Arlington, VA

(Updated at 12:20 p.m.) As Arlington officials take measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 in the county has again gone up.

As of noon today, the Virginia Dept. of Health reported 13 coronavirus cases in Arlington. That’s the highest count of any individual jurisdiction in the state — up from 9 cases in Arlington yesterday.

By contrast, there are currently 12 reported cases in Fairfax County, with about 5 times the population of Arlington, and still only 2 positive coronavirus tests in Alexandria.

Statewide, 1,028 people have been tested and 67 people have tested positive across the Commonwealth, up from only 489 people tested and 51 cases yesterday.

Given the relative lack of testing so far, and the continued spread of a highly-infectious disease that doesn’t present symptoms for a few days, it’s a near-certainty that cases will continue rising, perhaps dramatically. And it’s not clear to what extent more proactive testing or reporting may be playing a role in Arlington’s higher numbers relative to other jurisdictions.

To slow the spread, officials from the national to the local level have been urging people to frequently wash hands, avoid touching one’s face, and to practice social distancing — maintaining six feet of separation from others when out in public. Last night Arlington County’s top officials released a statement urging restaurants to close their dining rooms, even though Virginia has not followed the lead of other states in mandating such closures yet.

Many restaurants across Arlington have announced temporary closures or takeout– and delivery-only options over the past 24 hours. A few others, however, remain open to dine-in customers.

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(Updated at 4:05 p.m.) Amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, much of the usually bustling places around Arlington seemed like a ghost town this morning.

The Clarendon Metro station and Reagan National Airport were eerily empty at times. Only a handful of people could be wandering Ballston Quarter mall and eating at local restaurants. Other than grocery stores, drug stores and Costco, many stores were quiet.

At Bearded Goat barber shop in Ballston, barbers were serving their last clients before closing for at least the next two weeks.

On I-395 and other heavily-traveled highways, traffic volumes that could be mistaken for Christmas morning could be seen.

Ultimately, it’s a good sign: only social distancing and staying at home will slow the spread of the virus. But it may be a new normal that stretches into the summer.

Jay Westcott contributed to this report

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Update at 3/23/20 — The number of meal distribution locations has been expanded to five.

Earlier: Arlington Public Schools will be offering free breakfasts and lunches to those who need them during the month-long school closure.

APS announced Friday evening that meals will be provided for pickup from Kenmore Middle School and Drew Elementary, starting Monday, from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. The meals will be available to any child ages 2-18, but children must be present to receive the meals.

The program will help fill a need in the community, particularly among those eligible for free or reduced price lunches at school, as families hunker down during the worsening coronavirus outbreak. For some families, the outbreak will mean a loss of hourly wages for an extended period of time.

More from APS:

Beginning Mon, March 16, APS will provide free grab-and-go breakfasts and lunches at two school sites – Kenmore Middle School (200 S. Carlin Springs Road) and Dr. Charles R. Drew Elementary School (3500 S. 23rd Street). Meals will be set up on a table outside the building for distribution from 11 a.m.to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday.

APS will provide one (1) lunch for that day and one (1) breakfast to take home for the following day. These meals will be free to any child aged 2 to 18. Children must be present to receive the meals; no meals will be given to parents without their child or children present. We will continue to monitor the situation on a daily basis and make adjustments as needed.

Meals will be provided to all children without charge and are the same for all children regardless of race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability, and there will be no discrimination in the course of the meal service.

Meals will be provided Monday-Friday beginning 3/16/2020, at the sites and times as follows:

Kenmore Middle School
200 S. Carlin Springs Road
11 a.m.-1 p.m.

Dr. Charles R. Drew Elementary School
3500 S. 23rd Street
11 a.m.-1 p.m.

Also on Friday, APS announced that it would be offering instructional activities for students during the school closure, via a combination of hard copy materials and electronic means.

The school system provided the following guidance to families:

We have prepared to deliver instruction to our students during this period. Please note the last day of the third-quarter grading period has been altered due to the school closure. All teachers will now complete their grading of third-quarter content by March 20, and it will only include student work submitted by that date. Report cards will still be sent home to families at the end of April as previously scheduled.

  • For Early Childhood and Elementary students (PreK-Grade 5), instructional materials have been prepared and should have been distributed by individual schools either in hard copy or electronically. If you have questions about how to access the instructional materials for your child, please contact your student’s teacher.
  • Secondary students (Grades 6-12) will be able to access assignments using Canvas. Teachers will spend the week of March 16 fulfilling their normal duties and working to transition course content, assignments and activities online.
    We want to acknowledge that we can never replace the work our teachers do with students in our classrooms; no one expects learning to be as effective as what teachers accomplish directly with students. These activities are meant to help our students maintain their existing skills and knowledge, extend their learning, and prepare a foundation for topics and concepts to come in the fourth quarter.

During our school closure, teachers will provide instructional activities that both review previously taught information and introduce new topics and concepts. While teachers have been instructed not to grade assignments or quizzes of newly-introduced topics or concepts, they may offer assessments to inform their teaching. These formative assessments will be used to monitor student progress and evaluate the effectiveness of instructional activities.

Teachers will be able to grade assignments assigned prior to Friday, March 13, for use when calculating third-quarter grades. It is important to note that the last day for students to submit third-quarter assignments is Friday, March 20, unless otherwise arranged with the teacher.

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(Updated at 11 a.m.) While sitting a safe distance away from each other, members of the Arlington County Board voted 4-0 to approve a declaration of local emergency this morning, amid the coronavirus outbreak.

County Manager Mark Schwartz signed the declaration of emergency at 7 p.m. Friday. He said the declaration will allow the county to more easily obtain state and federal funds, acquire needed goods and services, and hire staff as needed.

The county will continue to provide essential services, including emergency services, maintenance, and even permitting during the outbreak, Schwartz said. There will be more changes put in place soon, however.

“We know that these new measures are an inconvenience, but we believe that these changes to county government are Arlington’s best chance of slowing this virus,” said County Board member Katie Cristol.

Arlington is continuing to encourage residents to practice social distancing — avoiding crowds and staying at least six feet apart from each other to prevent the spread of disease — County Board members said in a pre-recorded video, played at the Board’s special meeting Saturday morning.

As of Friday afternoon, all Dept. of Parks and Recreation programs were cancelled. All libraries are closed this weekend, though Central Library and the Columbia Pike branch library plan to reopen on Monday, while others remain closed. Schools are now closed through mid-April.

Schwartz said on Monday a new list of hours and operational changes for county facilities will be posted on the county’s website.

“I hope everyone pays attention to the social distancing, washes your hands, wipes down surfaces — this is going to be with us for awhile,” Garvey said, wrapping up the brief meeting. “Your local government has been working flat out for weeks now. We’re going to continue to do so. Please be safe and gentle with each other.”

At last count, there were five confirmed cases of coronavirus, or COVID-19, in Arlington.

Large crowds of shoppers and empty shelves, meanwhile, continue to be reported at stores in Arlington.

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With two cases now confirmed in Arlington, coronavirus is here and spreading. The Arlington County Fire Department, however, says it’s prepared.

“As other organizations begin taking steps to limit chances of exposure to coronavirus, we are prepared to respond to it,” the department said today on social media. “In consultation with [the Centers for Disease Control] and [Arlington Dept. of Human Services], we have the plans and equipment to safely handle potential cases while keeping our members safe.”

“We’re going to be restricting some of our activity,” ACFD spokesman Capt. Justin Tirelli tells ARLnow. While firefighters will still be responding to calls as usual, activities like school groups visiting firehouses and other public events at stations will be cancelled.

Tirelli said firefighters already take “standard precautions” for flu cases — precautions are applicable to coronavirus.

For calls involving patients with flu-like symptoms, firefighters will wear masks, eye protection, gloves and gowns, and will then put a mask on the patient, Tirelli said. After a transport to the hospital for a patient with flu or coronavirus-like symptoms, per standard procedure, the ambulance’s passenger compartment and stretcher will be cleaned with hospital-grade disinfectant.

Tirelli noted that the fire department has not seen a noticeable uptick in calls for people with flu-like symptoms, but ACFD is expecting such calls to increase as the outbreak worsens.

“The question is whether it’s a drastic and sudden increase or a gradual increase,” he said. “We’re hoping for [gradual].”

Tirelli has some suggestions for Arlington residents. First, don’t call 911 or the Emergency Communications Center for general questions or advice, as many people have been doing — the Virginia Dept. of Health has a call center for that: 1-877-ASK-VDH3 (275-8343).

Second, follow the advice of experts to help prevent the spread of disease — everything from frequent hand washing to avoiding large crowds.

“Taking on the extra responsibility of not being around a lot of people is really key,” Tirelli said. “People have to live, we know you have to go to the grocery store, but if you can avoid large gatherings and events… it’s not going to eliminate the illness, but it’s going to slow the spread. A rapid increase [in cases] is going to overwhelm the system and that’s what we don’t want.”

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Arlington announced a second “presumptive” case of coronavirus in the county Thursday afternoon.

An individual associated with Christ Church in Georgetown, where a pastor was diagnosed with the disease, developed symptoms consistent with COVID-19 while self-quarantined at home and tested positive for the disease, the county said.

“The individual is currently doing well and is isolated at home,” the county said in a press release. “Arlington County Public Health is working with the individual’s close contacts and advising them as appropriate.”

The county went on to note that “while there may be unmitigated or uncontained community transmission elsewhere in the U.S., based on the limited information available, there is no evidence yet of significant community transmission in the National Capital Region or Arlington.”

The first case of coronavirus in Arlington was reported on March 9. As of 2:45 p.m. Thursday, the Virginia Dept. of Health was reporting 17 “presumptive positive” coronavirus cases.

Also on Thursday afternoon, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency as a result of the outbreak.

More on COVID-19 symptoms and prevention advice, from the county press release:

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can cause mild to more severe respiratory illness. In a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can cause death, particularly among those who are older or who have chronic medical conditions. Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person. COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

To lower the risk of respiratory germ spread, including COVID-19, the Virginia Department of Health encourages the following effective behaviors:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with sick people.
  • Avoid non-essential travel.
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(Updated at 12:50 p.m.) Arlington County government and Arlington Public Schools are cancelling or postponing non-essential gatherings and events.

The county released a statement Thursday morning saying that it is “taking steps to help mitigate and contain the spread of COVID-19,” including re-examining public gatherings during the outbreak.

“While events and public gatherings are hallmarks of our community, they also are opportunities for a virus to spread quickly among event workers and participants,” Arlington County said in a statement. “Moving forward, many events or meetings will be cancelled, postponed, or modified to better protect our residents and County staff.”

Privately-organized events in Arlington, including races, conferences and street festivals, are also being cancelled in droves.

“This is a time for us to be proactive – and take the necessary precautions needed to slow and minimize Coronavirus from spreading across our community,” said County Board Chair Libby Garvey. “We are examining our activities to determine which are essential and which are non-essential. If they are non-essential, they will be cancelled or postponed. If they are essential, they will be modified to minimize physical contact among those attending. This is an important step for the health and well-being of our community.”

Arlington has created a set of guidelines for determining whether a given event is essential, including:

  • Does the gathering meet a statutory requirement? Is the work of the group required for business continuity?
  • Would not having the event cause undue hardship?
  • Is the meeting non-essential or does it pose a risk to likely attendees? Can the gathering be rescheduled, in whole or in part?
  • Can the experience be offered in a virtual format? Does the event’s target population include people in the high-risk categories? Are there accommodations that can effectively reduce risk?

In response to the new county guidelines, Arlington Public Schools says it is immediately cancelling “all non-essential APS sponsored events,” along with overnight field trips. Athletic competitions and fine arts performances with limited audiences will go on for now, APS says.

Per new Arlington County guidance for events and public gatherings, Arlington Public Schools is canceling all non-essential APS-sponsored events effective immediately, until further notice. Essential school events will continue in adjusted formats and participation. Additionally, APS is canceling all overnight field trips until further notice.

This decision is part of a coordinated Countywide response to help mitigate and contain the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in our community by reducing the number of occasions when people come together. Canceling non-essential events allows us to limit public gatherings, while also maintaining essential instructional activities, which aligns with the current decision to keep schools open. This situation is changing by the minute, and APS will communicate any decision to close or modify operations in any way to the community through our regular channels as soon as a decision is made.

Essential instructional activities may include day trips to the Outdoor Lab, Extended Day, limited-audience athletic competitions and fine arts performances, as well as events required for certifications or standards of learning.

Among schools cancelling or changes events today are Jamestown Elementary and Kenmore Middle School.

Also today, Arlington said its Public Health staff as been “contacting, assessing and monitoring any returning travelers from areas affected by the COVID-19 outbreak since early February 2020 and are continuing to do so.”

“They are also providing guidance to the hospital and healthcare communities, government, community partners to respond to this outbreak,” the county said.

File photo

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Morning Notes

More Signs of Coronavirus Preps — Emptier shelves at local grocery stores, less traffic on the roads: there are signs that locals are taking the coronavirus threat seriously. During the first hour of yesterday’s evening rush hour, traffic on I-395 was relatively light. Last night, there was barely any canned soup left on the shelves at the Lee-Harrison Harris Teeter. [Twitter, Twitter]

Some Churches Close, Others Announce Changes — Episcopal churches in the D.C. area have suspended worship services, while the Catholic Diocese of Arlington announced a series of measures intended to help prevent the spread of disease. [Washington Post, Press Release]

Events Are Being Cancelled in Arlington — “Out of an abundance of caution, the Rosslyn BID has decided to cancel our Arts & Beats series this March and April. We are hoping to run these events later this year and we will be evaluating future events on a case-by-case basis.” [Twitter]

Arlington Conferences Cancelled — “Code for America was scheduled to host its annual summit at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, Virginia, from March 11 through 13. A Code for America spokesperson told Technical.ly that this would have been the first time the nonprofit was hosting the annual summit in the D.C. area, as it normally takes place in San Francisco. Code for America release a statement on Friday announcing the summit’s cancellation.” [Technically DC]

Local Real Estate Still Hot, Though — “Listing service Bright MLS said closed sales throughout the Washington metro area were up 13% from a year ago to a 10-year high… In Arlington County, Virginia, the median overall price of what sold was $635,000, up 12.4%. But the median price of a stand-alone house that sold in Arlington last month was $1.14 million, up 19.2% from last February.” [WTOP]

Arlington Works on Tree Preservation — “It’s not just housing affordability and increased traffic Arlington County officials are concerned about in the wake of Amazon.com Inc.’s arrival. They’re also watching out for the trees. County officials are proposing to add one urban forester position to the Department of Parks and Recreation. The new hire is needed to expand tree preservation efforts and work through the surge of site plans developers are pitching in the area of Amazon’s HQ2.” [Washington Business Journal]

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The popular annual Four Courts Four Miler race, scheduled for this weekend, has been cancelled due to coronavirus concerns.

The St. Patrick’s Day-themed race usually takes runners from Courthouse, through Rosslyn, down Route 110 and back. Instead, organizers announced today that it has been called off and those who signed up will have their registrations deferred until 2021.

Previously planned road closures will now be lifted.

The race website posted the following message:

In alignment with government officials, as well as our desire to create a safe environment for our runners, volunteers, staff, city services, and community, we are cancelling the 2020 St. Pats Run Fest and moving participants to the 2021 event. This includes all events (Saturday’s Four Courts Four Miler and Sunday’s 10K + 5K).

All runners will be automatically deferred into the 2021 St Pats Run Fest (3/13-3/14, 2021).  If you deferred prior to this announcement and paid a deferral fee your deferral fee will be refunded. Shirts and medals for challenge participants will be available for pick up at Pacers Clarendon or Pacers 14th Street through the end of March.

We appreciate the support of the running community and especially the hard work of our municipality and medical partners. This was a very difficult decision for our team but one we felt was necessary for the well-being of our community.

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(Updated at 5 p.m.) Arlington-based Marymount University, which has campuses in Ballston and at 2807 N. Glebe Road, is extending its spring break and temporarily nixing in-person classes due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The university announced today (Wednesday) that its spring break, currently underway, will be extended by two days. Then, on March 18, classes will resume online only.

“All lecture and lab courses will be delivered online-only from March 18 through March 29,” the university said on its website. “At this time, on-campus classes are expected to resume on March 30.”

“Marymount is closely monitoring the course of COVID-19,” the university added. “We are also participating in weekly discussions with the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area in order to jointly monitor coronavirus developments on campuses throughout the region.”

As of Wednesday afternoon more than 100 universities in the U.S. announced moving to online-only classes, including American, George Washington, Georgetown and the University of Virginia locally.

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Morning Notes

Coronavirus Case in Falls Church — “On Mar. 9, a U.S. Navy civilian employee at the US Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (BUMED) in Falls Church, Virginia, tested ‘presumptive positive’ for the coronavirus (COVID-19)… The individual is currently at a hospital in Northern Virginia.” [U.S. Navy]

Northam Signs Arlington Tourism Tax Bill — “The governor’s signature on March 2 made it official – Arlington will now be able to impose a surtax on hotel stays, with the proceeds going to tourism promotion, in perpetuity. Gov. Northam signed legislation patroned by state Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax-Arlington) removing the ‘sunset clause’ from existing legislation allowing Arlington to tack on an additional 0.25 percent to the 5-percent transient-occupancy tax imposed by the county government on those staying in hotels and motels.” [InsideNova]

Lawmakers Support Long Bridge Project — Virginia’s delegation to Congress “sent a letter to Secretary Chao in support of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation’s (DRPT) application for an Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant for the Long Bridge Project.” [Press Release]

No Arlington Rep on Metro Board — “For the first time in recent memory, Arlington will have no representation on the board of directors of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), which operates the Metro system… The shifts came about due to the resignation from the WMATA board of Arlington County Board member Christian Dorsey, due to issues over reporting of campaign contributions during his 2019 re-election bid.” [InsideNova]

Beyer Gains a GOP Challenger — “On Friday, Mark Ellmore officially filed to seek the Republican nomination for Congress from Virginia’s Eighth District in 2020…. It is currently represented in Congress by Democratic Rep. Don Beyer.” [Falls Church News-Press]

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