Arlington, VA

(Updated at 12:10 p.m.) The rate of new coronavirus cases in Arlington has reached the highest point since August.

Twenty-two new cases were reported in the county on Monday, bringing Arlington’s seven-day moving average of new daily cases to 21.7. That’s the highest point since Aug. 31.

Despite the recent rise in cases, it has been a week since the last COVID-related death was reported in the county. The seven-day rate of new hospitalizations currently stands at four, remaining in the single digits since mid-September. And Arlington’s current test positivity rate is a relatively low 3.3%, the same as it was last Thursday.

Arlington’s cumulative total of cases, hospitalizations and deaths is 4,209, 511 and 152, respectively.

No new data was available today (Tuesday) from the Virginia Dept. of Health, due to a fiber optic cable cut that also brought down Virginia’s online voter registration system, on the last day of voter registration in the state.

As of Monday the test positivity rates in neighboring Fairfax County and the City of Alexandria hit new lows, of 3.6% and 3.7% respectively, according to InsideNova. After a bump in new cases statewide last week, the trend moderated a bit on Sunday and Monday, the site reported.

There has been a multi-day downward trend in coronavirus cases across the U.S., but rising levels in the Midwest. In Europe, meanwhile, a “second wave” of the virus has prompted new restrictions.

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Homes on N. Jackson Street in Ashton Heights may put up Halloween decorations this year, but most will not hand out treats in order to discourage trick-or-treating and follow state and national health guidelines.

The Virginia Department of Health recommends that people avoid traditional trick or treating because it is a “higher risk activity.” North Jackson Street neighbors — noted for having the most elaborate Halloween decorations in Arlington — decided that respecting this guidance would mean foregoing the usual Halloween revelry.

The street has been a popular destination for trick-or-treating for decades. Homes between Wilson Blvd and Pershing Drive deck out their houses with witches, pumpkins and skeletons galore, create a haunted house, and give out enough candy to keep pediatric dentists in business.

“Halloween is a treasured tradition in our community,” said Scott Sklar, president of the Ashton Heights Civic Association.

Some homes will be decorated on N. Jackson Street, but Sklar said he anticipated many others along the street and in Ashton Heights may avoid decorating, to discourage crowds.

“We regret seeing a scaled-back Halloween, but want to be good neighbors and do our part to keep our community safe,” he said.

Sklar said he hopes his neighborhood can bring back the ghouls, ghosts and graveyards next year.

COVID-19 is slightly dampening the spooky spirit in Arlington County. A recent ARLnow poll found that of more than 2,000 respondents, nearly half are not planning to hand out candy this year. Another poll found that more than a third of locals who usually decorate for Halloween are either skipping it or scaling it back this year.

The county’s guidance encourages people to decorate, but discourages them from going door-to-door for candy, walking through haunted houses with screaming people, and attending large, in-door parties.

“Everyone planning to celebrate Halloween this year should avoid close contact with people who do not live in their household, wear a mask, keep 6-feet distance and practice frequent and proper hand washing,” said Arlington County Public Health Director Dr. Reuben Varghese. “There are still ways to celebrate Halloween, but it will have to be on a more limited scale.”

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(Updated at 10:45 a.m.) Nearly 50 new coronavirus cases were reported in Arlington overnight, the biggest one-day spike for the county since late May, although part of the spike may be attributable to a reporting issue.

This morning the Virginia Dept. of Health reported 49 new cases in Arlington, bringing the county’s cumulative total to 4,132 and the trailing seven-day average of new daily cases to 19.3 from 12.6 yesterday. The last time the daily average was higher was Sept. 1.

October had thus far been relatively uneventful in Arlington, with the trailing seven-day average of new daily COVID-19 infections here staying below 16 — until today.

Statewide numbers also jumped this morning, with 1,844 new reported cases in Virginia, the second-highest spike since the beginning of the pandemic.

As of publication time, the state health department had not indicated, as it sometimes does, that there was a reporting issue that might account for the anomalous jump in cases. After the publication of this article, a note was added to the VDH website.

“Today’s case count includes 689 cases that should have been reported on Wednesday, October 7, but were excluded,” the note said. “A reminder: cases are not reported on the day the patient became ill, but on the day they have been classified as meeting the case definition for COVID-19.”

In Arlington, no new hospitalizations or deaths were reported overnight. Since the start of October, eight new hospitalizations and two new deaths have been reported, bringing the cumulative total of each to 508 and 152, respectively.

The test positivity rate in Arlington has risen slightly in the past few days and now stands at 3.3%, which is still considered to be relatively low.

Arlington’s health department, meanwhile, has joined D.C. and other local jurisdictions in urging anyone who has worked in the White House recently, attended the Supreme Court nominee announcement at the White House, or who has had recent contact with any of the previous two groups of people, to contact public health officials.

“Given the growing numbers of positive COVID cases reported from staff working in and near the White House, people who attended the event hosted by the White House on Saturday, September 26, 2020, and our preliminary understanding that there has been limited contact tracing performed to date, there may be other staff and residents at risk for exposure to COVID positive individuals,” said a jointly-signed letter from nine local health departments.

Cases in the District increased more than 25% last week, amid the outbreak at the White House.

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(Updated at 11 a.m.) Arlington County does not regulate Halloween activity and does not appear to have any plans to do so this year.

While some communities have official trick-or-treating times, the revelry has always been unofficial in Arlington — running roughly from sunset to 8 p.m. or so.

The county has, however, just issued guidance for Halloween safety amid the pandemic. In a press release, below, officials urge anyone with COVID-like symptoms to refrain from any in-person Halloween festivities, including trick-or-treating or handing out candy.

The guidance further urges residents to not hand out candy in person, to avoid large parties and haunted houses, and to not wear costume masks as a replacement for cloth masks.

Arlington’s health director previously cautioned against trick-or-treating, but said there are ways to safely enjoy the holiday “on a more limited scale.” An ARLnow poll on Tuesday found that just under half of 2,000 respondents said they plan to skip handing out candy to trick-or-treaters this year.

More from Arlington County:

With the start of fall, many Arlingtonians begin to look forward to the season’s festivities and holidays – particularly Halloween. But this year’s celebrations will be different due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

While Halloween is not an official holiday, and is not regulated by the County, Arlington is asking everyone to continue to practice the behaviors we know slow the spread of COVID-19.

If you may have COVID-19, may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, or are showing any COVID-19 symptoms, you should not participate in trick-or-treating or any other in-person Halloween festivities.

“Everyone planning to celebrate Halloween this year should avoid close contact with people who do not live in their household, wear a mask, keep 6-feet distance and practice frequent and proper hand washing,” said Arlington County Public Health Director Dr. Reuben Varghese. “There are still ways to celebrate Halloween, but it will have to be on a more limited scale.”

The Virginia Department of Health recommends everyone follow the considerations from Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention to help protect individuals, families, friends, and communities from COVID-19 during Halloween.

Higher-risk activities to avoid this Halloween season include:

  • Traditional trick-or-treating where treats are handed to children who go door to door
  • Trick-or-treating at houses where individuals are not wearing a mask, and where six feet of physical distance is not maintained between individuals
  • Events with large gatherings (e.g. indoor costume parties)
  • Having trunk-or-treat where treats are handed out from trunks of cars lined up in large parking lots
  • Going on hayrides or tractor rides with people who are not in your household
  • Haunted houses where people may be crowded together and screaming, which is known to increase the production of respiratory droplets

While some Halloween activities are considered a higher risk, there are many lower-risk, safe alternatives:

  • Carving or decorating pumpkins with members of your household
  • Carving or decorating pumpkins outside, at a safe distance, with neighbors or friends
  • Decorating your house, apartment, or living space
  • Doing a Halloween scavenger hunt where children are given lists of Halloween-themed things to look for while they walk outdoors from house to house admiring Halloween decorations at a distance
  • Having a virtual Halloween costume contest
  • Having a Halloween movie night with people you live with
  • Having a scavenger hunt-style trick-or-treat search with your household members in or around your home rather than going house to house

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Arlington’s rate of new coronavirus cases increased slightly over the weekend, but kept within a range held since early September.

Fifty-four new cases have been reported since Friday, bringing the trailing seven-day average of new daily cases to 16. That is within the 12 to 18 cases per day range that has held since Sept. 4.

The county’s test positivity rate has dropped slightly, to 3.0%. That compares to 4.7% statewide.

Virginia’s test positivity rate has steadily dropped from 7.9% at the beginning of the month. New daily cases statewide have fallen as well, from an average of around 1,000 per day on Sept. 1 to just under 800 per day now.

No new hospitalizations were reported in Arlington over the weekend, and the seven-day trailing total of new hospitalizations is currently five. One new COVID-related death was reported over the weekend, according to Virginia Dept. of Health data.

As of today Virginia, is second only to Georgia in terms of declining spread of the virus, according to one popular tracker. In all, fifteen states and the District of Columbia are seeing declining spread, but 35 states are seeing a rising epidemic, according to Rt.live.

While our stats may look encouraging, experts are worried that we may be at the start of a rising wave in new infections nationally.

“Almost half the US is reporting increased numbers of new Covid-19 cases as health experts warn of a potential coronavirus surge in the fall and winter,” CNN reported yesterday. “As of Sunday, the number of new coronavirus cases has increased by at least 10% or more compared to the week before in 21 states, most of them in the West, according to a CNN analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University.”

Other than the health of those affected, perhaps the biggest societal concern about rising cases is what that might mean for schools.

Last week Arlington Public Schools announced a timeline for at least partially resuming in-person classes, for all students who opt to return to school, by early December. But that’s only if health metrics stay positive.

“The plan is based on guidance from the Virginia Department of Education, as well as regional and local health metrics in consultation with the Arlington County Public Health Division,” APS said.

The school system also introduced a COVID-19 dashboard for tracking such metrics.

More from APS:

APS will begin with Level 1 Return for a small group of students with disabilities in mid- to late-October, followed by Level 2 Return for English Learners, students with disabilities, PreK-3rd grade students, and Career and Technical Education (CTE) students enrolled in the Career Center, in early- to mid-November. Level 3 Return, for all students who select hybrid, in-person learning, is planned for December, depending on health and operational metrics. Ability to proceed to each Level is based on the COVID-19 dashboard. If community health conditions worsen, APS, in collaboration with the Arlington County Public Health Department, will pause at the current level, reverse, or suspend all in-person instruction.

While many parents (and school employees) are concerned about the health impacts of a return to classrooms, other parents are pushing for an earlier resumption of in-person learning.

A petition called “Ready to go back: Arlington Parents Deserve A Real Choice From APS,” which calls for “a return to in-person instruction for families who choose to send their children into school buildings,” has gathered more than 900 signatures as of Monday morning.

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In a year that has been more trick than treat, traditional Halloween activities may be next on the chopping block.

Arlington County has not yet issued an official directive for Halloween this year. However, Arlington’s Public Health Director Dr. Reuben Varghese is cautioning against participation in trick-or-treating or other traditional Halloween activities due to the pandemic.

In a virtual COVID-19 town hall on Friday, Varghese expressed optimism about Halloween, under the right circumstances. He said revelers should observe six-foot distances between people or groups, and individuals who show any signs of illness should not be out and about.

“Those are going to be some of the things that parents are still going to have to think about,” Varghese said. “I think there are ways to do it, but it’s going to probably be on a more limited scale and making sure that people [know] what’s more important, the candy or the costuming.”

On Tuesday, the CDC and the VDH released guideline for participating in Halloween activities this year. Both listed high, moderate and low-risk activities in the guidelines while reminding everyone to wear a mask or cloth face covering, and to practice social distancing and proper hand washing.

The high-risk activities the CDC and VDH suggest to avoid include door to door trick-or-treating, where treats are handed out, or attending crowded events or parties, such as indoor costume parties or indoor haunted houses. Both also advise against going on hayrides or tractor rides with people outside of your household.

The CDC and VDH also offer a variety of low-risk activity ideas that includes carving or decorating pumpkins with family or at a distance with neighbors or friends, decorating your house, and virtual costume contests.

“The best way to avoid becoming infected is to avoid being exposed to the virus altogether,” VDH said. “This is particularly important for people at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19.”

In Alexandria, trick-or-treating will be allowed, as the city is not regulating the holiday, Washingtonian reported last week. Arlington County similarly does not set official trick-or-treating times nor has it, in the past, set any Halloween-specific regulations.

Nationally, a number of cities and states — like ChicagoNew York, and Arkansas — have said they will not cancel Halloween festivities outright, though many are encouraging revelers to follow existing safety guidelines.

Los Angeles made headlines at the beginning of the month for initially banning trick-or-treating and other activities. However, public health officials reversed course a day later and merely recommended canceling trick-or-treating, according to the Los Angeles Times.

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

“A vaccine that nobody wants to take is not very useful.”

If there were a safe and effective vaccine against COVID, why wouldn’t people take it? After all, the virus has claimed 200,000 American lives, shut down schools and businesses and affected almost every aspect of our lives. The fact that scientists have been able to develop vaccine candidates in mere months after sequencing SARS-CoV-2’s genetic code is nothing short of a medical marvel. However, our country’s hyper-polarizing climate has thrust the rapid vaccine progress into the political ring, resulting in rising public distrust.

There’s a reason progress on the vaccine has been so fast. The Trump administration implemented “Operation Warp Speed” (OWS) five months ago, which aims to produce 300 million doses of vaccines by January 2021 with an approved budget of $10 billion.

So far, OWS results seem promising. There are nine vaccines in phase 3 trials, the final phase before submitting for FDA approval. For details on how clinical trial phases work click here. Frontrunners include Moderna and Pfizer, which use inactivated coronavirus fragments to induce an immune response, and AstraZeneca, which uses an adenovirus to carry coronavirus genes into cells, provoking an immune response.

Even with promising results, the public remains nervous. A new Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) poll showed 62% expressing concern that political pressure from Trump would force the FDA to approve a vaccine without ensuring safety and efficacy. Less than half (46%) would get vaccinated if a vaccine were approved by the FDA before the election. Another poll from STAT echoed the KFF poll, with 78% worried that vaccine approval is driven by politics more than science.

The integrity of the FDA has been put in question, catching the ire of administration, scientists and the American public. On one hand, Trump has claimed an FDA ‘deep state’ that is committed to thwart his reelection by delaying a vaccine until after the election. On the other hand, scientists and the public are increasingly skeptical of the FDA, as the agency pushed out Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for hydroxychloroquine after Trump touted it. The EUA was later rescinded.

More recently, the day after Trump called convalescent plasma a “medical breakthrough” the FDA gave plasma an EUA. It was promptly pointed out that misleading statistics overdramatized plasma’s benefit and the statement was later rescinded… via Twitter.

The mounting criticism of the FDA being controlled by the White House reached such a fever pitch that last week, in an opinion column in USA Today, eight career scientist at the FDA made a pledge that their work would continue unimpeded and independent of political influence. They stated “if the agency’s credibility is lost because of real or perceived interference, people will not rely on the agency’s safety warnings” and later adding “We and our career staff do the best by public health when we are the decision makers, arriving at those decisions based on our unbiased evaluation of the scientific evidence.”

Big Pharma is far from exempt. Many scientists say these vaccine makers need to be more transparent about how vaccine trials are run and reporting adverse events. In normal circumstances, drug companies hold clinical trial results precious in order to guard intellectual property and maintain competitive advantage. However, critics say that American taxpayers are entitled to know the details since the federal government has spent nearly $10 billion as part of OWS.

The most recent example of transparency (or perhaps lack thereof) is the incidence of a rare but lethal spinal inflammatory disorder called transverse myelitis in AstraZeneca’s Phase 3 trial, which immediately halted the trial. Trial shutdowns are common, and perhaps this instance demonstrates that drug companies are willing to slow down warp speed for the sake of patient safety. However, many are upset is that the shutdown was announced in a closed private meeting with investors and was actually leaked by STAT News.

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Purple Lounge is resuming operations after reaching a settlement with Virginia ABC for the restoration of its liquor license.

Six people have been shot in violence linked to the business at 3111 Columbia Pike since last September, including a double shooting late last month and a triple shooting, in which one person was killed, in June. The continued violence, complaints from neighbors, and repeated code violations led Virginia ABC to suspend Purple Lounge’s license to serve alcohol earlier this month.

As a result of a settlement this week the business can resume serving alcohol — but with a number of restrictions.

The restrictions include “stopping all sales and consumption of alcohol at 12:45 a.m.,” “closure of the business no later than 1:00 a.m. and no reopening sooner than 8:00 a.m.,” and keeping four certified security guards on duty — including in the violence-prone parking lot — when the lounge is open at night.

In a press release Wednesday night, Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said the county would have preferred the business been fully closed by Virginia ABC. She noted that further violations, however, could result in a permanent loss of Purple Lounge’s ABC license.

More from the county press release:

Today, Arlington County officials were informed of a settlement agreement reached between the management of the Purple Restaurant and Lounge and the Virginia ABC. Arlington County is not a party to this settlement.

“We are very disappointed that ABC did not fully close or revoke the liquor license for The Purple Lounge.  We view the result in this matter as only a partial step towards ensuring our community’s safety, which is our primary concern,” Libby Garvey, Chair of the Arlington County Board noted. “The restrictions now in place, if followed, at least offer a path forward. The penalties for failure to adhere to the restrictions include permanent loss of licensure. Our police and public health officials will work closely with Virginia ABC to ensure that this settlement is strictly followed. Our staff will be conducting regular visits and monitoring activity inside and outside of the Purple Lounge to ensure full compliance.” Community members who observe behaviors believed to be outside of the negotiated agreement are urged to contact Virginia ABC or the Arlington County Police Department.

On September 1, following a series of disturbing events at the Purple Ethiopian Restaurant and Lounge (Purple Lounge), the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority (“ABC”) issued an Order of Summary Suspension, temporarily suspending its alcohol licenses.

After an investigation, Virginia ABC cited two violations against the Purple Lounge relating to its failure to take reasonable measures to prevent violence on the property, and the Purple Lounge’s adverse effects on neighboring properties.  A formal hearing was scheduled to occur on September 16-17th regarding the status of the Purple Lounge’s liquor license as a result of these charges. Possible outcomes ranged from full reinstatement of the Purple Lounge’s ABC licenses, partial reinstatement of the Purple Lounge’s ABC licenses with restricted hours, or full revocation of the Purple Lounge’s ABC licenses.

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Something exceedingly rare happened during last night’s County Board meeting.

A broad spectrum of Arlington civic life — including progressives, the Chamber of Commerce, business owners, county commissions and a local civic association — all lined up to speak against an ordinance recommended for approval by county staff — one that was temporarily approved by the Board a month and a half ago.

The Board voted 4-1 against extending the sidewalk crowding ordinance, which was approved on July 31 on an emergency basis and will now expire at the end of this month.

The ordinance was passed in a closed County Board session amid growth in coronavirus cases among younger Arlington residents, and outcry against large crowds lined up outside popular Clarendon bars and outdoor venues, as seen in photos posted to social media. It prohibited congregating in a group of more than three in designated zones in Clarendon, making violations a traffic infraction punishable by a fine of up to $100.

While the county’s health director and other local experts agreed that such crowding presented a risk of virus transmission, it was also not necessarily seen as riskier than other activities that remained perfectly legal — dining inside at a restaurant, driving with a group in a car, etc.

With the rate of new cases now down from the summer peak, the urgency with which the emergency ordinance passed was replaced at last night’s meeting by a more sober assessment of whether enforcement was worth the effort.

A county staff presentation suggested it was.

“Clarendon has seen an influx of patrons 10 p.m.-2 a.m.,” the presentation said. “Efforts to spread out long lines of patrons by officers and restaurant security have been met with defiance, confrontation, and hostility.”

County Manager Mark Schwartz, however, revealed that no fines — “zero… the number between negative one and one,” he said as County Board member Christian Dorsey sought clarification — have been issued so far, despite the posting of signs and an ongoing public education effort.

Community members who spoke before the County Board’s hearing were unanimous in their skepticism of the ordinance.

Gillian Burgess, chair of the Arlington County Bicycle Advisory Committee, started her remarks by listing the names of Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and others.

“There are but a few of the Black Americans who lost their lives due to minor infractions,” Burgess said. “After a summer of reckoning with America’s and Arlington’s racist past, we must acknowledge the role of over-broad laws and ordinances in allowing police a pretext to stop Black people and people of color.”

She went on to say, as also argued by Arlington Transportation Commission Chair Chris Slatt, that the ordinance prohibits common pedestrian activity, singling out those on foot.

The ordinance “seems to make it an infraction for me to walk down a specified sidewalk with my three young children,” she said. “It almost certainly would be an infraction for the four of us to wait at a bus stop on those sidewalk.”

“I support limiting the spread of COVID and urge the County Board to use every tool in its toolbox to support getting vulnerable children back into schools… this ordinance is not a tool that helps with this problem,” she concluded. “I urge the Board to repeal this.”

Joining in the criticism were representatives from the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, the Arlington Pedestrian Advisory Committee, and the Clarendon-Courthouse Civic Association, as well as local business owners.

Spider Kelly’s owner Nick Freshman, speaking on behalf of business owners in the Clarendon area, said the ordinance is doing little to stop the spread of the virus while hurting main street businesses that are in danger of closing.

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Once can hardly go a block in some parts of Arlington without spotting a Tesla, but the vast majority of vehicles on local streets are still powered by fossil fuels.

The proportion of electric vehicles on the road is expected to increase, albeit gradually. The Edison Electric Institute expects 3.5 million electric vehicles to be sold annually in the U.S. in 2030; that compares to the total of 17 million vehicles sold last year.

The switch to electric will have a number of advantages: less noise along busy roads, lower operating and maintenance costs, and a cleaner environment.

From a WTOP article yesterday:

Switching to electric vehicles would save lives, time and money, and the D.C. area would be one of the prime beneficiaries, a new study finds.

The American Lung Association’s Road to Clean Air report placed D.C. among the top 10 metropolitan areas that would benefit from a switchover to electric cars, buses and trucks by the middle of the century.

Compared with a “business as usual” scenario, the D.C. area would see about 175 fewer premature deaths a year by 2050; nearly 3,000 fewer asthma attacks; about 12,000 fewer lost workdays per year and more than $2 million in public health benefits, the association said in a statement.

Today we’re wondering: how many Arlingtonians are planning to buy an electric vehicle over the next 10 years?

Photo via Twitter

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A month ago, new coronavirus cases were on the rise in Arlington, amid a lull in hospitalizations and deaths.

Now, cases have been on a downward slope since last weekend, but hospitalizations and fatalities continue to rise, as those getting infected are increasingly those on the older half of the demographic chart.

The Virginia Dept. of Health reported one new COVID-related death overnight, bringing the seven-day total of fatalities to six. Two new hospitalizations were also reported, bringing the seven-day total to 14; it had previously reached a nearly three-month high of 18 on Sunday.

With 18 new cases overnight, the county’s cumulative total of cases, hospitalizations and deaths now stands at 3,605, 472 and 142, respectively. A total of 113 new cases have been reported over the past seven days, compared to 156 as of a week ago.

There is usually a lag between a rise in new cases and a rise in hospitalizations, but there might be other reasons why since mid-August more people are being hospitalized and dying from COVID-19 locally.

For one, those getting sick are getting older. Whereas people under 40 represented 70% of new cases between July 19 and August 19, that same age range has accounted for 56% of new cases since.

Additionally, two new COVID-19 outbreaks were reported in long-term care facilities in Arlington last month, according to VDH.

One started on Aug. 5 at the Sunrise of Arlington facility on N. Glebe Road; that has sickened fewer than five people and resulted in no reported fatalities so far. Another that started on Aug. 19 at the Sunrise at Bluemont Park facility on Wilson Blvd has sickened 20 people and resulted in at least one death, the state health department reports.

(Numbers fewer than five are “suppressed to preserve anonymity.”)

Outbreaks at long-term care facilities were responsible for nearly 500 cases and dozens of deaths in Arlington during the peak of the spring epidemic.

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