s commitment to making the program work.

“I want to personally apologize to our VLP students and families,” she tells ARLnow. “Our goal is for the Virtual Learning Program to be an innovative, engaging, and rewarding academic experience for our students. The School Board is 100% committed to the program and we support the immediate steps APS is taking to ensure its success.”

Haltzel is part of a group of parents who wrote to administrators and School Board members on Monday outlining their concerns, which include a lack of staffing and a lack of communication.

“The combination of these above concerns, coupled with the silence from the APS School Board and Dr. Duran, has left VLP Parents concerned, frustrated and unsatisfied,” the group’s letter said. “Most critically, VLP students are demoralized and distraught.”

There are about 740 students enrolled in the VLP, including 63 students added since Aug. 16 via medical exemption appeals, a fluidity that APS says impacts staffing and class sizes.

With the changing class sizes and staffing shortages, some students were placed in courses through Virtual Virginia and other similar programs, while others were placed in a temporary classes to work on asynchronous assignments developed by APS teachers assigned to brick and mortar schools. These classes were monitored by an adult and students will receive feedback on their work from their teachers in September.

Families report incidents of online bullying between the younger and older unsupervised students in these mixed-grade “waiting rooms.” They say their younger students are upset and no longer enthusiastic about school.

Meanwhile, APS said in its email to parents today that it is committed to solving the teacher shortage quickly. As of Thursday, APS had 92 virtual teachers, but it still needed 106 teachers to fill out the program, a spokesman said. According to parents, some teachers initially assigned to the virtual program were later reassigned to teach in-person.

Parents say it wasn’t until they started asking questions that APS acknowledged that staffing was the problem.

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(Updated at 1:25 p.m.) The start of the extended Labor Day weekend is a day away and there’s a bit of good news beyond the nice weather: there’s been a slight dip in coronavirus cases.

After a mid-August plateau, the seven-day moving average of new cases in Arlington started moving upward again, peaking at 41 cases per day this past Saturday, Aug. 28. That’s now down to about 32 cases per day, according to Virginia Dept. of Health data.

The rates of both Covid tests administered (1,134 to 1,051 daily tests per day) and test positivity (4% to 3.5%) have also dipped during that approximate time period, suggesting that while people being out of town due to pre-Labor Day vacations may partially explain the dip in cases, it’s not the entire explanation.

(As pointed out by a reader, the timing of the dip may also correlate to college students returning to campus.)

Hospitalizations and deaths in Arlington attributed to Covid are still being reported, though at a lower level compared to earlier in the pandemic. A dozen hospitalizations and two deaths have been recorded over the past month, according to VDH.

Arlington’s high (and slowly rising) vaccination rate — nearly 73% of the adult population has received at least one dose — is likely a major contributor to the relatively low incidence of serious illness and death.

There’s some talk of the current delta-variant-fueled Covid wave peaking on a national level, though the jury is still out as to what the next few months will hold. That’s especially true given the emergence of a new viral variant dubbed “mu” that’s said to have a greater ability to evade immunity from vaccines or prior infections.

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