Arlington, VA

Virginia’s Phase 3 reopening starts today, with relaxed rules for restaurants, stores, fitness studios and social gatherings.

But as new coronavirus cases continue to surge in the South and West, the reopening raises the specter of Virginia’s waning epidemic returning.

Unlike New Jersey, which recently postponed the return of indoor dining, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is opting to continue reopening indoor, communal settings. He announced yesterday, however, that bar seating will be prohibited inside restaurants.

Arlington County, meanwhile, is encouraging residents to stay “safer at home” and to continue social distancing, telecommuting, and wearing masks in indoor public settings.

“Because Arlington is an urban, high-density area — and because there is still community spread of the virus — the County is going to similarly move forward with caution in the hopes of continuing to stop the spread of COVID-19 and ensure the safety and well-being of the entire community,” the county said in a press release today.

The press release notes that fitness rooms and gyms will reopen at four community centers — Fairlington, Madison, Thomas Jefferson and Langston Brown — next Friday, July 10.

The good news for Arlington is that the current level of coronavirus spread remains low: five new cases were reported overnight, for a seven-day total of 46. The seven-day rate of new hospitalizations stands at just three, a new low since such data started to be reliably reported by the Virginia Dept. of Health.

The county press release about the reopening is below.

Arlington County, along with the entire Commonwealth of Virginia, is transitioning to Phase 3 of the Forward Virginia plan on Wednesday, July 1.

In Phase 3, Arlington will maintain a Safer at Home strategy with continued recommendations for social distancing and teleworking, and the requirement that individuals wear face coverings in indoor public settings. All businesses should continue to follow physical distancing guidelines, frequently clean and sanitize high contact surfaces and keep enhanced workplace safety measures in place.

As part of a cautious approach to entering Phase 3, Governor Northam on Tuesday announced that bar seating will remain prohibited in restaurants to reduce the likelihood of patrons gathering in bar areas without observing social distancing guidelines. The Governor added he is prepared to implement tighter restrictions if needed.

Because Arlington is an urban, high-density area — and because there is still community spread of the virus — the County is going to similarly move forward with caution in the hopes of continuing to stop the spread of COVID-19 and ensure the safety and well-being of the entire community.

Arlington will continue to open government facilities gradually to ensure adequate space for social distancing and follow public health guidelines. […]

Playgrounds and Outdoor Restrooms Now Open, Select Fitness Rooms to Open July 10

Continuing its gradual reopening, in according with public health and safety guidelines, Arlington’s Department of Parks and Recreation reopened playgrounds and outdoor restrooms, including playgrounds located at Arlington Public Schools, effective Friday, June 26. Additionally, athletic field and court lighting returned to regular schedules.

Park users must continue to social distance and comply with the appropriate usage guidelines. Learn more on the Reopening Arlington Parks FAQ page.

Starting Friday, July 10, fitness rooms and gyms will reopen in four of DPR’s centers: Fairlington, Madison, Thomas Jefferson and Langston Brown.

Community and nature centers and spraygrounds remain closed.

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When he was in the midst of a protracted battle with a severe case of COVID-19, Arlington resident and former local restaurateur Mohammed “Jimmy” Khan said he realized he wished his life had more purpose.

Khan — who once owned Toscana Grill and Pines of Florence, among other restaurants — is currently at home in Arlington on the slow road to recovery since being diagnosed with the disease.

“I’ve been home for a month,” Khan said. “I’ve been much better. The day I came home I was so weak I couldn’t turn myself on my side.”

Khan said his first symptom was a fever that kept going up, but it was early in the pandemic and he didn’t suspect at first that it might be COVID-19.

“I was thinking it was just the regular flu, the seasonal flu,” Khan said. “My fever was going up and I did not pay attention. I thought it was just one of those every few years things. I didn’t pay attention that much. For 10 days I didn’t bother to go to the hospital, I just managed myself with Tylenol.”

During the day, Khan said it would seem to get better, but at night it would return.

“I had miscalculated,” Khan said. “When I came to [Virginia Hospital Center] they sent me back home for three days before I went to Fairfax Hospital. There they tested me for coronavirus and it was positive.”

Khan said his memories from the hospital, and from the days just before he tested positive, are hazy.

“I lost my memories,” Khan said. “I don’t even remember coming to the Arlington hospital. I don’t remember how many days I stayed there. Once I went home, when I came back, I’d learned I’d been to Arlington hospital because my family told me.”

By the time he arrived at Inova Fairfax, Khan said his temperature was 110 degrees. Khan was put into an ECMO machine for two weeks, which he credited with saving his life.

His first memory upon waking up was hospital workers trying to help him video conference with his family.

“When I first woke up, we tried to FaceTime my family,” Khan said, “but I had no power to talk or even keep my eyes open.”

Khan said his body is still sore and he has a hard time sitting down or moving around too much, but he’s managed to walk around the block a little further every week or so.

The frightening encounter with the pandemic has left Khan rattled and reevaluating his priorities.

“It’s hard when you see your life,” Khan said. “It makes me think everybody should do good deeds.”

During the hospital stay and in the long struggle to get back to normal afterward, Khan says he’s felt depressed and hopes to do more good with his life.

“I’ll probably have to give my life a little direction,” Khan said. “I’m thinking of doing more volunteering, anything I can do to bring discipline in my life. I used to not take care of myself, not give time to my family.”

Khan said he spent much of his life working in restaurants and he hopes, after the pandemic, to cut work out entirely and spend more of his time with his family. It’s a realization that Khan said he feels thankful for.

“I feel very blessed,” he said.

Photos courtesy Nargis Mughal

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Dr. Hartman and Dr. Morrow of Elite Dental in Clarendon address one of the rising topics of conversation in their office, eroding teeth and the impact of food and beverages on tooth breakdown. One surprising culprit — sparkling water!

Let’s back up a bit. Food and beverages have a pH value which indicates how damaging they can be to tooth structure. The pH scale ranges from 0-14 with a score of 7 being neutral, 0 – <7 as acidic and >7 – 14 as basic. In the dental world, we are most concerned with those in the acidic ranges.

An important factor to keep in mind is that as you move between whole numbers less than 7, the acidity multiplies by 10. For example, a pH of 6 is 10x more acidic than a pH of 7 and a pH of 5 is 100x more acidic than a pH of 7. The same holds true for the basic side of the scale.

Teeth have two main components that can be impacted by acidity. The first is enamel, the white outer portion of the tooth which is the hardest substance in the body. Enamel dissolves with a pH <5.5. Dentin is the softer tooth structure underneath enamel and on root surfaces, it dissolves with a pH of <6.5. When you start weakening that outer enamel, the teeth become more prone to cavities and fractures, can be more sensitive, and can appear more yellow.

Here’s a list of some common food and beverages with acidity ranked:

Neutral pH 7.0
Dentin dissolves below 6.5
Enamel dissolves below 5.5

  • Green tea: 7-10
  • Perrier Carbonated Mineral Water: 5.25
  • Black coffee: 5.0
  • Black tea: 4.5-5.5
  • Bud Light: 4.33
  • Apple Juice: 4.0
  • Carbonated waters: range 3-4, certain flavors will impact and lower the pH
  • Vitamin Water (Fruit Punch): 3.65
  • Red Bull: 3.37
  • Diet Coke: 3.28
  • Generic red wine: 3.28
  • Generic white wine: 3.17
  • Lemon tea: 3.0
  • Gatorade/Powerade/Propel: range 2.5-3.5
  • Kombucha: 2.5-3.5
  • Lemon: 2.29
  • Lime: 2.17

So what can you do? We do NOT recommend brushing your teeth right after drinking or eating things with acid. Your saliva is a natural buffer, and your teeth are weakest right after acid exposure. By brushing immediately, you are more likely to ‘brush’ away the tooth structure — wait 30 minutes before doing so. Rinsing with plain water is OK.

Enjoy these food and beverages in shorter time spans and more limited quantities. Sipping or grazing on acidic items (just like with sugar) increases the amount of time the tooth structure is exposed to a damaging environment and can cause more harm. Drinking the more acidic beverages with meals is best, and like everything, enjoy in moderation!

Dr. Hartman and Dr. Morrow practice at Elite Dental in Arlington and are currently accepting new patients. Call 703-988-6963, or email [email protected] to schedule an appointment.

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There was a moment when Ahmad Ayyad, owner of Darna Lounge at Virginia Square, was sure COVID-19 was going to kill him.

“When I went to [Sibley Memorial Hospital in D.C.] and they intubated me and I woke up in Baltimore at [Johns Hopkins Hospital],” Ayyad said. “I had this tube and all these things connected to me. I texted my best friend ‘I think I’m going to die.'”

In March, Ayyad was starting to feel weak and a little under the weather when talk of COVID-19 spreading across the United States was just starting. With no coughing or fever, Ayyad said at first he thought it was just a cold, but after a few days he found that he wasn’t getting better.

“I went to the hospital just to get medication, then I went to Sibley and they put me in and the next thing you know, it’s oxygen and they might have to put you into a coma. And at that point, you’re like ‘What, woah, me?'”

Ayyad said he was one of the first people in Hopkins with a confirmed case of COVID-19.

“I was a guinea pig,” Ayyad said. “They didn’t know much of what to do with me about how to help me. They didn’t really have the knowledge that we have now.”

As he was lying in the hospital, Ayyad said he not only had to tell his parents what was happening but had to warn them away from coming to the hospital to see him in what might have been his final hours. Even after the disease has passed, Ayyad said that’s the part that still haunts him. Ayyad said he still thinks of what his parents went through: crying themselves to sleep and waking up at 6 a.m. to call the doctor just to hear that Ayyad is still stable.

“The hardest thing was hearing what my parents went through,” Ayyad said.

Meanwhile, Ayyad said being in quarantine inside the hospital was a lonely and isolating experience.

“You’re kind of, like, stuck on an island by yourself and you have no one to talk to or encourage you, anything to feel like you have someone on your side,” Ayyad said. “You’re just stuck in the room.”

Recovery for Ayyad has been slow, especially for someone who said he took a lot of pride in being in shape. Even over a month after his release, Ayyad said he still suffers shortness of breath when he works out. Progress has been a slow build: from moving around on a walker to walks around the neighborhood and eventually to weight training.

Ayyad, a fitness buff and marathon runner, lost 60 pounds and much of his muscle tone while in the hospital.

“My determination has never been higher,” he said. “You look in the mirror and see the COVID in your body. I’m determined to get my body back to what it looked like before.”

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnowStartup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. Monday Properties remains firmly committed to the health, safety and well-being of its employees, tenants and community. This week, Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1000 and 1100 Wilson (The Rosslyn Towers).

It could be a while before coronavirus leaves the public consciousness, and Ballston startup HandArmor hopes to help reduce the spread of the disease.

The company has developed a reusable mitt, designed to help the user touch and handle objects without worry of contaminants. The product includes an integrated disinfectant to clean while it protects.

“HandArmor is a patent-pending product used to help prevent direct contact with unclean surfaces,” the company said on its website. “The microfiber mitt conveniently clips to belts, pockets, blouses, skirts and lanyards. The mitt rests at your hip while sitting, standing and walking.”

The idea is to be able to reach down and slip your hand into the mitt when approaching a door, spray the disinfectant on the glove, open the door with the glove and release the glove to slide back to your belt.

The website designs that glove as “PPE for the office.” Gloves, an advertisement said, only continues to spread the germs around. In combination with the spray, HandArmor claims the glove will clean surfaces it touches, keeping the user and other employees safe.

The microfiber gloves can also be used for touch-screens.

The HandArmor is $14.95, which includes the spray bottle and belt clips. For orders over 100 units, customers should contact [email protected]

Photo via Facebook/HandArmor

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Among the ripple effects of COVID-19 is the psychological strain of isolation. While Arlington works to combat the health and economic impacts of the pandemic, the county is also launching initiatives to address the mental impact.

“We have a lot going on in terms of mental health programs and supports as we navigate through coronavirus,” said Kurt Larrick, assistant director of Arlington’s Department of Human Services.

Larrick said coronavirus has forced the DHS to adapt to new methods of checking in and helping those in need. Therapy and case management are being provided via telehealth tools. Day programs, like Clarendon House, Arlington Weaves, and Arlington Adult Day Program, cannot meet in person so staff is checking in with clients on a daily or weekly basis, Larrick said.

“We just started to pilot a friendly caller program (staring with Meals on Wheels recipients) where we get callers to check in on individuals in the program to help combat loneliness and isolation,” Larrick said. “Since Meals on Wheels switched to weekly deliveries instead of daily deliveries, there isn’t as much interpersonal interaction for people in the program. The friendly caller program addresses this issue.”

Larrick also said DHS has also started Monday-Thursday free online meditation for clients.

For the general public, Larrick said Arlington County has put together a new webpage devoted to connecting people to mental wellness resources and self-care tips during the pandemic. That’s in addition to the county’s updated “Get Help Guide.

“At DHS we haven’t really shut down at all, instead switching to the Assistance from a Distance model to continue to serve clients,” Larrick said. “We have implemented a number of new techniques to stay connected with people and adjusted programs as needed. For people who were facing challenges before COVID — whether that’s employment, food, housing, health, anxiety, substance use, or other behavioral health issues — it’s been an even greater challenge during the pandemic.”

Larrick said people should feel free to call the Arlington Behavioral Healthcare Services Emergency Line at 703-228-5160 or the Children’s Behavioral Healthcare Outpatient Services at 703-228-1560 to seek help.

“We are working hard to support community members and encourage everyone to reach out to friends, family, loved ones, co-workers, neighbors, etc. (safely, of course) to stay connected and remind people that while they may be physically distant, they are not alone,” Larrick said. “For those who need us, we are open and ready to help.”

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(Updated 5/18) Large portions of the state partially reopened today, but not Northern Virginia.

As the region moves closer to a potential reopening after Memorial Day, however, Arlington officials say residents should expect things to move slowly, and a bit unevenly.

Within the parks department, for instance, officials said in a virtual town hall today (Friday) that different facilities will be reopening at different stages of recovery.

While some trails in Arlington remain open to socially distant outdoor uses, Assistant County Manager Jim Schwartz said facilities like basketball and tennis courts will continue to be closed until at least May 29, the earliest that Northern Virginia is expected to join other parts of the Commonwealth in a phased reopening plan.

Schwartz also said that some facilities within the parks department could experience further delays in reopening.

“Recreation centers may be opened later,” Schwartz said. “Indoor activities have to be managed differently.”

The county has not reached a decision on whether or not to cancel summer camps, he added.

“We will be making a decision next week for upcoming summer camps,” Schwartz said. “Just about all of our regional partners have announced they are closing or not doing summer camps. We will make that decision next week.”

Dr. Reuben Varghese, the county’s Director of Public Health, said Arlington is bracing for a bump in coronavirus cases once the restrictions are lifted, regardless of warnings and advice offered by county health officials.

“We will be expecting a bump,” Varghese said. “I will be very happy to be wrong… but people will be having physical interactions within six feet.”

Officials asked the public not to rush into public interactions once the restrictions start easing off.

“Even though we’re all eager to get back to the things we love,” said County Board member Matt de Ferranti, “if we aren’t careful and play it safe we can put people at risk.”

The video of the hour-long town virtual hall is below.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Arlington County is planning to open a walk-up COVID-19 testing site tomorrow at the Arlington Mill Community Center (909 S. Dinwiddie Street).

The sample collection site is part of a partnership between Arlington County, the Arlington Free Clinic and the Virginia Hospital Center. The center is scheduled to open tomorrow (Tuesday) and will be open every weekday between 1-5 p.m.

Patients are required to obtain a clinician referral and then call 703-558-5766 to schedule an appointment. Appointments must be made before visiting the site.

Residents without health insurance can still access testing by calling the appointment number. A press release said VHC clinicians will screen for symptoms over the phone and provide a follow-up referral to the Arlington Free Clinic if needed. Proof of identification, but not necessarily a U.S. government ID, is required.

Nancy White, executive director of the Arlington Free Clinic, said in a press release that the walk-up testing site is part of the organization’s commitment to helping low-income, uninsured Arlington residents.

“This is an exciting effort to create a more equitable testing model for everyone who needs it,” she said.

“Arlington is committed to assuring everyone in our community has access to the testing they need during this pandemic,” said Dr. Reuben Varghese, Arlington Public Health Director. “This is an important partnership that will help our more vulnerable or low-income groups who do not have access to cars to walk up and get tested.”

The prospect of a walk-in testing center had been discussed by county officials earlier this month. County Board member Katie Cristol said at the time that people would still be able to drive to the location, but the goal was to offer an alternative to the county’s drive-thru testing centers for those without access to a car.

Courtesy photo @TheBeltWalk

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During an online town hall discussion today, county officials announced that a new walk-thru testing center for COVID-19 is coming to Arlington.

Assistant County Manager Jim Schwartz said the county is currently planning to open the site somewhere on the southern side of Arlington County. The site would be an addition to other drive-thru locations currently operating in Arlington.

“We are currently planning to open a walk-thru site,” Schwartz said. “It should be open by May 11. We have a site in mind on the south side of the county but we’re working to cement that.”

Schwartz said people could drive to the location, but they would park and walk into the site to have a sample collected for testing.

“Right now, all samples being taken are under a doctor’s orders,” Schwartz said. “[People being tested] needs to have a doctor provide the order, usually over the phone or by email. Present that at the testing site.”

Schwartz said those being tested now are symptomatic. The virus can be carried and spread by people exhibiting no symptoms, but Schwartz said the county does not have enough tests for asymptomatic cases.

The walk-thru testing site — conducted in partnership with Virginia Hospital Center, like the county’s drive-thru testing site — will help fill what County Board member Katie Cristol identified as a gap where those most vulnerable to the disease may also be low-income workers who don’t have access to car transportation.

“The walk-in site is part of a recognition that those most vulnerable to the disease are those who might not have a car,” Cristol said.

Schwartz also said the County is working on a partnership with the Arlington Free Clinic to help test and treat people who are uninsured.

In the same town hall, public safety officials said calls for service have gone down. Echoing ARLnow’s previous reporting, the Arlington County Fire Department said there has been a 25 percent reduction in overall call volume, but the work has not eased because each call requires asking people to step out of the house or away from a group setting, or to put on a mask.

“There is less volume of calls,” Fire Chief David Povlitz said, “but we’re spending more time on those calls.”

Police Chief Jay Farr said that his department has seen a similar reduction in call volume, while online reporting has gone up 50%. The most common calls that Farr said police have been responding to are calls from residents reporting groups congregating in local parks, which are closed.

“The challenge to date has been around parks,” Farr said. “With weather changes, people have been trying to get out and social distancing rules get harder to deal with… Our mission to date has been to see compliance. We’re not there to write summons, we’re reminding people.”

Farr said there have been some calls for people congregating at residences, but most have been to parks and open areas. There has also been some issues with businesses not complying with state restrictions, but Farr said those have been settled so far with warnings.

“We’ve been to a few businesses where we have gone out more than one time, and gave them the governor’s order and explanation of compliance,” Farr said. “It starts with a warning. So far we haven’t had any citations, but the heavy stick here is a misdemeanor for violating the governor’s order.”

Tipsters have told ARLnow of nail salons and other businesses deemed non-essential that have nonetheless been serving customers during the governor’s stay-at-home order.

Like the fire and police departments, Candice Lopez, manager of local domestic violence prevention organization Project PEACE, said calls for domestic violence have gone down. But she cautioned against seeing that as a good sign.

“Domestic violence calls are down, but we know domestic violence isn’t down,” Lopez said. “We assume people aren’t using the hotlines.”

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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In celebration of National Volunteer Week, Arlington Free Clinic (AFC) would like to say THANK YOU to our amazing volunteers!

Our 450+ volunteers are the foundation that allows AFC to provide free, high-quality care to our low-income, uninsured neighbors in normal times, and they have enabled us to continue caring for those most vulnerable to being overlooked and forgotten during the COVID-19 crisis. When it would be easy to say, ”I need to look out for me,” they have instead said “What can I do to help?”

From the moment we announced our new protocols last month, volunteers have stepped up — whether it’s a provider offering to learn our new telehealth system, an interpreter signing up to be “on-call” for virtual visits, pharmacists coming in to make sure our patients’ prescriptions get filled, or nurses making check-in calls to ensure patients and their families all are well, informed and have the resources they need.

Thank you for your incredible work and dedication to our mission.

Learn more about Arlington Free Clinic’s continued work during the COVID-19 crisis here.

If you’d like to support us financially, please consider a gift in honor of our volunteers for Volunteer Week.

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Morning Notes

VHC Has Supplies, Extra Beds — “Virginia Hospital Center officials said not all of their 394 beds are full at the moment and that the hospital could expand above 400 in the case of a surge… Melody Dickerson, chief nursing officer at VHC, said thanks to changes such as extending the life of personal protective equipment (PPE), under new CDC guidelines, they expect to have enough for at least next month, assuming shipments continue as expected.” [Washington Post]

Bayou Bakery Owner on CNBC — While working to give away food to those in need, Bayou Bakery is facing its own challenges. Chef and owner David Guas appeared on CNBC’s Squawk Box Tuesday morning and discussed his decision to close and lay off all of his staff, while also working to apply for loans and eventually reopen. [CNBC]

Pile Driving Starting Soon at HQ2 Site — “Clark Construction Group, the lead HQ2 contractor, is planning to start a particularly noisy bit of work this week… It does have a solution, of sorts, for those nonessential workers who are sheltering in place. ‘They have provided us with ear plugs to help us deal with the noise, knowing that many of you are working from home,’ Aura management wrote.” [Washington Business Journal]

New Grocery Store Changes — Harris Teeter and Giant stores will be limiting the number of shoppers in their stores, in the interest of social distancing. Giant is also implementing one-way aisles. [Washington Business Journal, WTOP]

Beyer Wants Temperature Checks at Airports — “Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) today wrote to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf urging the adoption of stricter measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at American airports… such as enforcing social distancing, implementing temperature checks for travelers, providing guidance on how to self-quarantine for exiting travelers, and protective equipment for staff.” [Press Release]

‘Virus Vigilantes’ on the Lookout — ARLnow has been getting a deluge of emails, tips and tweets from locals concerned about other people not maintaining social distancing. Surreptitious photos of teens on sidewalks, construction workers at jobs sites, and even unsuspecting people in parks have been sent our way. It’s apparently part of a national trend of “virus vigilantism,” as people take it upon themselves to enforce health guidelines.

Glebe Elementary Choir Performs Online — Barrett Elementary got a shout out from Sir Elton himself for its staff dance video, but Barrett is not the only Arlington school creating music videos. Glebe Elementary made its own video recently, featuring the school’s fifth grade choir together performing “We Want to Sing” from their homes. [YouTube]

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