Arlington, VA

After lagging neighboring Alexandria and Fairfax County for part of the year, one measure of Arlington’s vaccination rate is now the highest among major Northern Virginia jurisdictions.

More than 180,000 vaccination doses have been administered in Arlington, as of this morning, and more than 75,000 people have been fully vaccinated. According to Virginia Dept. of Health data, 48.8% of Arlington’s population has received at least one vaccination dose.

That’s higher than Alexandria (44.5%), Fairfax County (48.6%), Loudoun County (48.3%) and Prince William County (42.8%). Two smaller jurisdictions — the cities of Falls Church and Fairfax — have rates of 52.7% and 52% respectively.

Yesterday, President Biden set a goal of having 70% of the American adults vaccinated with at least one shot by July 4. In Arlington, 115,626 people have received at least one vaccine dose, which is nearly 60% of the adult population.

At 31.7%, Arlington still trails Fairfax (32.3%) and Loudoun (31.9%) counties in terms of percentage of the population that’s fully vaccinated. The VDH figures do not include doses administered by federal agencies, which have been vaccinating military members and essential federal workers.

An average of just over 2,300 vaccination doses have been administered each day in Arlington over the past week. The county is currently accepting walk-ins at vaccination sites in Crystal City and near Columbia Pike, through Friday.

The rate of new COVID-19 cases in Arlington, meanwhile, continues to decline.

Arlington broke its streak of two consecutive days of single-digit new cases, with 21 new cases reported this morning, but the trailing seven-day total still dropped to 111, the lowest point so far in 2021. Arlington’s test positivity rate currently stands at 3%.

Since Sunday, two new Covid-related deaths and two hospitalizations have been recorded, according to VDH.

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Morning Notes

Free Cinco de Mayo Rides — “Offered by the nonprofit Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP), the 2021 Cinco de Mayo SoberRide program will be in operation beginning at 4:00 pm this Wednesday, May 5, 2021 (Cinco de Mayo) and operate until 2:00 am on Thursday, May 6, 2021 as a way to keep local roads safe from impaired drivers during this traditionally high-risk holiday.” [Press Release]

Extra ACPD Traffic Enforcement — From the Arlington County Police Department: “As part of the regional Council of Governments StreetSmart campaign, officers conducted high visibility speed enforcement along Lee Highway today. With warmer weather upon us, there is increased pedestrian and cyclist traffic in the County. Remember to slow down, obey posted speed limits and remain alert for other travelers.” [Facebook]

School Board Hopefuls On Math Controversy — “With the Virginia Department of Education under attack – fairly or unfairly – for what critics say is an attempt to dumb down math instruction across the commonwealth, the two candidates for the Democratic endorsement for Arlington School Board gave state officials neither a rousing endorsement nor a ringing denunciation in a recent forum.” [Sun Gazette]

Critic Praises Local Restaurant — “Every once in a while, a restaurant comes along that checks off so many boxes, you wonder if it had taken a poll of diners’ wishes. Right now, that restaurant is a place in Arlington that combines a warm welcome with good food in a spot that locals might recall as a former paint store or a chocolate factory… Ruthie’s All-Day.” [Washington Post]

Covid Concerns for Local With India Ties — “Singh, a 28-year-old consultant, walked her dog in her Arlington, Va., neighborhood where people lined up to get inside a rooftop tiki bar and a group pedaled by on a party bike, drinking beer. She returned to her apartment and stayed up until 2 a.m. scouring Instagram for phone numbers of Indians who might have oxygen and getting no replies to a flurry of messages. Singh is among thousands of Americans struggling to help Indian relatives survive a catastrophic coronavirus surge that has caused the health care system to collapse.” [New India Times]

Nearby: Fairfax Co. Lowers Tax Rate — “Fairfax County adopted a budget Tuesday that lowers the residential property tax rate… the tax rate drops by a penny to $1.14 per $100 of assessed value. Prince William County officials also recently shaved a penny from their tax rate, now at $1.115 per $100 of assessed value. Loudoun County lowered its rate by 5 .5 cents, to $0.98 per $100 of assessed value, while Arlington County froze its rate at $1.013 per $100 of assessed value.” [Washington Post]

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With COVID-19 cases declining and 31% of the local population fully vaccinated, more people appear to be out and about in Arlington, according to recent county parking data.

Arlington County logged more than 266,500 and 263,000 parking meter transactions in March and April, respectively — the highest these numbers have been since October when cases started mounting for the second time in 2020.

The figures are one indication that Arlington has returned to a level of activity last seen in Arlington late last summer when case numbers were low and the state lifted many of the restrictions on daily life.

While parking numbers have recovered from the second and larger wave of coronavirus, the road to pre-pandemic parking levels may still be a long one. The transactions this spring are roughly 40% lower than they were in the spring of 2019.

The parking transaction trends appear to be the inverse of COVID-19 cases in Arlington.

Parking transactions dropped dramatically between October to November, during which time coronavirus cases started rising. Parking transactions bounced back in March and remained at similar levels in April; meanwhile, COVID-19 cases have reached their lowest point since October.

Today, the Virginia Dept. of Health reported only five new cases in Arlington, after nine new cases were reported yesterday — the first two-day stretch of single-digit new cases in the county since Sept. 1-2.

Arlington’s recently-adopted budget projects parking revenue getting close to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the 2022 fiscal year, “but there is a lot of uncertainty about that assumption,” parking manager Stephen Crim said.

The county has a long way to go to recover lost parking revenue, which plummeted from a 2019 peak of nearly 500,000 transactions in August to fewer than 60,000 transactions in April 2020.

If the revenue trends from April continue into May and June, however, parking revenue for the second quarter of 2021 could surpass the $1.4 million that the county logged through March, county officials say.

“A return to pre-pandemic levels will depend not only on how quickly jurisdictions lift restrictions on places like restaurants but also on how comfortable people feel going back to their usual activities,” Crim said. “Also, there may be medium- or long-term changes to the way people shop, socialize and conduct business meetings, which could affect parking in Arlington, just like everywhere else.”

In February, Gov. Ralph Northam rolled back a 10 p.m. alcohol curfew for restaurants to midnight, and by mid-May, he is expected to raise the caps on venue capacity and social gatherings, while lifting the curfew on liquor sales. Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cleared Americans to be outside without a mask in most situations. Soon after, Virginia followed suit.

Although transactions levels are lower, the overall patterns of where people park are generally similar to pre-pandemic patterns, Crim said.

“A quick look at some of our meter data indicates that areas that were popular pre-pandemic remain popular today and areas that were less popular are still less popular,” he said.

He did not indicate whether the county expects a new pilot program that prices parking by demand along Metro corridors — approved by the County Board in December — will impact parking transaction rates.

Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services will be conducting the performance parking pilot to improve parking management, “regardless of the overall number of people who want to park in Arlington,” Crim said.

“We started planning for this pilot well before the pandemic struck and we don’t see the pilot as an opportunity to shore up revenue,” he said.

Charts compiled by ARLnow using data from Arlington County and Virginia Department of Health  

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Coronavirus cases in Arlington are down, today hitting the lowest rate of new cases since early October.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the pace of vaccinations is also trending down.

Overnight only nine new COVID-19 cases were reported in Arlington by the Virginia Dept. of Health, the first single-digit daily case count since Oct 1. The seven-day trailing total of new cases currently stands at 123, the lowest point since Oct. 7.

The county’s cumulative case count since March 2020 is now 15,130.

Fewer cases are leading to fewer hospitalizations and deaths, but the virus is nonetheless still spreading and causing serious illness. Overnight VDH reported one new Covid-related hospitalization and one new death in Arlington, bringing the pandemic totals to 830 hospitalizations and 253 deaths.

Since April 1, 25 new hospitalizations and seven deaths have been reported in the county.

Daily vaccinations, meanwhile, appear to have peaked and are trending down.

The Virginia Dept. of Health only reported 354 vaccine doses administered in Arlington in its latest daily figures this morning. That brings the seven-day trailing average down to 2,441 doses administered, the lowest point since April 9.

The seven-day average peaked at 3,516 on April 27.

So far, a total of 177,107 doses have been administered in Arlington and 48.1% of the population has received at least one dose. In all, 73,641 people have been fully vaccinated, or 31.1% of the population.

The slowing rate of vaccinations in Arlington, despite the county having one of the highest rates of vaccine interest in the nation (92%), seems to be part of a national trend that is increasingly concerning to public health officials.

The New York Times reported today that “there is widespread consensus among scientists and public health experts that the herd immunity threshold [for COVID-19 in the U.S.] is not attainable — at least not in the foreseeable future, and perhaps not ever,” contradicting earlier hopes that widespread vaccinations may one day relegate the virus to being relatively rare.

Officials instead “are coming to the conclusion that rather than making a long-promised exit, the virus will most likely become a manageable threat that will continue to circulate in the United States for years to come, still causing hospitalizations and deaths but in much smaller numbers,” the Times reported.

Other experts are a bit more optimistic in tone, suggesting that slower but steady vaccination rates over the summer can result in a relatively quiet fall, echoing the experience of Israel and the U.K., which have each at least partially vaccinated 50-60% of the population, compared with just under 44% of the U.S. population.

Faced with declining vaccination rates, Arlington County announced over the weekend that it would start conducting walk-in vaccinations for the first time, after months of only accepting appointments.

Walk-in vaccinations are being offered this week at Walter Reed Community Center (2909 16th Street S.) and Crystal City (2100 Crystal Drive), according to a county press release.

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More than one year after all Arlington Public Library branches were shuttered due to the coronavirus, five branches remain closed. 

This summer and fall, the library is looking to reopen four of these branches, which currently only allow people to drop books off.

“Based on the recently approved Arlington County FY22 Budget, the Library plans to expand open locations after July 1, as hiring and training of new staff allows,” said a recent announcement from the library system.

The Aurora Hills branch and the newly renovated Columbia Pike branch could open in July. Next up would be the Cherrydale and Glencarlyn branches, which the library announcement said could open “by fall 2021 and sooner if possible.”   

Three locations are currently open. Central Library allows people to pick up the books they have on hold, while the Shirlington and Westover branches are open for 30 minutes of in-person browsing with self-service checkout.

The library is also looking to expand services at these three locations. It aims to increase access to library collections, public computers and public space at all locations while keeping social distancing in mind. 

Remaining closed, for now, is the branch in the lobby of county government headquarters in Courthouse.

“The Plaza branch will remain closed in preparation for a long-planned expansion and renovation,” the announcement said. 

Arlington Public Library is planning for socially distanced outdoor programs this summer. Among these include outdoor storytimes, which will kick off Tuesday, May 18 at Central Library.

Its summer reading challenge will begin June 1, and Arlington Public Library’s mobile truck will “continue to hit the road and be visible at community events.”

One change of note for returning library patrons: during the pandemic, Arlington Public Library permanently eliminated late fees, a change intended to “make the library more accessible to all.”

Photo via Arlington Public Library

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Arlington has long had a childcare shortage problem. During the pandemic, strangely, that helped its programs survive.

Although childcare programs across the nation have shuttered due to the coronavirus, in Arlington, only three licensed programs have closed, said County Board member and childcare advocate Katie Cristol. One is reopening in a new location better equipped for social-distancing, while two others closed permanently (one of those closures was virus-related).

“The good news is, what has been one of the biggest challenges of the landscape of Arlington has been an asset,” she said, adding that demand remained strong locally, buoying Arlington’s centers, “most of which have faired fairly well.”

Amid the three closures, Cristol — who helped launch the county’s Child Care Initiative in 2017 — helped welcome a new addition to Arlington’s stock of early education and childcare options this week. Looking to help address Arlington’s demand for early education options, two sisters, Saniya Dhala and Zahra Isani, opened Primrose School of Arlington in the Courthouse area yesterday (Thursday).

“There continues to be a great need for high-quality early education and child care options in our community and Primrose Schools delivers that in a convenient setting, close to neighborhoods and businesses,” Cristol said.

It is independently owned and operated by Dhala and Isani, who quit their jobs in the finance and food industries to open this Primrose School location, the 450th nationwide. The school at 2107 Wilson Blvd can accommodate up to 185 children.

“The pandemic has been devastating to so many businesses and industries, and the childcare industry is no exception to that,” the sisters tell ARLnow. “Some schools have had to shut their doors, and some have had to reduce hours and capacity. As we start to return to normalcy things are opening back up, many schools are ready to welcome families again and we are excited to be opening a high-quality option in an area where it’s needed.”

This location is one of five Primrose locations scheduled to open in the D.C. area — joining 11 existing outposts — in the middle of a pandemic that has shined a light on deep problems in the industry, such as a shortage of spots, high staff turnover and thin operating margins.

There are some signs of relief, however. President Joe Biden announced that $39 billion of the American Rescue Plan will help sustain these programs, Gov. Ralph Northam announced $203 million to expand eligibility for the Commonwealth’s Child Care Subsidy Program.

While Dhala and Isani said they started the process of opening their franchise location before the pandemic hit, the coronavirus did reinforce their decision to open a school.

“Being in the process of opening during the pandemic allowed us to be agile and adjust our space on the front-end to ensure we met and innovated around all the new safety guidelines,” they said. “Childcare is essential to our workforce and to our nation’s economic recovery, not to mention to prepare our next generation of leaders for the future.”

The pandemic made more people realize the dearth of options available, as waves of women have exited the workforce to take care of their children full-time, Cristol said. The county initiative she helped launch is still working to address the high demand and low supply of options.

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A group of Arlingtonians has worked nights and weekends to sign up nearly 2,000 members of local immigrant communities for the COVID-19 vaccine.

And the team, called the Arlington Schools Hispanic Parents Association, only advertised its services twice: once in March, when the group decided to get involved, and once when eligibility expanded to all Virginians 16 and older.

Word spread by mouth, text and through small social networks among mostly Spanish-speaking communities in Arlington.

“For the first couple of weeks, we were overwhelmed,” said ASHPA member (and former Arlington School Board member) Tannia Talento. “In the last two weeks, it has settled down. But now that it’s open to the public, we expect a second rush.”

Talento and Janeth Valenzuela started ASHPA in 2016 with two other women to address the communication gap among the county, the school system, and Spanish-speaking and other immigrant households. During the pandemic, the group pivoted to focusing on weekly food distributions, rent support, mental health education and now, registering people for vaccine appointments through the community health center, Neighborhood Health.  

“I’m very proud of my team,” Valenzuela said. “We want to help our community get vaccinated.”

It has been almost two weeks since anyone 16 and older officially became eligible to get a shot and the number of vaccinated people continues to rise in Arlington County —  more than 68,000 people in Arlington are fully vaccinated as of today, according to the Virginia Dept. of Health.

Now that the vaccine is widely available, focus has shifted to getting those hesitant to get the vaccine — or unable to get it for other reasons — into vaccination clinics.

Talento and Valenzuela said they did encounter vaccine hesitancy in February and March but the bigger hurdles they face involve access. They worry that hesitancy is used to gloss over these other, surmountable barriers. 

“In the beginning, it was difficult. Most of the population did not want the vaccine,” Valenzuela said. “It’s part of the culture in third-world countries to talk bad about vaccines. We had to work with that and let them know the vaccine is something to open the economy in this country and get back the life they had.”

But when hesitant folks saw their community leaders get vaccinated, they changed their minds, she said. A few skeptical community members do remain, however, she noted.  

Talento said she spends more time helping people access the vaccine than convincing them it is safe to take. Some did not think they were eligible back in February, even though they were.

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It’s safe for those who are fully vaccinated to skip wearing masks outside in most situations.

That’s according to new federal guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. President Biden announced the new guidelines Tuesday, as vaccinations continue at a quickening clip locally but are slowing nationally.

Walking down the street, running, laying on the beach, and dining or hanging out with small groups of people you know — all can now be maskless for the fully vaccinated. The only exception: you should still wear masks when among large outdoor crowds.

“Starting today, if you’re fully vaccinated and you’re outdoors… and not in a big crowd, you no longer need to wear a mask,” Biden said.

The new CDC guidance will not immediately change Covid restrictions in Virginia. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and his administration are reportedly considering relaxing the state’s mask mandate, which requires wearing masks outdoors if you cannot maintain social distancing. The mandate generally exempts outdoor exercise.

In Ballston yesterday evening, plenty of people could still be seen walking down the sidewalk with masks on. While mask wearing in such a setting doesn’t hurt, it’s probably unnecessary if you’re fully vaccinated at this point, according to the new guidance.

When walking outdoors in a populated but uncrowded public setting, when will you feel comfortable going maskless?

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Morning Notes

Local Teacher Finalist in TV Contest — From Stacey Finkel, Kenmore Middle School PTA President: “Eurith Bowen, Functional Life Skills teacher at Kenmore Middle School, has been named a finalist for LIVE with Kelly and Ryan’s Top Teacher search. Eurith Bowen is a phenomenal educator who teaches from her heart, and has inspired an entire community to embrace students in a very special way. Eurith teaches students who are identified as having disabilities.” [Live with Kelly and Ryan]

Bridge Repair Work Underway — “Work is underway to rehabilitate the North Glebe Road (Route 120) bridge over Pimmit Run, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation… This summer, North Glebe Road between Military Road and Route 123 (Chain Bridge Road) will be closed for about nine days to efficiently replace the bridge deck and beams.” [VDOT]

Most Choosing In-Person Learning in Fall — From Superintendent Francisco Durán: “Based on preliminary results from the family selection process, an overwhelming number of families are choosing to return in person in the fall… Previous communications stated that we are planning for both normal capacities as well as developing contingency plans should 3-foot distancing be recommended; however, we want to be transparent that 3-foot distancing is not feasible with the enrollment we are anticipating.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Masks for Youth Sports Questioned — “An Arlington County softball dad created a petition to take on the county’s school system on sports and mask mandates. The school system’s spokesperson sent FOX 5 an emailed response on Tuesday, affirming student athletes will be required to wear masks during competition until the end of the school year… Nearly 300 people have signed the petition made for 500 signatures, calling for the Arlington County Public School’s Superintendent to drop the youth sport mask mandate.” [Fox 5]

Milk Spills into Stream from I-395 — “If you see a white substance in Long Branch Creek, don’t have a cow – it’s just spilled milk, according to the Arlington Fire Department. The department said an incident on Interstate 395 led to a milk truck leaking ‘approximately 50 gallons.’ According to a tweet, that milk has made it into Long Branch Creek near South Troy Street.” [WJLA, Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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Getting vaccinated in Arlington now just takes a couple of clicks and a jab.

A month after Arlington joined other Northern Virginia locales in pleading for more vaccine supply from the state, the supply of unvaccinated arms rather than vaccine doses is quickly becoming the limiting factor.

To help keep up the current vaccination momentum — today the county reached a fresh high of more than 3,500 vaccine doses being administered per day, on average — scheduling a vaccine appointment no longer requires a pre-registration process. Rather, anyone 16 years of age or older can now get a free Covid shot via an online scheduling system, effective immediately.

As of publication time, there were plenty of shots still available at both the Lubber Run Community Center and the Walter Reed Community Center tomorrow (Wednesday).

More than 162,000 vaccine doses have been administered in Arlington, as of today, and more than 65,000 people — out of an adult population of nearly 200,000 — are fully vaccinated, according to Virginia Dept. of Health data. Just over 45% of the overall population has received at least one vaccination shot.

The stats include vaccinations administered by the county, private pharmacies and others.

In a press release, below, county officials touted the scheduling change as helping to “remove barriers to making an appointment.”

Beginning Tuesday, April 27, individuals 16 years and older may directly schedule an appointment to receive a free COVID-19 vaccine at Arlington County public health clinics.

Individuals can directly reserve a slot at one of Arlington’s public health clinics by visiting the County website – or by searching Vaccinefinder.org for appointments at nearby locations.

“Arlington has hit a major milestone in its vaccination efforts by surpassing more than 100,000 doses administered through our public health clinics,” said Matt de Ferranti, Chair of the Arlington County Board. “As we continue our work to efficiently vaccinate our residents and do so equitably, open scheduling helps remove barriers to making an appointment and ensures our community can quickly and conveniently access COVID-19 vaccines.”

Dr. Reuben Varghese, Arlington County Public Health Director added, “Vaccines offer the best form of protection against COVID-19. The more people protected, the better it is for ourselves and our community. We’ve made significant progress and we need more people vaccinated.”

Individuals who have pre-registered should have received an invitation to schedule a vaccine appointment. If you have not received an invitation to schedule, please check your spam folder or schedule your appointment now.

Individuals ages 16-17 should search for appointment dates where Pfizer is offered. Note: The Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be available at public health clinics in the coming days, and it will be noted on the appointment slots.

If you need help scheduling your appointment with Arlington County Public Health, call 703-228-7999. For additional assistance, call 1-877-VAX-IN-VA (877-829-4682).

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Morning Notes

Jail to Reopen to Visitors — “Sheriff Beth Arthur has announced a modified reopening of in-person visitation for those remanded to the Arlington County Detention Center. Relatives and friends will regain the ability to visit loved ones in person beginning May 1. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person visitation at the Arlington County Detention Center has been suspended for more than a year.” [Arlington County]

HQ2 to Feature Small Local Businesses — “Amazon.com Inc. plans to prioritize leasing retail space at its D.C.-area offices to businesses owned by people from historically underrepresented groups, an official with the e-commerce and cloud computing giant said recently. ‘We’re still in the process of curating and finding those retailers, but our goal is small, local, minority- and women- owned,’ Joe Chapman, Amazon’s director of global real estate and facilities, said of the company’s retail leasing strategy during a meeting of Arlington’s long range planning committee April 19.” [Washington Business Journal]

New Police Chief Pick Coming Soon — “Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz says he hopes to have a permanent head of the Arlington County Police Department announced sooner rather than later. ‘My goal was to have a police chief in place this spring. That’s still my goal,’ Schwartz told County Board members on April 20.” [Sun Gazette]

Marymount Vaccinates Thousands — “Nearly 1,200 students, faculty, staff and members of the community received their first Pfizer COVID vaccinations on April 21 at Marymount University, part of a collaborative effort between the university and state and local officials. The university transformed one of its gyms into a mass-inoculation site, and turnout exceeded expectations.” [Sun Gazette]

Rotary Club Honors ‘Educator of the Year’ — “The Arlington Rotary Club has honored school counselor Laurie Dodson as Arlington Key Elementary School’s ‘Educator of the Year’ and presented two Arlington high school students scholarships totaling $18,000 at the club’s annual education awards event.” [Press Release]

Pink Moon Dazzles — “We’re entering the heart of spring and, in most temperate climates, buds are bursting and decorating the newly lush landscape. Fresh arrangements of pink flowers are emerging, and the April moon, which will become full Monday night, is named in their honor. The ‘Pink Moon’ will be officially full, or 100 percent illuminated, at 11:31 p.m. Eastern time Monday. It will be bold and bright but won’t actually appear pink in the night sky.” [Capital Weather Gang]

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