Arlington could have the COVID-19 vaccine as early as the end of this month, but the first shipment of doses won’t be available to the general public.
Nearly a half million healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents across Virginia at risk of being infected will get the first doses from the Virginia Department of Health, and it is not yet known when the rest of the public will get the vaccine.
Arlington’s Public Health Director Dr. Reuben Varghese told the County Board on Tuesday that there is still a lot of unknown information regarding the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines that are undergoing Food and Drug Administration approval. He said that the number of vaccine doses that will arrive in Virginia (estimated at 480,000) is a moving target, that both vaccines require recipients to get booster shots within a month, and the effect on children and pregnant women is still unknown.
“The plan is that those health care personnel that directly care for COVID-19 patients, or are in support of that will receive top priority first,” Varghese said. “VDH is working with the Virginia Hospital and Health Care Association to prepare the health systems that have the ultra cold chain storage ability to receive these first shipments, because it has to be done safely and you don’t want to go through the expense of creating all of this, and then not maintain the vaccine at the appropriate temperature.”
On Saturday, the County Board will consider accepting $660,000 in state grants to prepare for mass vaccine distribution. The funds would pay for the hiring of temporary medical and non-medical staff, and cover travel costs, facility rentals and clinic operations, according to Arlington Public Health.
The vaccine will eventually be available at grocery stores, as well as chain and independent pharmacies, according to the VDH COVID-19 Vaccination Plan.
Mass vaccine distribution will not necessarily mean that COVID restrictions will be quickly lifted in Arlington, however.
“The fact that we are going to enter a period where vaccination will be available doesn’t mean in any way that all the other precautions for COVID hygiene are going to be relaxed,” County Board member Takis Karantonis said.
There have been 7,062 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arlington since the pandemic began in March, along with 162 deaths and more than 600 total hospitalizations.
Below is Tuesday’s County Board work session discussing vaccination plans.
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(Updated on 12/18/20 at 5:15 p.m.) Three years ago, David Fairbrothers was running out of ideas, and money, to boost his fledgling company. But he took a chance and booked the cheapest booth at a women’s health conference.
He and his business partner, both alumni of the University of Virginia, were developing a platform that would make it easier for doctors to use electronic health records systems. Without a singular field of medicine as its focus, however, the idea was languishing.
After settling into their booth at the conference for the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, they met an executive who explained a pain point for ACOG: Whenever the organization releases new clinical guidance, it can take up to a decade for it to be consistently implemented.
That was when the idea for Dorsata was born.
“It was an accident and a stroke of good fortune,” Fairbrothers said.
In addition to helping ACOG get clinical guidance implemented, Dorsata — which is based in Clarendon, at 3100 Clarendon Blvd — improves the process of documenting patient visits. Before the next visit, Dorsata helps remind the doctor of the patient’s particular situation and creates a to-do list adapted to her needs.
“Part of the core problem is that electronic health record systems do not serve doctors especially well, and for Ob-Gyn doctors, it is really bad for documenting care,” Fairbrothers said.
Some electronic medical information systems are unwieldy, and doctors prefer taking freehand notes, but inputting the notes later is time-consuming and may not get done. Other times, without accessible documentation, changes mid-pregnancy might fall through the cracks if a patient is seen by multiple doctors.
The platform has gained a foothold in American obstetrics. Today, Dorsata has more than 1,600 clinical users in 19 states, and has served more than 113,000 patients and managed nearly 794,000 appointments. And this month, Dorsata signed expansion contracts with Privia Health and Women’s Health USA, which will increase the number of Ob-Gyns the company serves by 200 over the next two years.
Dorsata is not just growing its clientele during the pandemic: It is also finding new revenue sources and benefits for its users.
While the coronavirus cannot stop babies, it can grind elective surgeries to a halt. Providers saw gynecology appointments drop by 80% “overnight,” Fairbrothers said.
“Pregnancy has been their saving grace,” he said. But it does not make up for the lost revenue.
In partnership with providers, Dorsata shares data with researchers. Typically, medical researchers gather data at one academic hospital, limiting the scope of data geographically, he said. Dorsata is generating revenue by furnishing researchers with data gathered from every corner of the U.S.
“This allows providers to generate value, financial and scientific, from documenting their patients’ progress,” Fairbrothers said. “This is real world data that we stumbled into and we have a strong opportunity to corner the market.”
With the growth in clients and revenue, Dorsata itself is expanding. The company is planning to double the size of its workforce over the next year, Fairbrothers said.
A 29-year-old Arlington resident has pleaded guilty to a multi-million dollar healthcare fraud.
Federal prosecutors charged Onkur Lal with bilking Medicaid, Medicare and the TRICARE military health care system out of $3.5 million by submitting fraudulent bills for non-existent prescriptions while working at a trio of local pharmacies.
Prosecutors say Lal conspired with the owner of the pharmacies in carrying out the fraud from 2014 to 2019. After the guilty plea, Lal now faces up to five years in federal prison.
More from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia:
An Arlington man pleaded guilty yesterday to his role in a conspiracy to commit health care fraud that resulted in losses of over $3.5 million.
According to court documents, Onkur Lal, 29, worked in various roles at MedEx Pharmacy, MedEx Health Pharmacy, and Royal Care Pharmacy, which were all owned and operated by the same individual. From around 2014 to around 2019, Lal conspired with the owner and others in a number of different fraudulent schemes to defraud health care benefit programs, including TRICARE, Medicare, Virginia Medicaid, and Maryland Medicaid. Lal took part in a number of fraudulent schemes, including generating false prescriptions, billing health insurance companies for prescriptions that were never filled, and billing patients’ health care benefit programs for numerous high cost medications that he and his co-conspirators knew were not prescribed and/or never received.
Lal and his conspirators also submitted false invoices under the names of other pharmacies, in an attempt to circumvent audits. Further, Lal and another co-conspirator fraudulently posed as pharmacists by elevating their title and credentials within the pharmacy’s prescription software system. Lal and his co-conspirator then used these elevated titles to verify prescriptions, which they then submitted to health care benefit programs and pharmaceutical suppliers for payment. The various schemes resulted in health care benefit programs losing more than $3.5 million.
Lal is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 21, 2021, and faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Maureen R. Dixon, Special Agent in Charge of the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS); James A. Dawson, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office Criminal Division; and Dermot F. O’Reilly, Deputy Inspector General for Investigations with the Defense Criminal Investigative Services, made the announcement after Senior U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton accepted the plea.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Monika Moore, Carina A. Cuellar, and Jamar K. Walker are prosecuting the case.
Flickr photo by Joe Gratz
Northam Announces COVID Changes — Gov. Ralph Northam announced Wednesdays that, starting today, Virginia residents can start having nonemergency surgeries and dental procedures again. The governor also announced that the state Dept. of Health will soon start releasing ZIP code-level coronavirus case data. [WTOP, @kamamasters/Twitter]
County Announces New Housing Director — “Arlington County has selected Anne Venezia to be the County’s new Housing Director… She most recently served six months as the Acting Housing Director and was the Housing Finance Manager for four years prior. Venezia joined Arlington County in 2008.” [Arlington County]
Arlington Pushing for More Census Participation — “Arlington government officials say the county’s census-response rate has passed 60 percent, and local efforts will now be made to reach out to low-response hotspots across the community… the 2010 response rate of 74 percent [was] slightly below the overall Virginia average that year.” [InsideNova]
County’s Memorial Page for Erik Gutshall — Arlington County has established a “Remembering Erik” page on its website, memorializing the late County Board member Erik Gutshall, who passed away earlier this month from brain cancer. [Arlington County]
Library Seeks Material for New Archive — “Arlington Public Library announces the COVID-19 Archives project, designed to create a comprehensive picture of Arlington during an extraordinary period in our history. The Center for Local History (CLH) seeks donations of journals, photos, and objects to help document this time of difficulty and struggle, but also of resilience and hope.” [Arlington County]
Overnight Crash on Carlin Springs Road — Updated at 9:10 a.m. — “Video appears to show a car crash took down electric lines on Carlin Springs Rd near 7th St. S.” [@statter911/Twitter]
County Board Defends COVID-19 Response — “Arlington leaders continue to push back against accusations they could be doing more to address the COVID-19 crisis within the county’s 26 square miles. A number of civic-activists used the public-comment period of the County Board’s April 25 meeting (held ‘virtually’ after the government received state authority to do so) to rap officials for not imposing more aggressive regulation of daily life.” [InsideNova]
More Contributions for Small Biz Grant Fund — “The Arlington County Industrial Development Authority has joined Arlington Economic Development’s (AED) efforts to help small businesses… [The authority] approved a contribution of $326,000 of its own funding. Together with the $674,000 of funding from the County, and the recently announced contributions of $100,000 each by the Crystal City and Rosslyn Business Improvement Districts, total GRANT program funding has reached $1.2 million.” [Arlington County, Rosslyn BID]
Ballston Hotel Donates Rooms to Healthcare Workers — “The Ballston BID is collaborating with local organizations to coordinate free accommodations at the Holiday Inn Arlington at Ballston for essential healthcare workers in the community. Chesapeake Hospitality, which manages the Ballston-based Holiday Inn on North Fairfax, is donating a complimentary block of 50 rooms per day… to frontline medical staff, their families, and those most vulnerable within the community.” [Press Release]
Arlington Gets Okay Social Distancing Marks — “Falls Church has a C+, Fairfax County has a C and Arlington gets a B- in social distancing grades from @Unacast. Virginia’s grade is D- and the U.S. as a whole gets a D+.” [Falls Church News-Press, Twitter]
New Deputy Chief for ACPD — “Arlington County Police Chief M. Jay Farr is pleased to announce the appointment of Captain Adrienne Quigley to the position of Deputy Chief of Police, effective Sunday, May 10, 2020. Deputy Chief Quigley will assume command of the Systems Management Division at a later date.” [Arlington County]
Historic Home and Huge Lot Not for Sale, Yet — “Long coveted by developers and planners for schools and parks, the home built just after the Civil War has stirred interest since the death in 2017 of owner Randy Rouse, the homebuilder and equestrian. But his widow still lives in the home. And this week, it appears that some speculation on marketing the house was premature, the chances that the county could purchase it almost nil.” [Falls Church News-Press]
COVID Case Shuts Down Credit Union Branch — “The Arlington Community Federal Credit Union is closing one of their branches after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, the credit union announced Monday morning.” [Patch]
Bankruptcy for Hair Cuttery, Bubbles — “Ratner Cos., the Vienna-based parent company of hair salon chains including the Hair Cuttery, Bubbles and Cielo, has filed for bankruptcy protection after closing more than 80 locations across the country in March. The company and related entities, including Creative Hairdressers Inc., filed for Chapter 11 in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court.” [Washington Business Journal]
Flickr pool photo by Lisa Novak
Being a police officer or firefighter during the coronavirus outbreak is not easy.
Every day public safety personnel are out in the community doing their jobs, they risk exposure to the deadly virus. Even taking all the safety precautions, cops and firefighters in Arlington and elsewhere are getting sick.
But that didn’t stop ACPD and ACFD personnel from showing up at Virginia Hospital Center last night and cheering on those other heroes of the pandemic — healthcare workers — amid growing hospitalizations in the county.
“Our healthcare personnel are working tirelessly on the front lines of the #COVID19 pandemic,” the police department said in a social media post. “To show our support and appreciation, we saluted Virginia Hospital Center staff during tonight’s shift change. Thank you for all you do!”
The hospital responded with gratitude in its own Facebook post.
“Thank you to all of our incredible partners who came out to show your support tonight,” said the hospital. “We are honored to work alongside you in protecting our community! #StrongerTogether”
The show of support from Arlington’s public safety community follows another heartwarming scene: residents across the county giving healthcare workers and caregivers a round of applause from their homes on Monday night.
— Matt L (@UnbeLEIBable) April 14, 2020
New School Budget Coming Soon — “Arlington Superintendent Cintia Johnson this week will formally outline her plan to reduce spending in the wake of the health and economic crisis. Johnson will report to School Board members on April 16 with an updated budget proposal for the fiscal year beginning in July, supplanting one she had detailed less than two months ago.” [InsideNova]
‘Strong Response’ to School Board Caucus — “Less than a week after announcing a transition to a vote-by-mail process for its School Board candidate endorsement caucus, the Arlington County Democratic Committee (Arlington Dems) has received more than 2,000 ballot requests representing all 54 Arlington voting precincts.” [Press Release]
Former Va. Hospital Center Patient Donates Gowns — “In light of the coronavirus pandemic, a breast cancer survivor decided to donate her colorful hospital gowns to people going through the same thing she did.” [NBC 4]
Local TSA Employee Dies — “A second Transportation Security Administration employee died from coronavirus the same day the agency announced its first worker had died. Alberto Camacho, a branch manager for the TSA’s Acquisition Program Management in Arlington, Virginia, died April 3, according to a TSA news release.” [USA Today]
‘Buy a Neighbor Lunch’ Pilot Program — “Volunteer Arlington… announced today a new initiative to facilitate community support for local families in need of meals called Buy a Neighbor Lunch. The program enables supporters to donate individual meals to be delivered to families in need.” [Volunteer Arlington]
Dog Daycare Owner On Coronavirus Challenges — “We lost over half our business in just three short weeks… Every day puts us more and more at risk of losing everything. I’m not one who backs down from a challenge easily, but the uncertainty of this one is life-crushing and breaking my soul.” [Arlington Magazine]
Photo courtesy Amy Kelly
County Forms Hunger Task Force — “In anticipation of increasing need, County Manager Mark Schwartz and APS Interim Superintendent Cintia Johnson have created the Cooperative for a Hunger Free Arlington (CHFA) and tasked it to help coordinate efforts to make sure that every Arlington resident who needs food has it during the pandemic.” [Arlington County]
ACPD, Bayou Bakery Distribute Free Meals — “Yesterday, ACPD assisted with the distribution of over 100 meals and school supplies to families in our community. This successful event was a collaborative effort by Real Food For Kids, Bayou Bakery, Abingdon Elementary PTA and private donations.” [Facebook]
Del. Lopez Celebrates Va. Dream Act Signing — “After years of work in the legislature — and decades of activism from educators, students, and advocates across the Commonwealth — the Virginia Dream Act has finally been signed into law, expanding in-state tuition to undocumented students for the first time.” [Press Release]
Wardian Went to Work After 63 Hour Race — “Q: How much did you sleep when you were done with the race? A: I didn’t sleep at all. I came right back from the race and I had a work deadline Tuesday morning at 11 a.m. I work from home, so I came right to my desk. I started working until I passed out on my keyboard. I told everyone to please double check all my work.” [New York Times]
County Again Encouraging Clapping Tonight — “Join us in saluting healthcare workers on Monday night! At 8 p.m., clap in front yards, balconies, windows and cars to show gratitude.” [Facebook]
Rosslyn Couple’s Very Mini Golf Course — “When your fiancée sets up a 9-hole mini @TheMasters for your quarantine birthday, you want @Buck to call play-by-play on the disappointing 9th hole.” [Twitter]
But one Arlington doctor had the police called to her office this week by a resident who was outraged that she was conducting in-car COVID-19 tests in the building’s parking lot.
Dr. Lillian Hunt owns a ground-floor office condo at The Chatham condominium building, located a mile south of Ballston at 4501 Arlington Blvd. She says she started testing her patients last Monday “as soon as my commercial labs could give me the test kits.”
“I started testing because patients and colleagues with exposures and/or viral symptoms could not get tested by the overwhelmed public sector,” Dr. Hunt told ARLnow. “When Arlington announced public testing the prior week, I sent an order to a patient who returned from Europe just before the international flights were restricted. The patient had a fever of 102.5, dry cough, sore throat, and severe malaise. She drove to the site across from W-L high school but was unable to get the test done due to excess demand.”
Despite her testing protocol reportedly following health department guidelines, some condo residents were incensed and wrote complaints to building management. (An Arlington health department spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.)
“Management received some emails yesterday from residents with concerns about the doctor testing patients in their vehicles in the parking lot,” said a notice set to residents this week, adding that the condo association board and its attorney have been informed of the situation.
One resident went so far as to call the police. That resident, whose first name is Erika, reached out to ARLnow with her concerns.
“At the Chatham condominium in Arlington, Va. there is a rogue doctor’s office — Dr. Lillian Hunt — doing COVID-19 tests in the condo parking lot, much to the dismay of its hundreds of residents who live there,” she wrote. “With the closure of the gym at the building, many residents also use the parking lot as a home gym — many unknowingly exercising right next to COVID patients in their cars lining up for tests. Arlington is destined for a spike in COVID cases. And Chatham is going to be the epicenter.”
Erika also posted about her concerns on a Facebook group for the building.
An employee in the doctor’s office says they were “shocked” when police showed up and knocked on the door. Dr. Hunt said she was surprised and “saddened.”
“I was frankly stunned to have the Chatham residents call in a police complaint on me without any communication of their concern directly,” she said. “The officer was unaware that I was operating from a licensed medical office in a condo I own. The officer seemed as confused as my staff as to the complaint and quietly left.”
“My patients in the building did however call to express their support,” she added.
(Updated at noon) Arlington County is encouraging residents to open a window or step outside and give healthcare workers a round of applause tonight.
The 8 p.m. clap is part of a worldwide phenomenon that has seen cities echo with the sound of cheers, in support of those on the frontlines of the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. It also coincides with National Doctors’ Day.
“Join your fellow Arlingtonians in a salute to our healthcare workers during this challenging time,” the county said in a social media post. “You can clap from your yard, your window, your balcony, or your car.”
TONIGHT at 8 p.m.! Join your fellow Arlingtonians in a salute to our healthcare workers during this challenging time. You can clap from your yard, your window, your balcony, or your car. Wherever you are–make some noise! pic.twitter.com/qYrEgiPE7B
— ArlingtonVA (@ArlingtonVA) March 30, 2020
Here’s what similar cheers have sounded like in cities around the globe:
The following Letter to the Editor was written by long-time Arlington resident John Seymour.
In a video panel discussion held this week with local Democratic leaders, several Northern Virginia members of the General Assembly were asked to select the piece of legislation passed this session of which they were most proud.
Del. Patrick Hope (D), six-term House of Delegates member representing much of Arlington County, did not choose one of the Democrats’ marquee accomplishments — expansion of voting rights, gun control measures, increased transportation funding, raise in the minimum wage, or even a Clean Energy Act which signaled a transformation in the energy sector. Instead, Delegate Hope picked a little known — but now seemingly prescient — bill intended solely to increase Virginia immunization rates.
Championed by Delegate Hope for years, the bill’s final vote was a close thing. In a deeply divided House and Senate, the bill passed on party lines with razor thin margins. One Republican Senator, a physician representing Henrico County, broke party ranks and voted for the bill. She reminded her GOP colleagues that “this is the 21st Century” and that the proposed legislation simply represented what the Commonwealth should be doing to protect its citizens from communicable diseases.
Delegate Hope echoed that conviction and also expressed his belief that the bill will expedite responses to the current coronavirus crisis and future pandemics, when and if vaccines become available. The bill is on the Governor Northam’s desk awaiting signature.
In earlier times, when our nation’s citizens displayed higher levels of trust in science and professional health expertise, the bill would have been viewed as unremarkable and commonsense. In a very few lines of text, the bill simply elevates science over politics. It gives the Virginia Department of Health the authority to align Virginia’s school immunization schedule with the recommendations of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the nation’s preeminent health authority.
Under current law, in contrast, only illnesses identified and recommended by non-physicians– the Assembly itself — can be added to the Department of Health schedule. Unsurprisingly, no disease has been added since 2008. Republicans controlling both Houses blocked periodic efforts to add vaccines recommended by the CDC.
The immediate effect of the bill is to add several additional vaccinations — for rotavirus, hepatitis A, meningitis, and human papillomavirus (HPV) — to the Commonwealth’s vaccination schedule. Its long-term import is to introduce an evidence-based and scientifically rigorous process, free of partisan wrangling, for amending Virginia’s immunization schedule to address existing as well as new and emerging public health threats.
Although health groups overwhelmingly supported the bill, opposition to the bill was fierce. The bill was opposed by such groups as the National Vaccine Information Center, an organization criticized by national and international health organizations as a leading source of false and inflammatory anti-vaccine propaganda.