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CDC map of Covid levels as of Jan. 17, 2023 (via CDC)

Covid appears to be on the decline in Arlington, but hospitalization levels rose sufficiently last week to move the county to the CDC’s “medium” Covid level.

The level moved from “low” to “medium” as of last Thursday. The latest Virginia Dept. of Health stats, however, show cases falling to a seven-day moving average of 38 per day as of yesterday (Tuesday), from a seasonal peak of 65 cases per day just before Christmas.

The CDC level change was prompted by a rise in Covid-related hospital admissions above the 10 per 100,000 residents per week mark. That metric stood at 12 as of Thursday.

Among neighboring jurisdictions, D.C. and Fairfax County are both at the “medium” level, while Alexandria is now at the “high” community level due to a combination of infection and hospitalization rates.

Virginia Hospital Center emergency department chair Mike Silverman, in his weekly Facebook post Friday night, said the hospital is “full” but Covid cases are declining.

After a couple of weeks of very high emergency department volume, our hospital is full. My colleagues are seeing this all over the country as well. This makes it more challenging to care for the patients coming into the emergency department as we have more patients “boarding” (waiting on their inpatient bed to be available) than typical. Even though our ER volume has come down a little bit compared to recent weeks, it still feels just as chaotic because of all these extra patients waiting for a bed to be available.

Along with a slight drop in volume, we have also seen a decrease in the amount of COVID were diagnosing. Overall, we diagnosed about 20% less patients with COVID this week compared to the prior 2 weeks. Our overall percent positivity fell from about 16.5% to 12.4%. The biggest drop we saw was in our symptomatic patients. Although we had about 20% less patients classified as symptomatic, we had about a 40% drop in the number of positives. This correlates to a 31% positivity rate dropping to a 21% positivity rate. Our general screening percent positivity remained stable at about 11%. For these patients, either the clinician has a low suspicion that the patient has COVID, but COVID is included in the differential diagnosis, or they are asymptomatic and require testing for admission/surgery/etc.

Consistent with the reduction in new diagnoses, we also saw a reduction in the number of patients who required COVID isolation in the ER compared to the prior two weeks. And the hospital has about 20% less admitted COVID patients than we did last week.

Covid cases in Arlington as of Jan. 17, 2023 (via Virginia Dept. of Health)
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Covid cases in Arlington as of Dec. 15, 2022 – 13 week view (via Virginia Dept. of Health)

Don’t look now, but Covid cases are on the rise again in Arlington.

Daily case averages are still well below the levels seen earlier in the year, but the trajectory is upward, Virginia Dept. of Health data shows. As of Wednesday, the seven-day case average in Arlington was 57 cases per day, high highest point since September.

That follows national trends of rising Covid cases.

According to CDC data, Arlington County’s weekly case rate per 100,000 people is 154, while the weekly Covid hospital admission rate is 7.7 per 100,000 people. The threshold between the CDC’s “low” and “medium” Covid levels is 200 cases and 10 admissions.

Just in time for the rise in cases, the federal government today is restarting its free Covid tests by mail program. The tests can be ordered here.

VDH, meanwhile, announced yesterday that bivalent booster shots are now available to all children six months of age and older in Virginia.

From a press release:

Parents of young children in Virginia are now able to seek a free bivalent pediatric COVID-19 vaccine for their children aged six months and older, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announced today, following the recommendation of the vaccines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on December 9.

The Pfizer-BioNTech bivalent vaccine, previously available only to persons aged five years and older, is now available for children aged six months through four years as a third primary series dose. At this time, children aged 6 months through four years who received three doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to complete their primary series are not authorized to receive a booster dose of bivalent vaccine. The Moderna bivalent vaccine, previously available for persons aged six years and older, is now available for children aged six months through five years as a booster dose at least two months after completion of a Moderna primary series.

Both bivalent vaccines target the original strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that first emerged in Wuhan, China in late 2019 and the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of the Omicron variant that emerged in the United States in November 2021.

VDH advises parents to discuss this option with their child’s healthcare provider. Vaccination opportunities may be found at Vaccinate.Virginia.gov.

Virginia Hospital Center emergency department chair Dr. Mike Silverman, in his weekly public Facebook post, encouraged parents to consider the bivalent booster for their kids. He also noted that flu and RSV are are still prevalent in the community amid a particularly active fall for respiratory illnesses.

Within VHC, the number of patients we have hospitalized with COVID is similar to last week (and higher than last month). The emergency department remains quite busy. November was among our highest volume months ever, for the most part attributed to Flu and RSV cases. Among our COVID population, we saw another week over week increase in the number of patients testing positive in our “symptomatic” population with a higher percent positive rate than the previous week. That number is 3-4 fold higher than in early November. Among all our testing, we had about twice as many positives as just a few weeks ago.

The CDC reports that “there have been at least 8.7 million illnesses, 78,000 hospitalizations, and 4,500 deaths from flu so far this season,” making this the worst flu season in a decade. Although the number of patients we’re seeing with the flu has declined a bit over the past month, there’s still a lot of flu in the community and I highly recommend getting your flu shot. And fortunately, the flu vaccine this year appears to be a “good match” for the circulating strains, meaning the vaccine works better than average this year.

The FDA approved the bivalent booster for those 6 months to 5 years old. This booster can serve as the 3rd shot after the primary two shot series is complete. This will go to the CDC for review and should be available soon. Please talk to you pediatrician about vaccination. I continue to see a lot of young children that are not vaccinated.

Covid cases in Arlington as of Dec. 15, 2022 – 26 week view (via Virginia Dept. of Health)
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A person receiving a vaccine from Arlington County’s clinic in early 2021 (Image via Arlington County/YouTube)

In another sign that we’ve reached the later stages of the pandemic, Arlington County is permanently closing its public vaccine clinic next month.

The announcement was made this morning.

“Demand has significantly decreased at the County’s clinic, with COVID-19 vaccines now widely available in the community through pharmacies, urgent care centers, and medical providers,” the county said in a press release. “As such, the final day of operations for the clinic at Sequoia Plaza (2100 Washington Blvd.) will be Saturday, Dec. 17, 2022.”

The clinic first opened nearly two years ago and saw long lines for the original vaccine after it was made available. In addition to its closing, the county announced that all but one of its Covid testing booths are closing.

“All County Curative COVID-19 testing kiosks will close on Nov. 30, 2022, except for the Arlington Mill Community Center location,” the press release said. “The closure of kiosks aligns with a significant decline in kiosk testing demand across the County (an 80% decline since Nov. 2021) and the widespread availability of at-home and pharmacy-based tests.”

Covid case rates in Arlington have held relatively steady over the past month and currently stand at a seven-day moving average of 30 cases per day, according to Virginia Dept. of Health data. That’s about the middle of the range for what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers a “low” Covid level.

Meanwhile, some of the public health attention has shifted to rising levels of flu and the childhood illness RSV.

“The emergency department is pretty much as busy as we have ever seen it,” Virginia Hospital Center emergency department chair Mike Silverman wrote Friday in his weekly public Facebook post. “Our volume this week (and actually last week) is 20+% higher than our typical volume. We are definitely seeing this with the flu and RSV numbers. We’re also seeing this in the increased number of pediatric patients coming to the ER.”

The full Arlington County press release about the clinic and testing booth closures is below.

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Arlington Public Schools headquarters lobby (staff photo)

There are rising regrets about the extended closure of public schools as a result of Covid, the Associated Press reports.

A lengthy article published by the newswire this morning discusses the wide-ranging impacts of pandemic-era learning loss and the inefficacy of “Zoom school.”

From the AP:

But her daughter became depressed and stopped doing school work or paying attention to online classes. The former honor-roll student failed nearly all of her eighth grade courses.

“She’s behind,” said Kargbo, whose daughter is now in tenth grade. “It didn’t work at all. Knowing what I know now, I would say they should have put them in school.”

Preliminary test scores around the country confirm what Kargbo witnessed: The longer many students studied remotely, the less they learned. Some educators and parents are questioning decisions in cities from Boston to Chicago to Los Angeles to remain online long after clear evidence emerged that schools weren’t COVID-19 super-spreaders — and months after life-saving adult vaccines became widely available.

There are fears for the futures of students who don’t catch up. They run the risk of never learning to read, long a precursor for dropping out of school. They might never master simple algebra, putting science and tech fields out of reach. The pandemic decline in college attendance could continue to accelerate, crippling the U.S. economy.

Arlington Public Schools closed in March 2020 at the outset of the pandemic and did not start to reopen, on a two-day-a-week hybrid basis, until March 2021 when mandated by the state and Gov. Ralph Northam (D). During that time, dueling Arlington parent groups formed to alternately push for and urge caution about a return to classrooms.

Most Arlington private schools resumed some degree of in-person learning in the fall of 2020. The Sun Gazette reported this week that APS enrollment is still below pre-pandemic levels; many public schools in the wealthier parts of northern Arlington in particular saw enrollment drop as parents sent students to private schools.

While APS opened classrooms sooner than many school districts in California, for instance, it took awhile to even get most students back in classrooms part time, with the School Board pushing the superintendent later in March 2021 to accelerate the return.

APS finally reverted back to full-time, in-person learning in the fall of 2021 and stuck with it through the Omicron surge that winter. A small minority of students and parents opted for a new full-time virtual learning option, which ended up being beset by problems.

Given what we know now about the health impacts of Covid and about pandemic-era learning loss, do you think — with the benefit of hindsight — APS should have resumed in-person school sooner than it did?

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Covid cases in Arlington as of 10/13/22 (via Virginia Dept. of Health)

Arlington’s Covid test positivity rate dipped below 10% earlier this month, for the first time since April.

That’s according to the latest data from the Virginia Dept. of Health, which is currently reporting a seven-day moving average of about 30 cases per day in the county, down from 200 daily cases in late May.

Arlington remains roughly in the middle of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s case range for a “low” Covid rate, at just over 100 cases per week per 100,000 in population. The CDC is reporting about five Covid-related hospital admissions per week per 100,000 people in the county.

Covid test positivity rate in Arlington as of 10/13/22 (via Virginia Dept. of Health)

The relative lull in cases comes as the U.S. healthcare system braces for a sharp rise in Covid and flu cases this winter.

From NPR earlier this morning:

The U.S. should prepare for a spike in COVID cases this winter as more people gather indoors and infections already begin to rise in Europe, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Ashish Jha says.

The warning echoes that of some other experts who anticipate a rise in cases in the coming months, while other modelling suggests that infections will recede in the near future.

“We are seeing this increase in Europe, and Europe tends to precede us by about four to six weeks,” Jha told NPR. “And so it stands to reason that as we get into November, December, maybe January, we are going to see an increase in infections across much of the country.”

“I’m pretty worried about what the ER will look like this winter,” Virginia Hospital Center emergency department chair Mike Silverman wrote in his latest weekly Facebook post. “It’s always busier in the winter than the summer. Our weekly volume is currently higher than our pre-pandemic volume and we’re starting to see an increase in the [number of] patients presenting with respiratory illnesses.”

Some experts are predicting a more modest Covid surge this winter, owing in part to greater natural immunity in the population in addition to the new bivalent vaccine booster shots that are intended to better target the Omicron variant.

But even if Covid does not spike to the levels of past winters, the flu and other respiratory viruses are likely to keep hospitals and other healthcare providers busy.

“If you go around the nation and ask hospitals how busy they are, every single one of them will tell you: They’re busy,” Dr. Carlos del Rio of Atlanta’s Emory University School of Medicine told NBC News.

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Innovation Elementary School fifth-graders make solar ovens outside (via APS/Twitter)

A few hundred parents say Arlington Public Schools should prioritize recreating pre-Covid normalcy in the classroom and evaluating the use of electronic devices.

That’s according to a recent informal survey conducted by Arlington Parents for Education, a parent group that began during the pandemic to advocate for reopening schools.

Since schools reopened, APE has evolved into a School Board watchdog group, with priorities such as reversing pandemic-era learning loss. The group says the survey will inform what APE should advocate for, in addition to ending Covid protocols. The priorities don’t surprise School Board candidates and other education advocacy groups, but some groups say the survey does not speak for the parents they represent.

The survey netted a few hundred responses, about 70% of which reside in North Arlington and a little under 30% in South Arlington, with some respondents living outside the county. Most have elementary-aged children, followed by children in middle and high school. Some also indicated they had children in area private schools, which saw an influx in public school families when they returned for in-person school before APS.

“We recently surveyed hundreds of our parents to see how their students are doing in a post-pandemic world at APS and what they want APS and APE to focus on,” APE said in a statement. “Overwhelmingly, parents want a return to normalcy for their students — full resumption of field trips, in-person orientations, back-to-school events and other parental involvement opportunities in all APS buildings.”

“This also means returning to the pre-pandemic golden rule applicable to any illness: if you’re sick, stay home,” the group added.

APS is, in fact, returning to pre-Covid procedures for field trips and events, APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said.

Masks became optional as of March 1, but students, visitors and teachers have some Covid protocols to follow.

Those with Covid-like symptoms must present a negative test or alternative diagnosis from a medical provider or isolate at home for five days before returning to class. Meanwhile, volunteers, like APS employees, must have proof of vaccination or undergo weekly testing to volunteer, Bellavia said.

For APE, that’s not normal. But for Smart Restart APS, a parent group that started to push for protocols such as outdoor lunch and improved ventilation, said there is no return to life pre-2020.

“Smart Restart APS believes we are living in a new reality, and APS should continue to have appropriate, common-sense measures to adapt to living in this new reality, one which includes the ever-present possibility of COVID-19 infection spreading through our schools,” the group said in a statement. “We have to adapt — not ignore — the new situation.”

The spread of Covid still impacts families, whether a parent misses work or a child brings home Covid to a high-risk family member, the group continued.

“Everyone has a right to access a safe and healthy school environment,” the Smart Restart statement said. “COVID-19 in the air should not be a part of that.”

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Covid cases in Arlington as of 9/28/22 (via Virginia Dept. of Health)

(Updated at 9:50 a.m.) Covid cases have held relatively steady in Arlington for most of September, as the weather turns cooler and flu season looms.

Just under 50 cases per day are being reported on average over the past week, according to Virginia Dept. of Health data. The test positivity rate has been falling and now stands at 11.6%.

The last month with generally lower case totals was March, after which cases started gradually rising before peaking around Memorial Day and starting an even more gradual decline.

In his weekly public Facebook post last week, VHC Health emergency department chief Dr. Mike Silverman said the hospital is also seeing lower levels of Covid.

We saw a noticeable decrease in the number of new COVID diagnoses we made this week in the ER and the percent positive rate dropped. We’ve been seeing a general decline in the COVID cases since late August but among symptomatic patients, this past week was one third lower than the last several weeks and less than half the number we were seeing in mid-August. The percent positive rate for our “symptomatic” patients was about 30% in mid-August and was just below 17% this past week. Among all comers, despite testing more than in mid-August (our ER volume is higher), our percent positive rate has dropped from approximately 13% to 6.4% and we’ve seen about a 40% drop in the number of patients we diagnosed with COVID this week compared to mid-August. We are 30-40% less than we were seeing the last few weeks. We also have a few less people requiring hospitalization this week compared to recent weeks. One week doesn’t make a trend but the numbers are similar to previous declines we’ve seen so I’m optimistic we’re on the downward slide of the curve for now.

Silverman said he’s also optimistic about the positive effects of the new bivalent vaccine booster shot, which are designed to be more effective against the current Omicron strains of the virus. Arlington County has been offering the shots, which are also available in pharmacies and elsewhere, for just over two weeks.

Despite optimism, cooler weather and increased time indoors typically brings a rise in respiratory disease.

October often marks the start of flu season, and this year’s flu season may be especially bad. There are also anecdotal reports of an uptick in cold-like illnesses currently circulating in the area.

Arlington, meanwhile, has seen two consecutive years in which Covid cases spiked in the fall or winter. In 2020, the rise started in late October or early November. In 2021, it started in early December.

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Arlington County Board candidates Adam Theo, Matt de Ferranti and Audrey Clement at a Chamber of Commerce debate (courtesy of Arlington Chamber of Commerce)

A record-high office vacancy rate plus burdensome taxes and permit processes are just some hurdles for local businesses that Arlington County Board hopefuls are pledging to tackle.

During a debate hosted by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce last night (Wednesday), incumbent Matt de Ferranti (D) and his two independent opponents, Audrey Clement and Adam Theo, explained to a 30-person audience how they would extend a helping hand toward area businesses.

Clement emphasized office-to-residential conversions as a way of reducing the office vacancy rate, which reached 20.8% in the last quarter, and “deal with our housing crisis at the same time.”

“Office-to-residential conversion is a smart approach that both Alexandria and the District of Columbia are implementing,” she said. “There are many reasons this is a sensible strategy, and Arlington’s Missing Middle is not.”

Office buildings are readily available, have more parking than most new apartment buildings and are close to Metro, she said.

“I don’t believe honestly there’s disagreement that we should do office to residential. It’s how we do it,” de Ferranti said. “We are already working on that, but we need to move more quickly.”

Seeing as empty offices are spread throughout buildings, Theo said “conversions are not a silver bullet” and suggested filling these vacancies with schools.

“That is something that’s much easier to renovate for than residential and it helps to tackle our school overcrowding that we’ll be facing over the next decade or two,” and makes more opportunities available to young families in urban areas, he said.

Currently, the county is exploring more flexible zoning in offices to allow for “light industrial” uses such as delivery staging areas, urban farms, breweries and small warehouses.

All three, meanwhile, say they would change how businesses are taxed.

“I am concerned about excessive taxation, particularly real estate taxes, but if you can start with shaving off some of those business taxes, that would be just fine with me,” Clement said.

Theo called for removing the business tangible tax, a tax levied on property used in business that requires maintaining records of nearly every item of value that a business owns.

Personal property tax revenue in Arlington over the last decade (via Arlington County)

Business tangible tax assessments are expected to increase by 16% this fiscal year, according to the 2022-23 budget. But Theo said the $40 million it netted last year is not worth squeezing support businesses with thin margins.

“The county sneezes and it spends $40 million,” he quipped.

De Ferranti advocated for increasing the threshold for Business, Professional and Occupational License (BPOL) tax, which comprises about 5% of the county’s revenue for this fiscal year, and has been steadily rising over the last decade.

Under the tax — which has long had critics both on the right and the left — businesses with revenue of less than $10,000 owe nothing, while those grossing up to $50,000 pay $30 and those grossing up to $100,000 pay $50. Beyond that, most businesses pay $0.36 per $100 in gross receipts, regardless of whether the business is profitable or not. Some businesses, like stores and restaurants, pay a lower rate while others, like printed newspapers, are exempt.

The rising revenue Arlington nets from the BPOL tax (via Arlington County)

De Ferranti, however, balked at other tax cut suggestions.

“But broad statements like, ‘We should cut’ — first, our real estate tax rate is the lowest in the region,” de Ferranti said. “Our property values are so high, so that’s why our total bills are higher than some other localities. We have to keep investing when there’s a challenge in our economy.”

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A vial of the COVID-19 vaccine (DoD Photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Carlos M. Vazquez II)

Arlington has resumed its Covid vaccination effort after receiving the new bivalent booster shots from the state.

The county announced today that it has started taking appointments for the updated Covid vaccine, which is expected to be more protective against the Omicron variant. Appointments are available for those ages 12 and over at the Arlington Dept. of Human Services office at Sequoia Plaza (2100 Washington Blvd).

For now, walk-ins are not being offered. The older Covid vaccines remains available for children younger than 12.

As before, shots of the new vaccine are being offered for free, and are also available in local pharmacies.

Arlington has seen generally falling Covid infection numbers, but the virus is still circulating, including in schools and childcare centers. As of today, the Virginia Dept. of Health is reporting a seven-day moving average of about 55 daily cases in Arlington.

Covid infections in Arlington as of 9/13/22 (via Virginia Dept. of Health)

More on the vaccine availability, from an Arlington County press release, below.

Appointments are now available for a free COVID-19 bivalent (updated) booster through Arlington County Public Health. Boosters are available starting Tuesday, Sep. 13, 2022, by appointment only. No walk-ins will be allowed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone ages 12 and older gets an updated booster if it has been at least two months since they completed their primary series or booster vaccination.

Make an appointment online with Arlington County Public Health though the Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS). If you need ADA accommodations or require assistance scheduling your appointment with Arlington County Public Health, call 703-228-7999.

Additional opportunities to get COVID-19 vaccines and boosters are available in and around Arlington through pharmacies and other medical provider – visit vaccines.gov to find a location near you.

The new updated boosters from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are targeted specifically at the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of the Omicron variant. The bivalent Moderna vaccine is authorized for people ages 18 years and older, and the bivalent Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is authorized for people ages 12 years and older. The Pfizer-BioNTech monovalent (original) COVID-19 vaccines are now only authorized as booster doses for children ages 5-11 years.

Arlington County Public Health is also now offering the Novavax vaccine as a 2-dose primary series for those ages 12 and older. Novavax is another option for people who may be allergic to or prefer not to get an mRNA vaccine. For a complete list of vaccines offered, visit our website.

Please bring your vaccination card with you so your provider can add your booster dose. Children 17 years and younger must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

More information about COVID-19 vaccines and boosters is available on the CDC’s website.

For those seeking protection against highly transmissible diseases over the cold weather months, it is also flu vaccine season.

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The Arlington Public Schools Syphax Education Center (Staff Photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 11:15 a.m.) The failures of the controversial Virtual Learning Program were “an indigestible meal that is going to make you sick,” an Arlington Public Schools auditor told the School Board this summer.

APS created the VLP in May 2021 for families who had reservations about resuming in-person school last fall as well as for students who prefer online instruction. But it quickly malfunctioned for a dozen reasons, according to the audit, prompting school leaders to “pause” the program for the 2022-23 school year and redirect online students to Virtual Virginia (VVA).

APS lacked a formal plan and necessary time to stand up the program, having just the summer to do so, according to auditor John Mickevice. He said planners did not think through the problems that might arise trying to hire 111 teachers in that same period, amid hiring freezes.

The VLP needed more principals, teachers and specialized staff to meet the needs of students, who were overwhelmingly students of color, English learners and students with disabilities, he said. Program leaders were slow to inform administrators of technology issues and teacher shortages.

Arlington Public Schools internal auditor John Mickevice (via Arlington Public Schools)

School Board members accepted the report on July 19 as a “learning” opportunity, taking some ownership for the problems but chalking others up to the pandemic. But they haven’t given up hope on a long-term virtual option, which could relieve capacity pressure and let secondary students pursue extracurricular opportunities, take more classes or recover credits.

A working group and task force are currently exploring what that could look like. Their recommendations are slated for School Board review this December.

“The School Board and Superintendent requested the Audit Report to formally assess the Virtual Learning Program and ensure the issues do not repeat themselves,” School Board Chair Reid Goldstein said in a statement to ARLnow. “The audit reinforced several of the themes which APS staff communicated openly throughout the 2021-22 school year, including insufficient planning time and resources to properly plan for and execute a virtual learning program.”

The working group and task force are “carrying these lessons forward in their work to propose a more sustainable virtual offering for students,” Goldstein said. “APS will continue to keep the community informed as this work progresses.”

Some in the school community say pursuing in-house online learning at all is the wrong takeaway.

“I think the painful lesson to learn was not to do this again. A valuable lesson, but a painful lesson,” said independent School Board candidate Vell Rives. “I think APS should be concentrating on in-person instruction. That’s our charge.”

Bethany Sutton, who has the endorsement of local Democrats, said APS over-extended itself and strayed away from its mission.

“[T]hey lost their way as to whether the VLP was a Covid-related stopgap measure or whether it was a permanent, full-fledged K-12 program,” she said. “This is absolutely a moment for the Board to examine its oversight role, any related policies, and the transparency of how they respond to situations that are emerging in real-time.”

Before getting too far into planning a new program, she said APS needs to determine demand for virtual learning. Currently, there are 33 students enrolled in Virtual Virginia, according to the school system.

In a statement to ARLnow, watchdog group Arlington Parents for Education said the audit demonstrated “there should be a presumption against the use of [virtual learning] options going forward.”

“The audit report identified shocking failures and highlighted that the School Board must take ownership and oversight of APS seriously, including vetting, voting on, monitoring and holding APS leadership accountable for initiatives that impact instruction and the remediation of learning loss,” the group said.

Arlyn Elizee, whose children were in the program last year, said the audit’s lessons won’t be internalized until APS remediates the acute learning loss these children suffered.

“Assuming that all of these issues will soon be addressed [and] remedied as VLP students are dispersed back into their brick and mortar schools or into Virtual Virginia this Fall is not enough,” said Elizee, speaking on behalf of the VLP Parents’ Coalition, which formed to connect families and bolster their advocacy efforts.

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Vaccine dose being given at an Arlington County vaccination clinic (via Arlington County/YouTube)

With updated Covid boosters now approved, the county has paused providing shots to adults as it waits for its supply from the state.

As of this past Friday, Sept. 3, Arlington County Public Health Division is “unable to offer booster dose appointments for Pfizer or Moderna vaccines” per the county’s website.

This is because “the currently available mRNA vaccines are no longer authorized for booster doses for people ages 12 years and older.”

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the use of updated Covid booster shots that are specifically formulated to better protect against the omicron variant. Also in accordance with the Center for Disease Control’s recommendation to use these “bivalent vaccines,” the county has stopped administering the older vaccines.

However, Arlington has yet to receive the newer, updated vaccines from the state.

“We are waiting on the supply we pre-ordered through the Virginia Department of Health,” Arlington health department spokesperson Sondra Dietz wrote ARLnow via email.

She said residents will not be able to schedule vaccine appointments until that happens.

“We will update appointment scheduling in VAMS when we have received the two vaccine boosters,” Dietz said. “In the meantime, please check vaccines.gov to search for appointments in and around Arlington, which includes pharmacies and other medical providers.”

There’s no “definitive timeline” on when updated boosters will be received by the county from VDH. However, there are other locations in Arlington that are currently offering the updated boosters with more on the way in the coming days.

All 153 Giant Food pharmacies in Virginia, Maryland, D.C., and Delaware are now administrating the updated Pfizer vaccine as a single booster dose, a company spokesperson told ARLnow yesterday. That’s available for anyone 12 years or older and two months out from receiving their last booster dose or initial series of vaccines.

“Select” Giant Food pharmacies are also administrating the updated Moderna vaccine for those 18 years and older. Giant is no longer providing the previous mRNA vaccines to those 12 years or older.

Safeway pharmacies in Arlington are planning to have the updated boosters by the end of the week, per a spokesperson.

While adults can no longer receive the previous iteration of the vaccines as boosters, they are still available for children. Earlier this summer, the federal government approved the vaccine for children and recommended that kids as young as 6 months old could get it.

The county is continuing to administer the previous Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to that age range by appointment only at the Arlington Mill and Walter Reed community centers.

Last week, the state health department released a Covid modeling update that showed rates across the state are in a “slow decline.” While there could be surges in the fall and winter, the updated boosters could blunt the impact.

“Models suggest minor case surges in the Fall barring the introduction of a new variant,” reads the VDH’s report from Sept. 2. “An aggressive new variant, in combination with holiday travel and colder weather, could cause another surge in December. But bivalent vaccine boosters could cut this surge short.”

Arlington is currently seeing a seven-day moving average of 44 daily Covid cases, according to the latest VDH data. That’s down from more than 160 daily cases three months ago.

Covid cases in Arlington as of Sept. 8, 2022 (via Virginia Dept. of Health)
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