Arlington, VA

After being closed for months, Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse (2903 Columbia Pike) is planning to reopen this weekend, but with restrictions.

Owner Tim Clark said this week’s reopening is a test drive to gauge public interest in attending the entertainment venue while the rate of coronavirus cases is still going up.

“It feels weird, but good,” Clark said. “There are a lot of unknowns, but we’re excited to get back up. [We’ll be at] 33% capacity for everything, and with social distancing probably under that… We just really want to see how the room flows and how people react.”

Clark said he recognized that the prospect of reopening the venue, which has been closed since March 13, is likely to concern people.

“At this point, we feel pretty confident in how we’re going to reopening,” Clark said. “We’re keeping to all of the mandates and recommendations. We’re doing everything we can. We still have bills and have everything going forward, so having zero revenue was going to be detrimental to the business. We’re seeing a small window and this is really a test.”

Clark said the venue will be run by what’s left of his staff. Many people have moved out of the area or found other jobs. While recognizing that it wasn’t exactly environmentally friendly, Clark said in the interest of public health the venue is also going fully disposable containers and utensils for its limited menu.

“Excited to see if people come out,” Clark said. “I think people are itching for it.”

According to the theater website:

Mask or facial covering will be required for entry into theater and must be worn while moving around inside the theater, no exceptions.   Once you are seated the masks may be removed for eating/drinking.  Seating will be in compliance with social distancing Virginia phase 3 mandates.  Full menu will be available for purchase tableside.   High touch areas will be sanitized regularly during and between events.  No one with a fever, COVID 19 symptoms or know exposure to COVID 19 with in the last 14 days will be permitted in the establishment.

This weekend, comedian Sarah Tollemache is scheduled to perform stand-up shows at 7 and 9:30 p.m. on Friday (Aug. 6) and Saturday (Aug 7). Tickets will be $20.

The venue will also be showing The Goonies on Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. Tickets are $5.

Photo via Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse/Facebook

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Health Matters is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

The summer heat has arrived and despite holding our collective breath, the coronavirus has not miraculously disappeared. In persevering through a shutdown, a three-phase reopening, and now an emergency ordinance to limit sidewalk traffic, we have learned that we are resilient — but the cracks are starting to show in our population’s mental health.

In fact, nearly 30 percent of Americans are experiencing symptoms of clinical depression as of late July, compared to 6.6 percent last year based on a recent National Center for Health Statistics and Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. The numbers for anxiety closely mirror with 36 percent compared to 8.2 percent last year. The number of online mental health screenings has increased 400 percent. Perhaps the most alarming — albeit uncited — statistic comes from CDC director Robert Redfield, who stated that there have been far greater suicides and drug overdoses than COVID deaths among young people since the lockdown.

I have experienced this upward trend firsthand. There has been a doubling of old and new patients coming into the clinic for ketamine infusions, a relatively new FDA-approved modality used for treatment of depression and anxiety. The most commonly cited reasons I hear include: fear of getting sick, grief from sick loved ones, financial distress, loss of job, loss of community, home-life stress, and reduced access to healthcare. There is also something I call “COVID fatigue”, which is over-saturation of COVID coverage in the news and social media and includes the accompanying stress of teasing out fact from fiction. I realize the irony as I contribute another COVID article to the milieu.

How do you know if you are having depressive symptoms? The challenge is that depression and anxiety are on a spectrum, and sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint if it’s just a “bad day” or something more insidious. However, if feelings such as persistent sadness, emptiness, irritability, guilt, pessimism and emotional distancing occur for weeks and adversely affect sleep, appetite and work, then you may be dealing with pandemic-induced depression or anxiety.

There are measures you can take if you suspect you are depressed or anxious. If the symptoms are severe and debilitating, then contact your mental health professional. If suicidal, check yourself in to the hospital or at the very least call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HELLO to 741741 for the Crisis Text Line.

Here are some additional preventative measures.

Keep a schedule — This is game-changing if you have been laid off or need to take care of children. Interestingly, keeping a schedule for children has been shown to prevent childhood mood disturbances–particularly germane given full distance learning for Arlington Public Schools this fall. Creating goals that can be reasonably accomplished, such as reading a book or daily neighborhood walk, can boost dopamine in the brain and increased motivation and sense of accomplishment.

Connect with loved ones — Set time to reach out to close friends and family by phone, FaceTime or Zoom. Social connectedness is often overlooked, but is crucial in mental well-being.

Reevaluate mindset — While there are undoubtedly many negative things the pandemic has brought, it can be helpful to reframe your perspective and think of how the pandemic has been positive for you. For example, perhaps you have saved significant money from not traveling and dining out, or have gotten closer to family and friends. Doing this will also likely enhance your sense of gratitude once things normalize.

Utilize telemedicine — There is no need to feel medically stranded, as telemedicine use has increased out of necessity. Therapists and psychiatrists have pivoted to using it almost exclusively in many cases.

If your loved one is experiencing depression or anxiety, try to listen and validate the reasons for their feelings as opposed to trying to fix the situation. Let them know there is no weakness in seeking psychiatric help.

“Safer at Home” doesn’t necessarily mean it is safe to be home when it comes to mental health.  However, unlike COVID-19, there are proven ways to help prevent and treat depression and anxiety, and success starts with recognition of symptoms and seeking appropriate help.

Dr. George C. Hwang, known to his patients as Dr. Chaucer, is a practicing anesthesiologist who also helps to run Mind Peace Clinics in Arlington. He has written for multiple journals, textbooks and medical news outlets, and has been living in Arlington for the past 15 years.

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Morning Notes

Va. Rolls Out Contact Tracing App — “Governor Ralph Northam today announced the launch of COVIDWISE, an innovative exposure notification app that will alert users if they have been in close contact with an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19.” [Commonwealth of Virginia, DCist]

Rosslyn Metro Closes During Rush Hour — The Rosslyn Metro station closed during yesterday’s evening rush hour, reportedly for a COVID-related cleaning. In what may be a sign of just how low ridership remains, ARLnow did not receive a single tweet or email tip about the closure of one of the system’s busiest stations. [Twitter]

Amazon Still Planning on Pen Place Purchase — “It will be some time before the public knows what Amazon.com Inc. has in store for Pentagon City’s Pen Place property, but we have a pretty good idea of how much it’ll cost the e-commerce and cloud computing giant to acquire what will become the second phase of HQ2. Amazon is expected to buy the 10-acre plot from JBG Smith Properties for just under $150 million sometime next year.” [Washington Business Journal]

Local Hotel Gets Financial Lifeline — “Berkadia announced today the $19 million refinancing secured for Hilton Garden Inn, Crystal City… The global COVID-19 pandemic has particularly affected the hospitality industry, leaving many owners struggling to secure the financing they need.” [Press Release]

Matchbox Files for Bankruptcy — Local restaurant chain Matchbox, which has a location in Pentagon City, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. “Despite the bankruptcy, Matchbox says it’s in talks with its landlords to keep the restaurants open and will even look to open more locations in the future, albeit with smaller footprints.” [Washington Business Journal]

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(Updated 4:25 p.m.) Fashion Centre at Pentagon City is substantially less crowded than it used to be — particularly the food court, back in the heyday of Popeyes chicken sandwiches — but it is busier than might be expected during a pandemic.

In the mall’s food court, while some fast food options are open, others remain closed. Gyro Wrap and Charley’s Philly Steaks are locked up, with a sign on the metal shutter for the latter saying the closure is temporary and the eatery will be returning at some point.

The space that had been Subway is closed, with the Fashion Centre website saying it will eventually be replaced by a new restaurant called Flaming Cajun. The Fashion Centre website says the location is scheduled to open Sept. 4.

Dining in the food court is spaced out, with the crowded booths cordoned off and the handful of diners spaced out across scattered tables. Security guards at various entrances offer protective equipment and sanitary supplies.

Despite officially reopening in late May, the rest of the mall is a similarly mixed bag, with some stores like Gamestop open with limited numbers of guests allowed inside while others, like the Lego store, remain closed.

“The health, safety and well-being of the community we serve will always be our highest priority, and we have developed a thorough and detailed set of protocols highlighting the exceptional measures we’ve implemented for shoppers, retailers and employees as we reopen,” Jonathan Juricic, General Manager at Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, said in a press release. “We also recognize that individuals and families in our community are suffering significant hardship as a result of both COVID-19 and the economic shutdown, and we believe that reopening our property will not only help people get back to work during these challenging times, but also enable us to use our property to further support charitable initiatives.”

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As health officials work to tamp down rising COVID-19 cases in Arlington, the Arlington Sun Gazette published a letter to the editor today comparing local public health efforts to Nazi Germany.

The letter, headlined “Arlington now pitting neighbor against neighbor,” seemingly conflates contact tracing efforts — long used to try to prevent the spread of infectious disease — with “tattling.”

“Months ago, a member of the county’s COVID task force approached me to ‘track and trace’ my friends and neighbors without their knowledge,” says the letter, which was published online this morning. “In grade school this would be called tattling (or snitching), and is a common practice in Communist countries. It also was prevalent in the National Socialist German Worker’s Party in Germany, commonly known as Nazis. This undermines and destroys communities, friendships and families.”

The letter goes on to suggest, without evidence, that such efforts may be part of a plot to divide neighbors.

“Why would elected officials deliberately want to turn us against ourselves? That may have been the plan since the beginning. It’s contemptible,” the letter says. “The county government should remember they work for the residents of this county; we are not subjects or slaves.”

A letter to the editor from the same Arlington resident, published in 2018, was titled “Quit complaining, deal with occasional hiccups of life.”

Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash

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Arlington is now just three shy of 3,000 coronavirus cases, as the rate of new cases continues to climb.

The county added 24 new cases overnight, bringing the cumulative total to 2,997. The number of new cases has been above the seven-day moving average — which now stands at 20 cases per day, or 140 per week, the highest point since June 11 — five out of the past six days.

The growth in cases is being monitored by Arlington’s public health office.

“We are following this increase in cases as reported,” said Arlington Public Health spokeswoman Cara O’Donnell. “We saw a similar increase in cases from the end of June/beginning of July until July 14 and then a subsequent decline. We would prefer a continued decline in cases. Only time will tell if this continues to rise.”

O’Donnell said Arlington residents should remain vigilant and continue following precautions, like wearing a mask, avoiding crowds, and physical distancing.

“It is important to remember that even though Virginia has lessened restrictions on gathering, it doesn’t mean Arlingtonians should be relaxing behaviors we know will prevent spread of the COVID-19 virus — things like staying home as the preferred option, keeping 6 foot distances or more when venturing out for essential needs, and wearing face coverings,” she said. “Public Health continues to work with our community to stress the importance of abiding by these personal behaviors given that community-wide spread is still occurring in Arlington and the region.”

“We know and we’re seeing people want to do things like go out to a restaurant or go on vacation,” O’Donnell continued. “While Virginia has lifted restrictions to allow for some of that to happen, COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon as the ongoing cases show.”

Despite the rising case count in Arlington, other metrics are, encouragingly, remaining steady so far.

There have only been five new COVID-related hospitalizations of Arlington residents over the past week, according to Virginia Dept. of Health data, and the PCR test positivity rate remains relatively low at 4.4% with a rise in the number of tests performed.

Additionally, new cases in Northern Virginia as a region have remained steady, with the seven-day moving average of new daily cases currently below 200.

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Morning Notes

Storm Results in Minor Damage — Isaias only caused minor damage in Arlington as it roared past the D.C. area as a tropical storm. Arlington received about 2 inches of rain and some gusty winds as the storm passed. The rain did cause Four Mile Run to top its banks and cover the bike path near Carlin Springs Road. [Twitter]

Thousands of Local Renters Seeking Help — Arlington County “has been besieged with requests for help — in the eight months before the county declared an emergency because of the pandemic, her division received 821 requests for financial- and eviction-prevention assistance. Between March and May, that number was 2,378. The county hired temporary workers to supplement the county workers, who are working from home, and is trying to assist residents, some of whom don’t have Internet access and must rely on sending and receiving forms by mail.” [Washington Post]

Lots of Retail Rent Not Getting Paid — “Retail tenants have been hardest hit during the pandemic, across the board and for JBG Smith. The company collected 58% of rent due from those tenants in the second quarter, compared with nearly 99% for office and 98.5% for multifamily… JBG Smith is exploring the possibility of incorporating ghost kitchens, or food preparation facilities for delivery-only meals, to fill some of the void created by empty retail spaces as a temporary measure.” [Washington Business Journal]

Arlington GOP vs. WaPo Reporter — The Arlington County Republican Committee, in response to a Washington Post article about its chairman’s social media posts, posted the following on Twitter last night: “#FakeNews opinion columnist @psullivan1 was forced to change her slanderous headline… She apologizes for Communist China, but falls all over herself for a headline. lol, Peopermint Patti” [Twitter]

This One Time, Not at Band Camp — “APS has decided to cancel all August activities until further notice. The WL marching band camp for 2020 has been canceled.” [Twitter]

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Morning Notes

Storm May Affect Waste Collection — “In preparation for the upcoming storm ‘Isaias,’ residents should properly secure trash, recycling, and yard waste carts in case of flooding and high winds… The storm may cause additional delays in collection services. Please leave un-serviced carts at the curb (if not a flood risk) until they are collected.” [Arlington County]

County COVID Testing Sites Closed — “Arlington’s COVID-19 sample collection sites at 1429 N. Quincy Street and Arlington Mill Community Center will be CLOSED Tuesday, August 4, in anticipation of inclement weather.” [Arlington County]

Apartment Operator Suspends Evictions — “AHC Inc., one of the D.C. region’s largest managers of affordable housing, will not move to evict any of its residents struggling amid the coronavirus crisis for the rest of the year. The company announced the move in a letter to roughly 5,000 tenants in late July, just before August rents started to come due. The Arlington company also said it won’t charge any late fees for missed payments, or seek to impose any rent increases, until at least Jan. 1.” [Washington Business Journal]

Stabbing in Ballston on Sunday — “At approximately 5:55 p.m. on August 2, police were dispatched to the report of a stabbing. Upon arrival, officers made contact with Metro Transit Police, who had already arrived on scene and detained the suspect. The investigation determined that the victim was sitting in the park when the suspect allegedly approached him from behind and struck him with a sharp object, causing a laceration. The victim was transported to an area hospital with minor injuries.” [Arlington County]

Boy Scout Troop Donates Food — “Scout families and members of Troop 167 in Arlington delivered 1,500 packages of food to local families facing unemployment and financial instability during the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic.” [Patch]

New Officers Sworn In — ” In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Arlington County Police Department added 15 new officers to its ranks, following the graduation of Session 142 from the Northern Virginia Criminal Justice Training Academy (NVCJA) and their completion of additional, supplementary local training.” [Arlington County]

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(Updated at 8:20 p.m.) The chairman of the Arlington GOP has been booted from the “Arlington Neighbors Helping Each Other Through COVID-19” Facebook group for threatening to expose those who file complaints about local businesses.

In a post on Sunday, one of the group’s moderators said that Andrew Loposser posted screenshots showing the names and contact information of people who filed complaints about COVID-related violations in Virginia. He also threatened to reveal information others who complain.

“We have removed and blocked the chairman of the Arlington County Republican Committee, Mr. Andrew Loposser, from Arlington Neighbors Helping Each Other Through COVID-19,” wrote moderator Joshua Farrar.

He continued:

Threatening to dox and protest members of our community who report potential violations of our public health policies, developed and enacted in response to COVID-19, in the interest of public health, is entirely unacceptable. Comparisons of those who support public health restrictions on local business to Nazis are horrid and inappropriate, and diminish the experiences of Holocaust survivors, and are an affront to the memory of the millions of lives upended and extinguished, murdered, by Hitler and his machinery of extermination. We do not know how this individual was able to obtain complaint data and we do not know what other data this individual possesses. As such, we have reported this incident to local authorities.

Loposser appears to have also made a “Nazi” comparison in response to a post about Arlington’s new restrictions on sidewalk gatherings and queues.

Loposser tells ARLnow that he decided to write the post about those filing complaints to combat what he described as a culture of “hysteria” over the pandemic.

“I believe people who are fomenting hysteria across Virginia and in our community should be criticized for creating an unsafe environment surrounding coronavirus guidelines,” he said. “The ‘Arlington Neighbors’ Facebook group is… being driven by misinformed busybodies who are wreaking havoc on businesses they don’t like. I posted about those busybodies, and the partisan admins block people they don’t agree with.”

Though outdoor gatherings are believed to be safer than indoor gatherings during the pandemic, a number of recent posts on the Facebook group have focused on outdoor behavior perceived as risky.

“I was out walking in my neighborhood and a rude runner ran literally right up on me, close enough I felt him breathe on me on an exhale,” wrote one user. “Should I be worried about being breathed on? Ew. I’m obviously annoyed and shaken, especially since I was a bit startled.”

Comments about the encounter were split between those criticizing runners and cyclists who don’t wear masks and those who do not believe such momentary outdoor encounters are likely to spread the disease.

“Hi, does anyone think The Lot in Clarendon is a nightmare and coronavirus mega spreader?” asked another user, regarding the outdoor beer garden, in a post that received more than 100 comments.

“Businesses like The Lot are being constantly harassed… with no regard to state or federal guidelines on outdoor gatherings,” Loposser said. “There are dozens of posts in the ‘Arlington Neighbors’ group driving this ridiculous narrative… The group used to be a net positive in our community, and it’s devolved to ‘Lord of the Flies.'”

Loposser said the Facebook group is private and “can do what they want,” but decried treatment of those skeptical of the prevailing views around ways to prevent COVID-19 infections.

“People with minority viewpoints are constantly personally attacked in this group,” he said. “It’s certainly a microcosm of the kind of intolerance we see in liberal communities like Arlington… Stepping outside the majority groupthink will get you personally belittled and attacked.”

The “Arlington Neighbors” group has been trying to combat toxic discourse that seems endemic to any online forum of a certain size in 2020. In a new post this morning, co-founder Kellen MacBeth outlined new posting guidelines intended to make the group a more welcoming and helpful place.

Among them: no posting photos of people “with the intent to shame” and no “unverified information about businesses or COVID-19 that could cause harm.”

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With coronavirus cases in Arlington continuing to rise, and large crowds still congregating in Clarendon on weekends, the County Board took action late last week to try to cut down on sidewalk crowding.

The Board unanimously passed an emergency ordinance “prohibiting groups of more than three people from congregating on streets and sidewalks posted with the restrictions, and requiring pedestrians to maintain at least six feet of physical separation from others on the posted streets and sidewalks,” according to a press release.

The ordinance, which will be the subject of a public hearing in September, was approved during a closed session Friday evening. Violations will be treated as a traffic infraction, with a fine not to exceed $100, though Board members said the goal will be to educate the public and achieve voluntary compliance without the need to write tickets.

The action seemed to be aimed at bar-going crowds in Clarendon, as photos are posted on social media of large queues of people outside of nightlife spots like The Lot and Whitlows.

“It’s insane!” local resident Mike Gardell said of the scene this past weekend. “Lines down sidewalks, no social distancing, about one quarter with masks but around their chins or on their wrists. And, for some reason, not one police officer in sight.”

During Friday’s meeting, County Board member Christian Dorsey said Phase 3 of Virginia’s reopening, which allowed more people to gather in restaurants, “has exposed to us a real gap in our ability to ensure the public’s health.” Social distancing can be enforced inside restaurants, Dorsey said, but gatherings on sidewalks was not explicitly prohibited.

“This is absolutely necessary,” Dorsey said of the ordinance, which will be enforced by the police department following a public education campaign and the posting of signs. Board members said the aim is to achieve “a culture of compliance” without a single infraction being issued.

Coronavirus cases in Arlington, meanwhile, continue to rise. Twenty new cases were reported overnight, bringing the cumulative total to 2,945 and the seven-day rate of new cases to 122, a two-week high. There have also been five new hospitalizations over the past week.

The county’s test positivity rate, however, remains relatively low at just 4.4%. Arlington’s average daily testing rate is near an all-time high: 420 PCR-based tests per day.

While cases in Northern Virginia remain steady, the rest of the state is still seeing an elevated level of new cases and a sharp rise in COVID-related deaths.

More on the Arlington’s emergency sidewalk crowding ordinance, below, via a county press release.

Read More

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Morning Notes

Dozens March for Racial Justice — “A group of about 100 people marched more than three miles on a hot August afternoon through Arlington demanding justice for victims of police brutality and calling on the county’s elected officials to bring police reform to the county.” [Patch]

Police Investigating More KKK Stickers — “Stickers that appear to promote the Ku Klux Klan have been found on traffic signs and utility boxes in Arlington over the past month, Arlington police said… They were found between July 2 and 28 in four locations, mostly in the Yorktown neighborhood, on the back of traffic signs and on a utility box.” [Washington Post]

Big Power Outage on Saturday — “A power outage in South Arlington has about 3,000 customers without power, according to Dominion Energy. The outage is affecting several neighborhoods between Columbia Pike and Interstate 395, including Arlington Mill, Columbia Forest, Douglas Park, and Nauck.” [WJLA]

Parents Rally Against School Plan — “All 12 school jurisdictions in the D.C. area have announced their intentions to start the 2020-2021 school year virtually, and not all parents are pleased with that decision. Vienna, Va. resident Jill Gartin rallied with other parents and students today at Arlington district headquarters to make their voices heard… ‘It’s been awful because I have five kids running on one wifi. It’s draining and the kids are miserable.'” [WJLA]

Ribbon Cutting for Vida — The Arlington Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon cutting ceremony last week for Vida Fitness’ new Ballston location, its first outside of D.C. It’s only the second ribbon cutting pictured on the Chamber’s Instagram account (the first was Bowlero in Crystal City) since the pandemic started. [Instagram]

Meridian Pint Fighting for Survival — “As you all may have heard, there is a possibility we may have to permanently close our doors. With the effects of Covid-19 the restaurant industry is feeling an enormous impact, Meridian Pint is no exception. We did get a Payroll Protection Loan but those funds have since been fully depleted. We are asking for your help.” [Facebook]

Nearby: MoCo May Reinstate Restrictions — “COVID-19 cases have been increasing across the state while Montgomery County’s have plateaued to about 70 to 80 new cases a day. But now officials are considering whether to reinstate some restrictions to try to decrease the virus’s spread and reduce cases.” [Bethesda Magazine]

Yes, But Where’s *This* Story? — Wondering why something that happened over the weekend was not included in Morning notes? We may be planning to cover it later today. Or, if it’s something that we might not know about, you can tell us about it for potential future coverage.

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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