Arlington, VA

For those Arlingtonians still waiting to get their vaccination, the list of options for getting it is growing.

While getting vaccinated through the county remains an option for all currently eligible groups, residents 65 and older have a lengthening list of stores at which they can receive the vaccine.

Thanks to federal partnerships, some local locations of Giant, CVS, Walgreens, Safeway and Harris Teeter are now offering no-cost vaccine appointments separate from Arlington County’s health department.

At this time, exact locations are only known for Giant and Safeway.

Giant 

Safeway

Appointments remain hard to come by, however, even as the one-dose Johnson & Johnson begins to roll out. Vaccine supply in the state remains limited, though it’s increasing.

The Virginia Department of Health tells ARLnow that more than 80,000 doses are being given to retail pharmacies statewide — an increase from last month.

The 69,000 J&J vaccine doses announced last week started coming in yesterday, VDH confirms, and clinics across the state are expecting to start using it today (Friday). Arlington is planning to vaccinate 1,500 people at a mass vaccination clinic at the Lubber Run Community Center tomorrow.

Virginia and Arlington County are both currently in Phase 1b, meaning those 65 or over and those with 16 to 64 with underlying medical conditions are eligible to receive the vaccine.

Statewide, it’s estimated that up to half of the population is currently eligible for the vaccine. Around 27,500 Arlingtonians have received at least one dose, per VDH data.

The challenges for retail pharmacies are the same as for localities: demand is still far outpacing supply.

Last month, CVS began offering vaccine appointments at its local stores for those 65 or over. Currently, 41 CVS pharmacies are offering the vaccine in Virginia with appointments booked through their website.

However, there’s only one location in Arlington (an exact address is not provided) and, at last check, appointments are “fully booked.”

CVS spokesperson Amy Thibault tells ARLnow that “roughly 41,580 appointments” per week available at the 41 locations statewide. Basic math says that’s about 1,000 appointments per store per week.

Most of them are using the Moderna vaccine.

“In most (if not all) states, the number of individuals who are eligible to receive the vaccine under the state’s rules far outnumber the state’s available doses,” Thibault said.

She also noted that CVS is receiving a “one-time allocation” of 212,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week which will be spread across their stores in 17 states.

Scheduling for that began Thursday on the CVS website and administering begins today.

The two Arlington Giant locations are also offering vaccines to those 65 or over, but no appointments are currently available either according to the grocery chain’s online scheduler.

Giant vaccine appointment system (Photo via screenshot)

Giant spokesperson Daniel Wolk tells ARLnow the number of appointments depends on the vaccine doses received and can fluctuate.

“The number is changing daily based on the total amount sent to us,” he writes. “We hope to increase the appointments as time goes by but it all depends on how much vaccine we receive.”

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(Updated 3/3) New data from Arlington Public Schools suggest that more secondary students are failing classes and their average GPA has dropped.

Sixth-grade students appear to be the hardest hit this year: Their average GPA dropped about 6%, and the number of students failing at least one class increased 118%.

The newest numbers span marking periods one, which ends in November, and two, which ends in February, for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years. ARLnow obtained the data from an APS parent, who requested it from the school system.

“We are concerned by the grades we are seeing as compared to last year,” said APS spokesperson Frank Bellavia. “Our commitment is to ensure every student continues to grow and make progress, regardless of their instructional model.”

There is a bright spot, he said: The number of As are up for students with disabilities who receive accommodations as well as those learning English.

Nearly one year after school buildings closed, students in grades 6 and 9 will enter their classrooms this coming Tuesday, March 9, followed by students in grades 7-8 and 10-12 on Tuesday, March 16.

Secondary students are the last to return. Elementary students began their phased return this past Tuesday, following some career and technical education students earlier this year, and some special-education students in the fall.

Students will be in-person twice a week, with teachers teaching to online and in-person students concurrently.

Across the board, metrics for student achievement indicate students are struggling to make grades this year compared to last year.

“Our middle and high school students are almost always ignored in return-to-school discussions because they are supposedly more equipped to handle virtual school — the data shows that is clearly not the case,” said Arlington Parents for Education, a local group that has been vocal in pushing for a swift return to in-person instruction, in a statement.

The group added that “it’s clear that our secondary students need to be back in the classroom just as much — and just as soon —  as our youngest learners.”

This year’s sixth graders have an average GPA of 3.3, compared to last year’s, whose GPA averaged at 3.5. For ninth-graders, the second hardest-hit group, their GPA dropped from 3.2 in November 2019 to 3.0 in November 2020.

Pre-pandemic, researchers have noted that the transition from elementary to middle and middle to high school has an impact on student achievement.

Meanwhile, the most significant drop in the 2019-20 school year was among seniors, whose average GPA fell nearly 6% during that time.

A greater number of middle schoolers are failing at least one class compared to their high-school counterparts. In fact, fewer seniors this February failed at least one class than last February, down to 293 from 334.

ARLnow previously reported that fewer K-2 students in Arlington Public Schools, particularly English learners and Black and Hispanic children, were meeting literacy benchmarks this fall.

Bellavia said APS is adding in a number of supports to help students who fell behind catch up.

Teachers will provide one-on-one support for students who are experiencing difficulties during their office hours, he said. Counselors will reach out to students and parents when they do not attend school, online or in-person, regularly or are not performing well academically or socially.

APS is also allowing teachers to extend deadlines to support students experiencing difficulties, he said. Schools have made adjustments to the school day to include academic support opportunities designed to provide students with additional resources and direct instruction.

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Morning Notes

Metro 29 Diner Back Open — After temporarily closing in late December due to “COVID-19 concerns,” Metro 29 Diner on Lee Highway reopened earlier this week. [Facebook]

Arlington Rents Going Back Up — “In what might be another sign of a return to a semblance of normalcy, average rents for Arlington apartments increased in February for the first time since the start of the COVID pandemic. The 0.7-percent month-over-month increase also mirrored the national index, which reported its biggest monthly increase since June 2019.” [InsideNova]

Alamo Drafthouse Declares Bankruptcy — A centerpiece of some of the changes in Crystal City is the planned Alamo Drafthouse movie theater. But the company just declared bankruptcy, potentially putting new theater projects in jeopardy. [CNBC, @abeaujon/Twitter]

More Edging Work Along Trail — “The morning volunteer session this Saturday has sold out but we still have 8 spots open for the afternoon session. Come help us continue to uncover the [Mt. Vernon] trail and make it a little bit wider.” [@MtVernonFriends/Twitter, Eventbrite]

Don’t Worry About Flipped Car at Fire Station — “Have you driven by one of our fire stations and noticed an overturned car? Don’t be alarmed, it’s likely a vehicle extrication training prop like the one pictured below at Fire Station 5! These vehicles provide us high fidelity training to respond to serious auto crashes.” [@ArlingtonVaFD/Twitter]

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When future Arlingtonians look back at last year, what are some items that will tell the story?

The Center for Local History at the Arlington Public Library is curating a time capsule of 2020. The project is titled, 2020 Unboxed, and will contain objects representing life in Arlington during the momentous year.

The themes for the collection include:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic
  • Racial justice and civic unrest
  • Arlington County’s naming centennial
  • The 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage
  • The 2020 Census

“The time capsule is a snapshot of today as well as a gift for the future, preserving an account of a particular period in time,” said library director Diane Kresh, in a press release.

The Center for Local History will be reaching out to community organizations and leaders to collect items for the project, but residents are encouraged to donate objects that demonstrate how life in Arlington was affected or altered by the pandemic as well.

Submissions can be made online or mailed to Arlington Public Library (P.O. Box 3655, Arlington, VA 22203). All submissions that are donated will not be returned.

The items will be collected for the next nine months, through September.

The time capsule collection will be exhibited online in October during American Archives Month. After the exhibit period ends the time capsule will be sealed and stored in the Arlington Community Archives for preservation and future research.

The library’s COVID-19 archives website has more information on the project.

Arlington is no stranger to time capsules, though sometimes a time capsule stays stored long enough that most people forget about it.

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Arlington County will be conducting its first mass vaccination event this weekend.

On Saturday, starting around 9 a.m., about 1,500 people will receive doses of the new one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the Lubber Run Community Center (300 N. Park Drive). The recently-built community center is just a few blocks from Ballston.

While Arlington has been vaccinating people by the hundreds at a county office building, sometimes leading to long lines, this is the first instance of what the county is calling a “mass vaccination clinic.” (Vaccinations have also been taking place at the Walter Reed Community Center.)

Only those pre-registered for the vaccine on the state’s Vaccinate Virginia website and scheduled for the clinic will receive doses. No walk-ups will be offered.

Arlington is currently vaccinating residents 65 and older, as well as those 18-64 with certain medical conditions. Some frontline workers are also being vaccinated.

County officials described the mass vaccination event as a “pilot” that will establish a new distribution point and help speed vaccine distribution down the road.

“This single-dose vaccine may be desirable for people who want to complete their immunization schedule quickly, do not want to return for a second dose, or have difficulty returning for a second dose,” said Dr. Reuben Varghese, Arlington County Public Health Director, in a press release. “This also gives us an opportunity to pilot operations at a new vaccination site for potential future use in vaccine administration.”

“This new vaccine option will provide increased opportunity for our community, particularly those who may have difficulty in scheduling a second dose of the vaccine,” said County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti. “We want everyone to know that our goal is to get as many vaccines distributed each week as possible. This pilot site reinforces our ability to scale our vaccine rollout quickly and efficiently as new supply becomes available.”

The 1,500 doses of the J&J vaccine offered Saturday is in addition to Arlington’s weekly allotment of about 3,000 first doses of the other, two-dose COVID-19 vaccines from the state.

To date, nearly 40,000 vaccine doses have been administered in Arlington County, according to Virginia Dept. of Health data.

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(Updated at 11 a.m.) Virginia localities are set to start receiving the new Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine next week, thus helping to boost supply in the Commonwealth.

But one group that had been poised to start being vaccinated soon has been bumped further down the priority list: Arlington County employees.

The entire county workforce is being considered to be within the “Continuity of Government” category, and thus is still part of the Virginia “1b” priority group and ahead of the general public. But county employees have now been bumped down below those with pre-existing medical conditions.

“Since my last note to you on this, the Governor has made changes to the prioritization which has moved certain categories of 1B essential workers, including those in Continuity of Government, further down the list for vaccines,” County Manager Mark Schwartz wrote in a recent memo (below) to county workers. “Individuals 16 to 64 years old with underlying medical conditions are now ahead of Continuity of Government workers. This means that there are now about 20,000 Arlington residents ahead of County employees in the queue.”

“The County’s Public Health Division continues only to receive approximately 3,000 first doses per week,” Schwartz continues. “We simply do not have enough vaccine to meet the demand yet. Based on current guidance on prioritization and vaccine supply, it is unlikely that we will begin any employee vaccinations until early April.”

On average, just over 1,100 COVID-19 vaccination doses per day have been administered in Arlington over the past week, according to Virginia Dept. of Health data. VDH says the new J&J vaccine should help increase supply across the state.

“On Saturday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for a new vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson. The EUA allows the vaccine to be distributed in the U.S. for those 18 and older,” the health department said in a press release. “Virginia is expected to receive 69,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine next week, which will be prioritized for mass vaccination clinics across the state.”

Those who are eligible can pre-register for vaccinations at the state’s new Vaccinate Virginia web portal.

Despite the lack of supply right now, Arlington is working to make sure as many eligible people as possible register to be vaccinated. To that end, the county is trying to recruit local organizations to partner with the health department and encourage everyone to get vaccinated.

“We’re trying to get more organizations to become Complete Vaccination Committee (CVC) partners,” county spokeswoman Jennifer K. Smith tells ARLnow. “Over the weekend, CVC members were out in the community at five different locations, getting people pre-registered for the vaccine.”

Organizations can sign up to become partners via this form.

Among the list of current partners is the Arlington County Democratic Committee, which is using its organizational infrastructure for getting residents registered to vote and driving them to the polls to do the same for seniors and vaccinations.

“In election cycles, we are the [Arlington Democrats] ‘Rides to the Polls’ team, but now we’ve put our operation to work to help seniors in a different way,” said Mary Byrne, a co-leader of the volunteer effort. “We are grateful that [Arlington Democrats] allowed us to use their database to access a list of both Dems and Republican seniors. Our volunteer list of more than 50 callers and drivers is growing and we’ve already called hundreds and helped dozens of seniors in the one week we’ve been in operation.”

Their list includes more than 6,000 Arlington seniors 75 years and older, Byrne said. The volunteers help with vaccination registration, scheduling and transportation.

More information on the “Ride to Vaccines” vaccine program can be found online or by calling (703) 528-8588 ext 5.

Image via Arlington County/YouTube

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(Updated at 11:30 a.m.) For his first budget as Superintendent of Arlington Public Schools, Francisco Durán said he is proposing a conservative budget “that reflects our most urgent needs.”

The 2022 budget for APS, which he presented to members of the School Board on Thursday, comes to $704.4 million in expenditures and $661.9 million in revenue. APS, which has expected budget gaps in years past, is expecting a $42.5 million shortfall for its next fiscal year.

“We are facing very unique challenges as our school division works through the pandemic and what is to come,” Durán said. “Over the past year, we have seen the impact that this has had on our local economy and significant losses in revenue in Arlington.”

The county will be transferring $529.7 million to APS, which is $5.1 million higher than the 2021 fiscal year, according to a county budget presentation document. County Manager Mark Schwartz presented his proposed budget two weeks ago.

Durán said increases in local and state contributions will be lower they have been over the last three years. The county has increased its contributions by an average of $19 million a year, while the state increased its contributions by about $4 million annually, he said.

APS could make up some of the gap with funding from the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, Durán said. The school system is projected to receive $20.5 million in funding from the plan, which House Democrats passed last week and sent to the Senate.

The government will likely require the funds be allocated to health and safety and learning loss, he said.

This is the second consecutive year that APS is not proposing step increases for staff. Last year, the approved $670 million budget included a projected gap of $27 million, which led APS not to include these compensation increases.

Responding to a directive from the School Board to provide compensation for staff at all levels, Durán said he is making a 2% cost of living adjustment.

“A step increase would not provide a compensation increase to 35% of our full-time employees or to 100% of our hourly workers and substitutes,” Durán said. “A cost of living adjustment ensures that everyone will receive something.”

But, he added, “while I do believe there are many steps in the right direction, I want to acknowledge and recognize that it is not enough.”

Salary and benefits costs account for nearly 79% of the total budget and 95% of the school operating fund.

In the official 2022 proposed budget, Durán wrote that the primary drivers of the budget are:

  • $10 million for student enrollment growth, including staffing, opening the neighborhood school at the Key site and moving three other schools
  • $9.5 million to restore funding for one-year reductions used to balance the FY 2021 budget
  • $9.2 million for a 2% cost of living adjustment for all staff
  • $2.2 million for special education needs such as additional interpreters and Pre-K assistants
  • $3.5 million to support network infrastructure and student access to the Internet

The investments in special education and English language services are part of continuing compliance with a settlement with the U.S. Dept. of Justice.

“It seems clear to me that we are putting our emphasis on equity, equity for our students, equity for our staff in terms of the way that the proposed compensation is coming forward, and equity when it comes to our concerns about our students’ social-emotional needs,” School Board Chair Monique O’Grady said during the meeting last Thursday. “Those are major things that have been borne and laid bare because of the pandemic.”

School enrollment in the fall, meanwhile, is expected to rise well above figures from two years prior, after a big pandemic-caused dip this school year. Enrollment now projected to peak and start a slight decline mid-decade, after more than 15 years of growth to date.

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(Updated at 12:15 p.m.) Clarendon Popup Bar, located inside the former Clarendon Ballroom space, is about to shift to its second theme.

The concept bar opened at 3185 Wilson Blvd in time to ring in the New Year with its temporary theme, “Winter Wonderland.” That theme will still be in effect this weekend, but will then be changed over the course of the following week. (An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that it would be closed this weekend.)

“Winter Wonderland was a success and more popular than anticipated,” owner Mike Bramson tells ARLnow. “The next theme is ‘Fire & Ice.’ We don’t want to give anything anyway, so you’ll have to come see it.”

Weather permitting, the rooftop will open in March, he said.

The debut of the “Fire and Ice” theme is set for Thursday, March 4, according to the calendar. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, which falls on a Wednesday, Clarendon Popup Bar will also have “ShamRock N’ Roll” event on Saturday, March 13.

“For St. Patrick’s Day weekend we are still working out the details, but you can most definitely expect a band and DJ lineup, and of course some green beer,” he said.

The pop-up will be showing games in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, better known as March Madness, from March 18 to April 4.

“We will be opening early to show the March Madness games on our huge projector wall and TVs,” Bramson said. “Every seat in the house will be able to see a screen.”

The next round of events will end on April 3 with the Final Four games and a “Fire and Ice”-themed night.

Not everybody has been enamored with Clarendon Popup. An anonymous tipster sent ARLnow Instagram videos inside the venue, showing crowded dance areas and a number of people not wearing masks.

In response, Bramson said Clarendon Popup Bar has been working with the health department to “ensure we are following all necessary regulations and precautions.”

Since opening, he and staff have rearranged the layout “a few times” to adapt to demand. The large indoor space has allowed them to properly distance and section off tables, he said.

“We feel comfortable that we have taken the proper safety measures going into our next theme,” said Bramson. “Anyone not at their table is required to wear a mask and all staff is on top of enforcing that rule.”

The County Board approved Clarendon Popup’s request for a live entertainment and dancing permit in mid-December on the condition that the owners abide by all local, state and federal COVID-19 regulations.

Photos (2-3) via Instagram

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Morning Notes

Track Team Denied Trip to State Tourney — “High-school track and field competitors from across the commonwealth’s largest jurisdictions will descend on Virginia Beach March 1 for the Virginia High School League’s Class 6 boys and girls indoor state-championship meets. But Arlington athletes will not be among them. County school leaders have denied permission for teams to make the trip, citing health concerns about the ongoing high level of COVID infection in that part of Virginia and other factors.” [InsideNova]

County Employees Getting Vaccinated — “Arlington government leaders have decided that the entire county-government workforce qualifies as essential for ‘continuity of government,’ which bumps them ahead of several other groups as well as the general public in COVID-vaccination priority. County-government officials last week confirmed to the Sun Gazette that its entire workforce will be part of Virginia’s ‘Group 1b,’ placing them ahead of approximately 50 percent of the state’s population.” [Sun Gazette]

HQ2 Sparks Park Debate — “[Nearby residents] worry even the large parks Amazon is promising will feel more like playgrounds for the company’s workers than community assets, pressing Arlington County officials to invest and ensure public ownership of green space in the area. And in a section of Arlington where some neighborhood groups have raised persistent complaints about a lack of community parks over the years, the issue seems certain to dominate debates about development for the foreseeable future.” [Washington Business Journal]

Local Food Biz Profiled — From the Ballston Business Improvement District: “After years of learning and cooking with their families, Andrea and Bryant created Bee J’s Cookies in April 2020 to share their gift with others.” [Twitter]

Arlington Org Helped Thousands with Food Needs — “AHC Inc., a premier provider of affordable housing communities in metro D.C., sprang into action last spring to help residents suffering from the effects of the pandemic. In 2020, AHC’s Resident Services team with support from the property management arm, AHC Management, has provided substantial food and financial assistance to more than 3,000 families in Maryland and Virginia.” [AHC Inc.]

‘Cyber Flashing’ Bill Killed — “Fear not, creepy Virginia dudes — you can still legally send an unsolicited picture of your genitals to people. For now, at least. A bill that would ban cyber-flashing in Virginia was killed last Wednesday. Cyber-flashing is when someone sends unsolicited explicit photos to another person, and the bill proposed to make it a misdemeanor.” [Washingtonian, Virginia Mercury]

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(Updated 12 p.m. 2/26/21) For the first time in nearly a year, school starts next week for Pre-K through 2nd grade students in Arlington Public Schools.

To help ensure safety for students getting to school — even if only for two days per week — the Arlington County Police Department is getting involved in the process.

APS is making final health and safety preparations ahead of elementary schoolers returning on Tuesday, March 2 — nearly one calendar year after APS closed due to the pandemic. Meanwhile, ACPD is ramping up efforts to remind residents of how to drive, cycle and walk safely in school zones.

“Since this is the first time in nearly a year that motorists will see an increased number of students walking, bicycling, and riding the bus to class, ACPD is encouraging the public to re-familiarize themselves with the location of school zones, applicable traffic laws (including those pertaining to school buses), and tips to keep students safe,” a press release said.

APS expanded its walk zones around schools to limit the number of students on the buses and enforce social-distancing. ACPD said this may result in more children being driven to school.

“The public can expect to see increased vehicular traffic in and around schools,” the release said.

Message boards along roadways throughout the county will remind motorists to slow down, avoid distractions and watch for students.

The county is also installing the following signs indicating temporary parking restrictions near schools.

In terms of health and safety inside schools, more than 98% of classrooms meet or exceed air quality requirements, APS said.

Additionally, the school system has three ways to ensure lunch can be consumed safely, Superintendent Francisco Durán told School Board members on Thursday. And starting March 1, families can fill out the daily COVID-19 symptom screener sent to their devices, and the school has made changes to transportation.

Amid falling rates of COVID-19 cases, reported cases among in-person students and teachers appear to remain low, when compared to close contacts with sick individuals. This means mitigation strategies are working, Durán said.

“I just want to acknowledge the Herculean effort that has gone on over the past year even to get to this point… and all the people who contributed to creating this plan,” Arlington School Board member Cristina Diaz-Torres said. “I am very confident in what we have thus far.”

Still, the superintendent acknowledged more work ahead. Many teachers report lacking clarity on how to teach online and in-person students at the same time using new technologies such as special microphones and cameras.

For most students, in-person learning will occur only twice a week, and a group of 75 parents, teachers, staff and students have determined ways distance learning could be improved. The group found that teachers and schools could use technology more consistently and students should be encouraged to turn on their cameras.

“When they have their cameras turned off consistently, it’s hard to find their level of engagement and for staff to build a meaningful relationship,” Durán said.

More back-to-school safety tips from the police press release, below.

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