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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
(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.
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.
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.
Effective immediately, eligible residents of VA are able to receive the new, free COVID-19 bivalent booster vaccinations, manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech & Moderna. The updated boosters specifically target the Omicron BA.4 & BA.5 subvariants. News Release: https://t.co/cM7GHczb92
— Va Dept of Health (@VDHgov) September 7, 2022
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.
Arlington County and the rest of the immediate D.C. area is now in the CDC’s “low” Covid level.
The county was moved from “medium,” where it had been since April, to “low” this afternoon, after the number of weekly cases per 100,000 residents dipped below 200, to 195.
Arlington is currently seeing 6.3 weekly hospital admissions for Covid per 100,000 residents, per the CDC’s website. Just under 5% of staffed inpatient beds are in use by patients who are Covid positive.
Arlington’s Covid positivity rate has also been falling, from around 22% just over a week ago to 17.6% today, according to Virginia Dept. of Health data.
The District of Columbia, Alexandria, Fairfax County, Loudoun County, Prince William County, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County and Charles County are all also now in the CDC’s “low” Covid level.
Despite the good news, cases reported by health authorities are becoming a less reliable metric as of late due to the prevalence of at-home rapid testing.
Virginia Hospital Center ER chief Mike Silverman, in his weekly public Facebook post last week, cautioned against reading too much into case trends.
The number of reported positives that you find online is probably not the best statistic to follow anymore. Certainly, many and possibly a large percentage of people are diagnosing themselves with rapid tests and never getting counted in the total case count. Hospitals and testing centers continue to report their data. The number of patients who remain hospitalized with COVID has remained fairly constant at VHC. But over the last 4 weeks, we have seen a decrease in the amount of emergency department patients who required our COVID isolation status. The total number of cases being diagnosed in the ER in both the symptomatic and asymptomatic population remains fairly consistent. Over the pandemic, we’ve had months where our weekly case count would go down into the single digits. That has not been the case for the last several months. We have had a steady state of patients that we diagnose each week that is not too far below the total number that we saw during our first winter peak/surge in December 2020. Unfortunately, COVID is certainly going to be with us for quite some time.
The pandemic, now nearly 2.5 years old, has bent time in weird ways.
For many, a prolonged period of mostly staying at home — particularly in 2020 — made time seem to go by faster, with fewer memorable milestones like vacations, nights on the town, visits from friends, etc.
For others, particularly parents with children at home, time has dragged on with seemingly endless grinds of remote schooling, remote work, Covid quarantines, etc.
And then there are those who have experienced combinations of both, making certain pandemic-era things feel like ages ago and some pre-pandemic things seem recent.
That sense of time’s variability came to mind as we asked ARLnow staff photographer to spend a recent Covid quarantine picking out his favorite photos of the past two years. See for yourself whether some of these moments feel ancient or like yesterday, despite the actual dates being close together.
Time considerations aside, here’s what Jay had to say about how he selected the photos above from the thousands he has taken.
Picking favorite pictures is kind of like picking favorite children. Do I account for how much of a pain in the ass it was to get in the spot to take the picture? Do I account for the breaking news that made me miss a dinner date? How about the time I was rear-ended on Wilson Blvd, do I take that into account, too?
Seasoned photo editors will tell you that none of that matters, at the end of the day all that counts is the answer to one question: Is it a picture? Does it tell a story?
Included here are storytelling pictures that I feel represent my style and how I see Arlington. It’s a beautiful, sometimes complicated, place to live. And the pandemic has exposed all sorts of issues and shortages. But it’s the best place I’ve ever called home, and I’m proud to be here documenting it in pictures. Okay, maybe one or two are included because of what it took to make them. 😉
The rate of reported Covid cases continues to slowly fall in Arlington, while the number of monkeypox cases slowly rises.
The local seven-day moving average of new Covid cases is now 83 cases per day, down nearly 60% since Memorial Day, according to the latest Virginia Dept. of Health data. Separate data from the CDC suggests that hospitalizations have risen over the past week, from 6.6 per 100,000 residents per week to 8.4.
The county, meanwhile, saw about one new monkeypox case per day over the past week. All seven new cases since last Monday — Arlington has reported a total of 39 cases since the start of the monkeypox outbreak — are among male patients, according to VDH data.
Arlington’s health department says its monkeypox vaccination effort is continuing, with nearly 700 vaccine doses administered as of this past Thursday.
From a county press release:
The Arlington County Public Health Division (ACPHD) continues to respond to the ongoing spread of the monkeypox virus and is working with community partners to ensure those who have been exposed or are at highest risk of exposure to monkeypox receive a vaccination.
ACPHD continues to provide monkeypox vaccine to close contacts of known cases and those at increased risk of exposure to reduce their chances of developing monkeypox. ACPHD has been offering the vaccine since late June and is currently operating clinics by appointment only six days a week. As of Aug. 11, 2022, ACPHD has administered 699 total doses of monkeypox vaccine.
Vaccine appointment invitations are being extended to those who have completed the Monkeypox Vaccine Interest Survey (open to all Virginia residents) AND meet the eligibility criteria. As new vaccine shipments arrive, ACPHD will issue new appointment invitations. The eligibility criteria may change as the outbreak evolves and based on vaccine supply.
Vaccine supply remains limited nationwide. ACPHD has been working with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), which authorizes the priority groups for the monkeypox vaccine and allocates vaccine doses to local health districts.
On the Covid front, Arlington County is ending its local emergency declaration today, as planned. The nearly two-and-a-half year-long state of emergency gave county leaders greater powers to respond to the pandemic.
The Local Emergency for Arlington County, originally declared in response to the public health threat posed by the Coronavirus (COVID-19), ends on Aug. 15, 2022.
The declaration, which went into effect on March 13, 2020, was established to assist in the response and recovery efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. It allowed the County to shift to virtual operations, including online permitting, appointments, remote inspections, County Board and Commission meetings, as well as public comment.
“The declaration has been an important tool offering the flexibility needed to better serve our residents, businesses, and visitors,” said County Manager Mark Schwartz. “The added authorities under an emergency, such as the ability to alter procurement, hiring and zoning rules has served us well. However, as we have learned to cope with a pandemic that will be with us for many months to come the need for these emergency authorities has dwindled.”
Many of the new tools, strategies, and approaches borne out of the pandemic will continue as the County moves beyond the local emergency declaration
Don’t look now but Covid cases are declining in Arlington.
The average daily reported case rate in the county is currently around 90, down from 184 on Memorial Day. At the same time, the number of PCR tests performed in Arlington, as reported by the Virginia Dept. of Health, is also dropping and thus keeping the local test positivity rate high: just over 22%.
A possible explanation is that, unlike earlier in the pandemic when one sometimes had to test even when otherwise seemingly healthy, those testing are overwhelmingly those who are sick — and perhaps those who already tested positive via rapid tests and are just seeking confirmation.
Regardless, the decline in cases has also been noted at the hospital. From Virginia Hospital Center ER chief Mike Silverman’s most recent weekly Facebook post:
I continue to have friends who are getting COVID for the first time so it’s clearly around. However, our numbers show some improvement for the first time in weeks. The number of new COVID cases we diagnosed in the ER fell to its lowest level in a month and is 15% less than last week. Our percent positivity rate also fell from 13.8 to 11.8% over the last few weeks (6 week average of 12.5%). Although the number of patients currently hospitalized remains similar to last week (this number usually falls a few weeks after new diagnoses fall), the number of patients who required our “COVID isolation” protocol fell for the first time in 3 weeks. The number of these patients who required admission is down 20% from last week.
Despite lower cases, Arlington remains in the CDC’s “Medium” level of Covid, which it first entered in April. According to CDC data, Arlington is recording 6.6 hospital admissions for Covid per week, per 100,000 in population.
The good news on local Covid cases comes amid a number of developments, including new research showing that millions are suffering long-term smell or taste problems as a result of the disease, while perhaps 4 million are suffering debilitating “Long Covid” symptoms that are preventing them from working.
Also, the nation’s most prominent Covid case recently resolved, with President Joe Biden testing negative over the weekend after a “rebound” infection following his use of the antiviral treatment Paxlovid.
The news this morning brought a good reminder that Covid is very much still circulating.
President Biden has tested positive for the virus and is receiving antiviral treatment and has “very mild” symptoms, the White House said. Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) was among those wishing the president well.
Best wishes to @POTUS for a swift and full recovery. I appreciate that he is setting a good example by following the science and the public health advice to avoid putting others at risk. Covid is still here, and modeling responsible behavior is a key function of leadership.
— Rep. Don Beyer (@RepDonBeyer) July 21, 2022
In Arlington, meanwhile, the average number of daily Covid infections has remained remarkably steady over the past month, in contrast to the ups and downs of the past 2+ years.
As of today the county is seeing a seven-day moving average of 124 cases per day. Weekly Covid-related hospital admissions are up slightly from earlier this month, from 5.9 to 6.3 weekly admissions per 100,000 residents, according to CDC data.
Arlington’s test positivity rate is still above 20% — it’s 20.7% as of this morning — amid continued low rates of PCR-based testing, according to Virginia Dept. of Health data.
Covid might not be going away any time soon, but Arlington County’s Local Emergency Declaration, made in response to the pandemic, is.
The declaration is being sunsetted as of Aug. 15, County Manager Mark Schwartz announced at Tuesday’s County Board meeting. That will mean a return to more in-person county commission meetings and a need for County Board action to allow expanded outdoor restaurant seating areas past February 2023.
Schwartz declared a local emergency on March 13, 2020. It was approved by the Board the next day.
More from a county press release:
County Manager Mark Schwartz announced the end of the Local Emergency Declaration on Aug. 15, 2022. The declaration was established to assist in the response and recovery efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The declaration allowed the County to shift to virtual operations, including online permitting, appointments, remote inspections, County Board and Commission meetings, as well as public comment.
A few highlights as the County moves beyond the local emergency declaration:
Virtual and Hybrid Commission and Advisory Board Meetings
A new Virginia Electronics Meeting Policy goes into effect September 1, 2022, that will offer additional flexibility for hosting virtual and hybrid meetings. This new policy offers most of our Commission and Advisory Boards the option to conduct an all-virtual meeting two times (or 25 percent of all meetings) annually and allows for remote participation for the public and individual Commission Members on exception.
Temporary Outdoor Seating Areas (TOSAs) for Outdoor Dining
During the pandemic, the County stood up TOSAs as an emergency response to indoor dining restrictions and to provide an expedited process for new or expanded outdoor seating at restaurants. Many people have enjoyed outdoor dining with family, friends, and colleagues and these provisions have been critical to restaurant owners for business operations during this time.
Even with the ending of the state of emergency, the TOSA permissions continue under the Continuity of Government Ordinance for another six months through February 2023. Over the next six months, the County will be working to create longer-term solutions that apply the lessons learned from TOSAs to permanent zoning regulations for outdoor seating. The County Manager will provide an update to the County Board in November.
The Covid test positivity rate in Arlington has reached a level last seen in January during the Omicron surge, but cases have been dropping.
The numbers reflect, at least in part, significantly lower testing volumes amid Fourth of July vacations.
The county’s test positivity rate currently stands at 21%, up from a seasonal low of 13.8% two weeks ago. The seven-day moving average rate of new daily cases, meanwhile, is 116, down from 163 one month ago, according to Virginia Dept. of Health data.
Encouragingly, Covid hospital admissions continue to slowly fall. According to the CDC, Arlington is recording 5.9 weekly admissions per 100,000 people, down from 7.2 about two weeks ago.
Experts say newer Omicron sub-variants are even more transmissible and can re-infect those who recently recovered from a Covid case just a few weeks ago. That may explain why this summer has so far not seen the usual lull in infections. The test positivity rate in Arlington had its last well-defined bottom point in March.
The county recently started vaccinating children ages 6 months to 5 years and reported more than 400 vaccinations for that age group in the first week that shots were available.
Arlington County has already vaccinated several hundred children ages 6 months to 5 years, in the first week the jab was offered for that age group.
That’s according to a county spokesman, in response to an inquiry from ARLnow.
“Arlington County Public Health began COVID-19 vaccinations for children as young as 6 months last Wednesday, June 22,” said Ryan Hudson. “CDC’s Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS) became fully functional later in the week, enabling us to administer a total of 427 first doses so far.”
More on the recently-authorized vaccine offering, from our article last week:
The vaccine shots for young children are currently only being offered by appointment at the county health department’s Sequoia Plaza facility at 2100 Washington Blvd. Vaccine appointments can be booked online, but require registration, the county noted this morning on social media in response to a resident’s question.
The jabs for children 6 months to 5 years old are being offered on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The county is offering both the Pfizer three-dose series and the Moderna two-dose series, County Manager Mark Schwartz said at last night’s County Board meeting.
Schwartz also noted that those who are not online or who need assistance can call 703-228-7999.
“We’re excited to see this milestone,” Board Chair Katie Cristol, herself a mother of a toddler… “Some of us very excited to see this milestone.”
Covid cases in Arlington, meanwhile, have been fluctuating around the same general level over the past 10 days, as the Independence Day holiday approaches.
As of Wednesday morning, the county was seeing a seven-day rolling average of 126 daily cases, according to Virginia Dept. of Health data.
The test positivity rate has climbed sharply over the past week, amid significantly lower testing volumes, and currently stands at 17.8%. That’s up from 13.7% about a week ago.
On the plus side, Covid-related hospital admissions in Arlington have fallen slightly during that time period, sliding from 7.2 per 100,000 in population to 6.8 per 100,000 this week, according to CDC data.