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A box of Kleenex next to a small Christmas tree (staff photo)

We’re three days away from Christmas and in the midst of Hanukkah — and holiday travel is in full swing, storm and all.

While the winter storm is causing travel havoc, illnesses are also disrupting holiday plans. Covid is on an upswing locally while, at the same time, numerous other viruses — including but not limited to flu and RSV — are circulating.

From Axios yesterday:

“This year what you’re seeing is a true rebound of flu-like illnesses,” said Manoj Gandhi, senior medical director at Thermo Fisher Scientific. “It’s certainly bad.”

While much has been made of the so-called tripledemic of flu, RSV and COVID, but there’s actually more of a “septo-demic,” said Peter

Hotez, dean at the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, in an interview posted last week with the American Medical Association.

That counts para influenza, rhinovirus, metapneumovirus and pneumococcus as part of the mix, he said.

“They’re working in different combinations and causing a lot of kids to be admitted to the hospital, as well as seniors. This is accounting for a big surge in hospitalizations,” Hotez said.

As of Wednesday, Arlington County was still within CDC’s “low” Covid level, but a flip to “medium” could be imminent. The number of weekly reported cases per 100,000 people is 170, below the “medium” threshold of 200. Weekly Covid hospital admissions per 100,000 people, meanwhile, are at 9.2, just shy of the threshold of 10.

The average daily case rate in Arlington, according to Virginia Dept. of Health data, rose to 63 yesterday amid 110 new reported cases.

Covid cases in Arlington as of 12/21/22 (via Virginia Dept. of Health)

Anecdotally, that case rate — which is based on positive cases reported to VDH and excludes at-home testing not otherwise reported to health authorities — feels low. Talk to Arlington residents, especially those with kids in school or daycare, and close Covid contacts abound.

Likewise, many seem to be in the middle of or getting over a cold, a case of the flu, a sinus infection or another ailment. Even among the nominally healthy there are coughs and runny noses.

So today we’re wondering: how many of you are currently sick? And have your holiday plans been disrupted due to illness?

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Covid cases in Arlington as of Dec. 15, 2022 – 13 week view (via Virginia Dept. of Health)

Don’t look now, but Covid cases are on the rise again in Arlington.

Daily case averages are still well below the levels seen earlier in the year, but the trajectory is upward, Virginia Dept. of Health data shows. As of Wednesday, the seven-day case average in Arlington was 57 cases per day, high highest point since September.

That follows national trends of rising Covid cases.

According to CDC data, Arlington County’s weekly case rate per 100,000 people is 154, while the weekly Covid hospital admission rate is 7.7 per 100,000 people. The threshold between the CDC’s “low” and “medium” Covid levels is 200 cases and 10 admissions.

Just in time for the rise in cases, the federal government today is restarting its free Covid tests by mail program. The tests can be ordered here.

VDH, meanwhile, announced yesterday that bivalent booster shots are now available to all children six months of age and older in Virginia.

From a press release:

Parents of young children in Virginia are now able to seek a free bivalent pediatric COVID-19 vaccine for their children aged six months and older, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announced today, following the recommendation of the vaccines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on December 9.

The Pfizer-BioNTech bivalent vaccine, previously available only to persons aged five years and older, is now available for children aged six months through four years as a third primary series dose. At this time, children aged 6 months through four years who received three doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to complete their primary series are not authorized to receive a booster dose of bivalent vaccine. The Moderna bivalent vaccine, previously available for persons aged six years and older, is now available for children aged six months through five years as a booster dose at least two months after completion of a Moderna primary series.

Both bivalent vaccines target the original strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that first emerged in Wuhan, China in late 2019 and the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of the Omicron variant that emerged in the United States in November 2021.

VDH advises parents to discuss this option with their child’s healthcare provider. Vaccination opportunities may be found at Vaccinate.Virginia.gov.

Virginia Hospital Center emergency department chair Dr. Mike Silverman, in his weekly public Facebook post, encouraged parents to consider the bivalent booster for their kids. He also noted that flu and RSV are are still prevalent in the community amid a particularly active fall for respiratory illnesses.

Within VHC, the number of patients we have hospitalized with COVID is similar to last week (and higher than last month). The emergency department remains quite busy. November was among our highest volume months ever, for the most part attributed to Flu and RSV cases. Among our COVID population, we saw another week over week increase in the number of patients testing positive in our “symptomatic” population with a higher percent positive rate than the previous week. That number is 3-4 fold higher than in early November. Among all our testing, we had about twice as many positives as just a few weeks ago.

The CDC reports that “there have been at least 8.7 million illnesses, 78,000 hospitalizations, and 4,500 deaths from flu so far this season,” making this the worst flu season in a decade. Although the number of patients we’re seeing with the flu has declined a bit over the past month, there’s still a lot of flu in the community and I highly recommend getting your flu shot. And fortunately, the flu vaccine this year appears to be a “good match” for the circulating strains, meaning the vaccine works better than average this year.

The FDA approved the bivalent booster for those 6 months to 5 years old. This booster can serve as the 3rd shot after the primary two shot series is complete. This will go to the CDC for review and should be available soon. Please talk to you pediatrician about vaccination. I continue to see a lot of young children that are not vaccinated.

Covid cases in Arlington as of Dec. 15, 2022 – 26 week view (via Virginia Dept. of Health)
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Kleenex box (file photo)

(Updated at 11:30 a.m.) It’s been a rough fall for many, healthwise.

Flu and and RSV have been surging, straining hospital capacity, school staff and parental patience. Young children have been particularly hard hit, with the 0-4 age group recording the highest percentage of visits to medical offices for flu, according to the Virginia Dept. of Health.

Nationwide, it’s so bad that some pediatric medical organizations are seeking a federal emergency declaration.

Flu activity in Virginia and in the D.C. region is at the highest level on the CDC’s scale. In Arlington, meanwhile, Covid is still circulating, though at roughly the same level of daily cases as a month ago — 33 cases per day, as of today.

Flu activity map (via CDC)

Local hospitals are feeling the effects. From VHC Health emergency department chair (and 2022 Spirit of Community honoree) Mike Silverman’s latest public social media update:

Although our percent positivity rate is not higher than it was earlier this fall, we have seen an increase in the number of people we are diagnosing with COVID the last few weeks compared to earlier in the fall. We’re also sitting a much higher percent positivity rate then we were this time last year. We are definitely having more positive tests a week than we did a year ago.

The Tripledemic that you’re hearing about on the news is real. The combination of COVID, Flu, and RSV is bringing more people to hospital ERs and causing more hospitalizations than we’ve seen over the last few years. Every year, emergency departments face a month or so of surging volumes because of the flu. I have seen flu surges in the fall, and I have seen them in March. Prior to the pandemic, I had never had a year as an attending physician without some sort of impact by a flu surge. What has me concerned about this year is how early the flu has impacted our community and the potential for how long the ER volume surge will continue. What’s to say we will not see an increase in COVID this winter as we did last winter?

Despite many continuing to work from home, people are still socializing, going to school and traveling, arguably more so than this time last year. It’s almost as if the non-Covid diseases that had been relatively quiet during the pandemic are now “catching up.”

Given how much disease is circulating out there, today we are wondering: how many separate times have you gotten sick already this fall?

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Uncharacteristically, Arlington County Board Vice Chair Erik Gutshall did not attend this past month’s board meetings.

His absence, the reason for the five-member Board’s 4-0 vote on the county tax rate advertisement on Tuesday, is due to a serious health condition.

Gutshall’s wife broke the “heartbreakingly difficult” news on his Facebook account Sunday night, telling friends that he is “hospitalized and being treated for a brain tumor.”

“We hope that you will keep him in your thoughts and prayers as he goes through treatment over the coming weeks,” Renee Gutshall wrote. “Words cannot express how much your friendship, support and love mean to me, our children and Erik right now.”

Gutshall, who was first elected in 2017, is up for reelection in 2021.

“Our friend and colleague, Erik Gutshall, is dealing with a health crisis,” Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said in a brief statement Monday morning. “We miss him, and our thoughts are with him and his family.”

At the Board’s annual organizational meeting in January, Gutshall spoke of the progress the County has made in just the past few years on issues like housing, sustainability, and economic development. The county had “leveled up” with the arrival of Amazon, he said.

“Today is proof that even a distant future will one day come to pass,” Gutshall said. “I’m honored to work on this next level with my amazing colleagues, talented Manager and his brilliant staff, and the passionate citizens who I know care about this community as much as each of us.”

In addition to serving on the County Board, Gutshall is the president and owner of residential maintenance company Clarendon Home Services.

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Arlington and Northern Virginia are experiencing a possible outbreak of cases from a particular foodborne illness.

Dozens people in the region are suspected of having contracted a gastrointestinal illness called Cyclosporiasis, according to a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Health. The outbreak involves “two large businesses” where more than 40 people were sickened, possibly with Cyclosporiasis, as well as 15 confirmed cases of the disease, officials say.

“A food or water source of this outbreak has not yet been identified, and the investigation is ongoing,” said the state health department.

“Cyclosporiasis is an intestinal illness caused by a microscopic parasite,” the department noted in a press release today (Tuesday.) “People can become infected by consuming food or water contaminated with feces or stool that contains the parasite.”

The 15 confirmed cases of people infected with Cyclospora since mid-June compares to eight cases in Northern Virginia by this time last year.

The affected area includes Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax County and Falls Church.

“Arlington County has… experienced an increase in cases of illness due to Cyclospora,” confirmed epidemiologist Colleen Ryan Smith of Arlington’s Department of Human Services.

“The increase in Arlington… has contributed to the increase in cases noted for Northern Virginia,” added Smith, who said that “specific counts of cases by locality [are] not possible due to patient privacy and confidentiality considerations.”

Officials said they could also not identify the “two large businesses” where dozens were sickened.

Symptoms can begin one week after exposure to the parasite, and typically include explosive diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, aching muscles, and a low-grade fever. Symptoms can last days or a month for some, but others can be a carrier of the parasite and experience no symptoms.

Those afflicted can only be diagnosed by a lab test ordered by a doctor.

Health officials have also reported 90 cases of Cyclospora in New York City since January, and over 100 cases in Massachusetts since May. In both areas, the number of cases is approximately three times the normal number officials usually see in a year, and the cause is not yet known.

Officials in all three locales say they are still investigating the cause of the outbreak. Previous outbreaks were linked to contaminated produce.

The full press release is below, after the jump.

Read More

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More than 100 students were out sick today (Thursday) at McKinley Elementary School after a stomach bug swept through campus.

An Arlington Public Schools spokesman said 135 of the school’s 800 students were out, after about 85 were absent yesterday (Wednesday).

The spokesman said that while it sounded like a “typical [stomach] bug that makes its way around this time of year,” he said he could not be sure that all the absences were related to it.

Multiple anonymous tipsters reported the spread of the illness through the school at 1030 N. McKinley Road in Madison Manor.

The School Health Bureau within the county’s Department of Health sent a letter to parents warning of an “increase in reported symptoms of gastrointestinal illness,” and urging parents to make sure children wash their hands and stay home if they develop vomiting or diarrhea.

Parents throughout APS can expect to receive a letter soon about winter illnesses in the community, which the spokesman said is “typically sent each December to our families as a reminder.”

The School Health Bureau’s letter to McKinley parents is after the jump.

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Morning Notes

View of Rosslyn from Courthouse

Norovirus Outbreak at School — More than 80 students at Oakridge Elementary in south Arlington are out sick as a result of a suspected norovirus outbreak. The virus causes symptoms like “stomach aches, fever, vomiting and, in some cases, diarrhea.” [NBC Washington]

Sign Controversy at Yorktown — Some conservatives are upset that teachers at Yorktown High School are being allowed to hang “politically suggestive” signs in their classrooms. The signs read: “Patriots Know: Facts are not political. Diversity strengthens us. Science is real. Women’s rights are human rights. Justice is for all. We’re all immigrants. Kindness is everything.” [Daily Caller]

Yorktown Lacrosse Star Nears 200 Goals — Yorktown senior lacrosse star Laura Crawford is nearing the 200-goal mark for high school career. Crawford, a three-time team MVP, has committed to Penn. [Washington Post]

Female UAE Hockey Player Visits Caps — Fatima Al Ali, a hockey player and coach from United Arab Emirates, has been visiting with the Washington Capitals this week as part of the NHL’s “Hockey Is For Everyone month.” The visit has included taking the ice at the Caps practice facility in Ballston and dropping the puck at last night’s game at Verizon Center. [Fox 5, Al-Arabiya]

Levine, Favola Advance Rape Kit BillUpdated at 9:40 a.m. — Legislation sponsored by Del. Mark Levine and state Sen. Barbara Favola, which Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol helped to craft, has passed unanimously in the Virginia House of Delegates. The bill calls for police to keep rape kits for a longer period of time even if the victim is not ready to prosecute. [WVTF]

MMA Studio Gives Parents a Night Off — A mixed martial arts gym is not a place that one would usually think of as a babysitting venue, but that’s precisely what Pentagon MMA on Columbia Pike will be Saturday night. The business is hosting a “parents’ night out” event for Valentine’s Day, letting mom or dad “enjoy a worry-free evening with your special someone this Valentine’s Day while your child enjoys a night of structured activities in a supervised environment.” [Pentagon MMA]

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Barcroft Elementary School 2-19-14(Updated at 4:40 p.m.) Dozens of students at Barcroft Elementary School were sent home from school on Friday with stomach illnesses.

The contagion prompted school officials to cancel after-school activities on Friday, including a PTA-sponsored “Sweetheart Dance.” Students were sent home with a letter on Friday advising parents on how to prevent the spread of gastrointestinal illness.

“This communication is being sent to let you know that Public Health has been receiving an increase in reported symptoms of gastrointestinal illness in members of the Barcroft school community,” the letter reads. “If your child develops vomiting or diarrhea, we recommend that you keep your child home for 24 hours after the symptoms stop before sending your child back to school.”

School will reopen and activities will resume as normal on Wendesday, weather permitting.

School Health Bureau Chief Marian Harmon told ARLnow.com in an email this afternoon that, between Feb. 11 and Feb. 13, 38 students at Barcroft were either sent home or stayed home with gastrointestinal issues.

“Kids were lying around the office waiting to be picked up” on Friday, an ARLnow.com tipster wrote in an email.

Because Arlington Public Schools offices were closed due to the snow today, officials could not confirm the number of cases reported at Barcroft. In the letter, APS said all shared surfaces in the school are disinfected “each day and after any illnesses at the school.”

After the jump, the letter APS sent home with Barcroft students. Read More

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Long Branch Elementary School (photo via APS)School and health department officials are investigating a possible norovirus outbreak at Long Branch Elementary School.

At least 20 students went to the school clinic Friday because of nausea or vomiting, according to Arlington Dept. of Human Services spokesman Kurt Larrick.

Officials say they’re investigating whether the illness was caused by norovirus, and whether the virus might have spread due to a bathroom that was not cleaned properly.

Photo via APS

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Morning Notes

Photographer at the Memorial Bridge by Wolfkann

Norovirus Outbreak at Nottingham Elementary — Dozens of students at Nottingham Elementary School have been sickened in what is believed to be an outbreak of norovirus. The contagious stomach illness causes serious nausea and vomiting. So far, Arlington Public Schools officials have not responded to a request for more information from ARLnow.com. [WJLA]

County Board Not Interested in Meals Tax Changes — In response to a speaker at Saturday’s Arlington County Board meeting who was critical of the county’s 4 percent meals tax, County Board members said they’re not inclined to make any changes to the tax. The meals tax is levied on restaurant bills and on the purchase of prepared meals from grocery stores, on top of the state’s 5 percent sales tax. [Sun Gazette]

Arlington Org Targeted By IRS — The Clarendon-based Leadership Institute, a conservative training organization, says it was among the conservative groups targeted for audits and extra scrutiny by the Internal Revenue Service. [Washington Free Beacon]

Bike to Work Day Photos — Bike Arlington has published two photo albums from Friday’s Bike to Work Day on Facebook. The albums show Bike to Work Day festivities in Ballston and Rosslyn.

Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann

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