Arlington, VA

Crowding on sidewalks, which has occurred outside Arlington bars on recent weekends, has significant potential to spread the coronavirus, according to local infectious disease experts.

Confirming fears held by county officials and residents, infectious disease specialists at Virginia Hospital Center and George Mason University said the lack of physical distancing in these crowds, varying levels of mask wearing and the social environment makes the risk of coronavirus spread high.

Sidewalk crowds have become an increasing common sight during Arlington’s weekend nightlife, due to capacity restrictions inside venues. Long lines have formed outside spots like The Lot and Whitlow’s in Clarendon, leading some to fret about the implications on social media.

According to Dr. Kathryn Jacobsen, a professor of global health and epidemiology at George Mason University, pedestrians out for a stroll are not likely to contract the disease, but those standing in a crowd shirking the ordinance are in greater danger.

“There is little risk of infection if two people briefly cross paths walking in opposite directions on a sidewalk, but there is a high risk of the infection spreading if dozens or hundreds of people crowd together at a bar or club for several hours and one patron has coronavirus infection,” Jacobsen said. “That’s how we get superspreader events.”

Photos of the lines and crowds also show only a limited number of people wearing masks. While an exposed face allows for infectious droplets to travel unimpeded, Dr. Amira Roess, also a professor of global health and epidemiology at George Mason University, said prolonged time spent not physically distant is unsafe even with masks.

“Standing in line with masks on less than six feet apart from individuals outside of your family or closed social circle for more than 15 minutes is considered an exposure and these types of exposures should be avoided,” Roess said.

The experts all said being outside is safer than indoors, but there are still risks that customers at restaurants and bars with outdoor seating often underestimate.

Dr. Jennifer Primeggia, a Fellow of the Infectious Disease Society of America and specialist in the Virginia Hospital Center Physician Group, said virus particles can still travel within compact outside seating.

“Generally, being outdoors is safer than being indoors because there is more clean air for the droplets to disperse,” Primeggia said. “There is still a risk of exposure to infectious particles when social distancing is not practiced. Additionally, multiple studies have shown that factors such as wind can disperse particles further than six feet.”

With local coronavirus cases on the rise, the Arlington County Board approved an emergency ordinance two weeks ago “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.”

The ordinance has gotten pushback, even among those who believe such crowding poses a health danger.

The law “seems well-intentioned but flawed,” Arlington Transportation Commission Chair Chris Slatt wrote last week, adding that it “appears to criminalize common behaviors.” The Arlington Chamber of Commerce also penned a letter opposing it, saying that the ordinance was “constructed hastily, leading to confusion and missed opportunities to develop a better policy.” Others pointed out that it has the potential to prevent families from walking down the street and to lead to inequitable enforcement.

Nonetheless, the county’s new ordinance is seen by the experts as a step in the right direction to reducing disease spread, so long as it is obeyed and succeeds in breaking up the crowds.

“This ordinance highlights the importance of social distancing and wearing masks even outdoors,” Roess said. “However, if this ordinance is not enforced then it will not be effective.”

The police department plans to begin issuing violations and fines that are not to exceed $100 following a public education campaign about the ordinance and the posting of signs, the county said shortly after it passed..

Photo courtesy Brad Haywood

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MidAtlantic Urgent Care is closing after nearly nine years in business, citing a big financial hit from the pandemic.

The locally-owned clinic at 3301 Wilson Boulevard first opened in 2011. It is closing permanently at the end of May.

In an email to patients, the clinic said it cannot continue meeting its expenses while COVID-19 keeps patients away.

To Our Dear Patients,

It is with mixed emotions that we announce that we will be closing our urgent and primary care practice: MidAtlantic Urgent Care LLC at 3301 Wilson Blvd. effective May 31, 2020. We simply cannot sustain the financial loss as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It has been a great pleasure to assist you with your health care needs during the nine years that we have practiced in the Arlington, VA area.

During this pandemic, we are aware of the difficulty of renewing medications and finding a new practice; therefore, we will continue to use our phone mail, patient portal, and telehealth for communication.

We encourage you to stay within the Privia Medical Group system – this will allow easy access to your medical records which are shared within this impressive group of health care providers. Locally there is Pulmonary and Medical Associates, Arlington Primary Care, and Premier Primary Care Physicians – to name a few.

Other urgent care clinics nearby, along the Orange Line corridor, include Ballston Urgent Care and AllCare Family Medicine and Urgent Care.

Photo via MidAtlantic Urgent Care. Hat tip to Dave Schutz.

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Morning Notes

Country Club Files Layoff Notice — Arlington’s Washington Golf and Country Club has filed a WARN Act notice of potential layoffs. The club said it may lay off up to 188 employees due to the coronavirus pandemic. [InsideNova]

Local Eye Doctor Sees Big Decline in Business — “Dr. Nicole Renaud, an Arlington, Virginia, ophthalmologist, said she had a full schedule of patients and worked long hours before the pandemic. Now, she sees a few patients a week, mostly through telemedicine… As a result, her practice’s income has fallen by a stunning 90%.” [WTOP]

SUVs Stolen from Koons Toyota Dealership — “At approximately 1:44 p.m. on April 21, police were dispatched to the report of several stolen vehicles. Upon arrival, it was determined that during an inventory of vehicles, four 2020 silver Toyota Highlanders were determined to have been stolen between April 7 and April 21.” [Arlington County]

Civ Fed Zooms into Virtual Future — “For 104 years, the Arlington County Civic Federation held its monthly meetings in a group setting. But on April 21, to address the COVID-19 public-health situation, the organization conducted its proceedings in a ‘virtual’ setting. ‘We are experimenting,’ Civic Federation president Allan Gajadhar said at the opening of the meeting, held on the online platform Zoom.” [InsideNova]

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