Arlington, VA

(Updated at 11:45 p.m.) More than 500 people have signed a petition calling for the S. Abingdon Street bridge over I-395 to be renamed “Black Lives Matter Bridge.”

The petition was created amid dueling efforts to place and remove the letters “BLM” on the bridge’s chain link fence, a thus far nonviolent dispute that has resulted in multiple calls to Arlington County police.

The BLM art first appeared about a month ago, during nationwide protests over the deaths of Black men and women at the hands of law enforcement.

Two weeks ago, the red cups used to form the letters were removed, promping locals to replace them with new cups and to write new chalk slogans. Among them: “no justice, no peace” and “take it down and we’ll do it again.”

Melissa Schwaber, who sent photos of the cups being replaced, described those doing so as “Fairlington moms and their kids.”

The cups were later removed again, which led to Black Lives Matters supporters creating a heart and spelling out BLM with harder-to-remove ribbons. That won Twitter praise from Arlington County Board Chair and Fairlington resident Libby Garvey. The next day, however, someone spray-painted “TRUMP 2020” under the letters.

The spray paint was in turn sprayed over later that morning, and “BLACK LIVES MATTER” written in chalk over it. Then, more spray paint appeared.

In a series of tweets on Wednesday, July 1, a local resident posted photos of an older man and a younger man — wearing a motorcycle helmet and a Liberty University shirt — who she accused of vandalizing the bridge and the lettering.

On Friday, a tipster said the “BLM vs. MAGA battle” was continuing to escalate.

“Now there are people putting up conspiracy theory banners on the bridge and people camped out on the bridge with large dogs,” the tipster said. The banners included a photo of Hillary Clinton under the words “WANTED 4 Crimes Against Humanity.”

Later that day, there were more skirmishes.

“I was driving on the Fairlington Bridge an hour or so ago and saw a man arguing with several white women near the BLM signs,” said another tipster. “He was waving his arms in one woman’s face. About 15 minutes ago, on my way home, I saw that the Arlington PD (about 3 cars) had detained the man at the gas station in Shirlington.”

An Arlington County police spokeswoman tells ARLnow that officers have responded to the bridge several times.

“ACPD has responded to multiple reports of disputes in the area of the S. Abingdon Street bridge regarding the posting and removal of signage,” said Kirby Clark. She said that “no charges have been filed related to any incidents involving the signs,” but one incident is under investigation.

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Morning Notes

Big Response to Small Biz Grant Program — “Those hit hard by the pandemic can receive help through the small business emergency grant program. More than 1,100 businesses have applied, [County Board Chair Libby] Garvey said, and at least 63% of them are owned by women or minorities. ‘With an additional $1.6 million, we can provide grants to a total of 400 businesses, more than 50% of those that… were eligible,’ Garvey said,” during her State of the County address Tuesday morning. [WTOP, Zoom]

Chamber Presents Valor Awards — Also on Tuesday, “awards were presented to honor Arlington County’s public safety personnel and first responders. Fourteen honorees were recognized for their courageous, and often lifesaving, actions in the line of duty. Leadership of all respective departments submitted nominations for the honorees, based on their performance over the past year.” [Arlington Chamber of Commerce, InsideNova]

Road Closures for Grad Parades Tomorrow — “On Thursday, June 18, the Arlington County Police Department’s Special Operations Section will support Senior Graduation Parades for Wakefield High School and Washington-Liberty High School. Traffic around the schools will be impacted at the below listed times. The public can expect to see increased vehicle and pedestrian traffic in the surrounding neighborhoods.” [Arlington County]

CivFed Wants More Open Space — “The president of the Arlington County Civic Federation on June 13 delivered his message quietly but bluntly: The county government needs to put much more emphasis on acquiring land for parks and open space before the window of opportunity closes. Allan Gajadhar handed County Board members a Civic Federation resolution calling on the county government to better balance open-space and passive-recreation needs with facilities for sports and active recreation.” [InsideNova]

COVID Cases Among DCA Construction Workers — “Employees with 17 contractors working on Reagan National Airport’s massive capital improvement project have tested positive for Covid-19, according to a staff report issued ahead of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s upcoming board meeting… The most recent positive result was confirmed June 7.” [Washington Business Journal]

Juneteenth May Become State Holiday — “Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said Tuesday that he will support legislation to make Juneteenth, commemorating the end of slavery, a state holiday in Virginia. He gave executive branch state employees the day off Friday — June 19 — in recognition of the event. On that date in 1865, federal troops told enslaved people in Texas they had been freed, more than two years after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.” [Washington Post]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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(Updated at 10 a.m.) Despite what you might have seen on TV, the Arlington police officers who were sent to assist the response to protests in D.C. conducted themselves professionally, county leaders say.

In a half-hour phone interview with ARLnow, Police Chief M. Jay Farr, County Board Chair Libby Garvey and County Manager Mark Schwartz discussed the decision to send officers to help U.S. Park Police in D.C., and the subsequent decision to bring them back to Arlington — which is facing criticism from the local police association.

The origin of what has become a national news story started Saturday night, when U.S. Park Police — facing mounting officer injuries and exhaustion from guarding Lafayette Square, near the White House, amid large-scale protests over the death of George Floyd — formally made a mutual aid request for Arlington County Police to assist 0n Sunday. Such requests are common in the multi-jurisdictional D.C. region, and made for everything from suspect searches to large events like an inauguration.

“The numbers and the amount of protests had accelerated to the point that they definitely could use our assistance,” Farr said. ACPD was also asked to help fill in for USPP by patrolling the George Washington Parkway. Alexandria and smaller local jurisdictions were not asked to provide

Farr agreed to the requests, Schwartz and Garvey were informed and concurred with the decision, and on Sunday Arlington officers in riot gear made their way to the District.

The officers were held in reserve for much of the day but at night, as peaceful protests gradually gave way to violence and destruction, they were called to help push protesters back, allowing D.C. firefighters to battle several fires, including at St. John’s Church. Live news footage showed the officers in their ACPD riot helmets, maintaining a perimeter as objects were thrown in their direction,

On Monday, Park Police asked ACPD for another day of aid, pending the arrival of backup from other federal law enforcement agencies. Dozens of USPP officers had been injured in the protests, out of a force of about 300, Farr said. Arlington again agreed to the request. But this time turned out to be different.

A harbinger, Schwartz said, was a conference call President Trump held with the nation’s governors, in which he told them that “you have to dominate” to control the protests.

“It was a disturbing phone call,” said Schwartz. But it wasn’t until shortly after he read about the call that word reached him about what had happened in front of Lafayette Square.

It was 6:35 p.m when police at the park, including Arlington officers, started to suddenly move toward the crowd, which had to that point been mostly peaceful.

Live coverage on CNN showed Arlington officers on left side of the screen, forcefully but steadily pushing back a small group of protesters. To their right, other riot gear-clad officers — Farr believes at least some of them were Park Police — shoved members of the crowd much more aggressively. Cloud-spewing munitions were fired, which some believed to be tear gas, something USPP denied Tuesday.

Shortly after protesters were pushed out of the way, President Trump walked out of the White House, walked to the fire-damaged church, held up a bible as photos were taken, and then walked back.

Outrage followed on social media. Images of Arlington officers in the midst of the fracas, including one holding a pepper ball gun (as seen above), started to make the rounds.

“This is absolutely not what our tax dollars should be used for,” one local tweeted. “Nothing about this made Arlington or DC safer.”

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Arlington County is planning to start regular testing of public safety personnel and critical employees, ARLnow has learned.

The county has acquired a rapid testing machine, which is currently undergoing a certification process. Once its accuracy is certified, it will be used to regularly test law enforcement, fire department and emergency communications personnel, as well as public health and other critical county employees.

Aaron Miller, the county’s Director of Public Safety Communications & Emergency Management, tells ARLnow that dozens of public safety personnel were quarantined at one point last month due to possible exposure to the coronavirus. At least one firefighter, and potentially several more, had tested positive for the virus in by late April. Previously, county officials declined to provide figures about quarantine levels among first responders.

In a written statement, Miller emphasized that the quarantines did not result in a reduction of emergency services in the county.

Arlington County has obtained a quantity of Mesa Biotech’s Accula SARS-Cov-2 Tests, an FDA-approved “rapid” molecular PCR test cleared for use in patient care settings outside of the clinical laboratory environment. The rapid testing system is currently under laboratory-required validation with known positive and negative samples. Once the validation is completed, we plan to develop a testing strategy for approval by the Public Health Department. First responder testing will allow quick diagnosis of police, fire, sheriff, 9-1-1, and public health personnel, as well as other critical employees who are experience symptoms while on or off duty. Testing should be available during the first part of June.

The number of firefighters, police officers, and sheriff’s deputies in quarantine fluctuated during May. The total number ranged from single digits into the forties. Following the Public Health Department’s direction, each case is investigated, testing ordered as appropriate, and the length of quarantine or isolation is determined in consultation with physicians and public health specialists. The safety of our personnel and their families is a top priority. Regardless of the number of quarantines, the levels of emergency or preventive services has not decreased for Arlington County. The County is always monitoring its workforce capacity and continues to maintain staffing levels for the services needed for Arlington residents.

In addition, County takes many steps to protect its essential workers. This includes providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to all frontline employees, increasing cleaning of facilities and equipment, quarantining employees who may have been exposed, modifying services to limit interactions between staff and promote social distancing, and implementing rotational schedules or extended hours to ensure high-priority essential services continue.

The first responder testing came to light last week in remarks made by County Board Chair Libby Garvey during an online interview with the moderator of a popular local Facebook group.

During the interview, Garvey said she was concerned that Virginia might have to go back to a stay-at-home order if the current Phase 1 reopening results in additional virus spread.

“I think it’s a really good question as to whether we’ll be able to stay in this phase or move back,” she said. “I’m pretty confident here in Arlington, we’re continuing to see it’s kind of level, but not great — the virus is still here.”

Garvey was also asked about the relative paucity of testing in Arlington, which has since increased, at least temporarily. She said part of the blame falls on the state government for continuing to require that those seeking testing have a doctor’s note and symptoms. Such testing does not catch COVID cases among asymptomatic spreaders, who have the virus but don’t have the symptoms.

Reuben Varghese, Arlington’s Public Health Director, tells ARLnow that the directive mostly affects county-run sites, like the drive-through testing site near Washington-Liberty High School and the walk-up site along Columbia Pike. He said he hopes to work with the state to conduct more mass-testing events that do not require a doctor’s note.

“At this time, [Virginia Dept. of Health] guidelines still require a doctor’s order for most sample collections being done in Arlington County, such as at the Quincy and Arlington Mill sites, and there are no plans to change those guidelines at County-partnered sites,” he said. “However, at the larger community testing events, such as the one on May 26 at Barcroft, no appointment or doctor’s referral was needed. Given the overwhelming response to that site and to others like it around the region, we would expect the Commonwealth to continue these types of testing efforts. However, at this time, another event has not been scheduled here in Arlington.”

In Arlington, meanwhile, the number of new reported cases has remained low for a fourth consecutive day. Ten new cases and one new hospitalization was reported overnight, for a cumulative total of 2,133 cases, 377 hospitalizations and 117 deaths.

Arlington’s seven-day test positivity rate has fallen below 10% for the first time since mid-March, as the local outbreak began. The positivity rate, as reported by the state health department, currently stands at 9.5%.

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(Updated at 9:50 p.m.) Arlington County police officers who were assisting U.S. Park Police during protests in D.C. have been ordered “to immediately leave,” County Board Chair Libby Garvey tweeted Monday night.

Officers in ACPD helmets could be seen in photos and video (below) assisting with the forceful removal of protesters from around St. John’s Church, an action that involved the deployment of tear gas. Shortly thereafter, President Trump walked to the church and held up a bible, a move dismissed as a photo opportunity by critics and criticized as “antithetical to the teachings of Jesus” by the Episcopal bishop of Washington.

“Appalled mutual aid agreement abused to endanger their and others safety for a photo op,” Garvey wrote just before 9 p.m., about two hours after the incident. “We ordered @ArlingtonVaPD to immediately leave DC.”

“At the direction of the County Board, County Manager and Police Chief, all ACPD officers left the District of Columbia at 8:30 tonight,” the county subsequently said in a brief statement. “The County is re-evaluating the agreements that allowed our officers to be put in a compromising position that endangered their health and safety, and that of the people around them, for a purpose not worthy of our mutual aid obligations.”

County police in riot gear were assisting with crowd control in Lafayette Square, near the White House, following a mutual aid request from Park Police. Such requests are typically used for suspect searches or to assist with significant incidents; Arlington often requests the assistance of the U.S. Park Police helicopter, for instance.

Following inquiries from ARLnow, after we noticed ACPD helmets in a TV news broadcast Sunday night, a police spokeswoman earlier today confirmed that Arlington police were indeed in D.C. after a mutual aid request.

“ACPD’s Civil Disturbance Unit responded to a mutual aid request by United States Park Police for assistance maintain peace and order on federal park land,” department spokeswoman Ashley Savage said. “ACPD began providing support [Sunday].”

The department has worked to maintain a positive relationship with the community over the years, including by handing out water to protesters in Arlington on Sunday. On Friday, amid nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd, police chief M. Jay Farr released a statement.

“It is impossible for us to achieve our mission if we lose the trust of our community,” he wrote. “When force is used, we must hold ourselves accountable for our actions.”

“We work and live by a set of core values: courage, competence, commitment, compassion, restraint, respect and integrity,” the department says in its job description for new officers.

Separately Monday night, Arlington County issued a statement regarding Floyd’s killing.

“The Arlington County Board condemns the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, including the complicit officers who participated in and witnessed the murder,” the statement reads. “While the video was shocking, the circumstances of the murder should not be; they are too familiar in a nation where the disregard for and devaluing of Black lives is too common, and too often comes at the hands of the people sworn to protect them.”

Screenshot (top) via @thehill/Twitter

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Morning Notes

Reopening Starts Today — Arlington and Northern Virginia is starting Phase 1 of a gradual reopening of the regional economy today. You’ll be able to dine outside, get a haircut, and shop at non-essential businesses, with restrictions. Additionally, starting today, Virginia is requiring people to wear masks in indoor public spaces. Face coverings are also required in ART buses. [Arlington County, Arlington Transit]

Local Leaders Promote Mask Usage — Leaders of Northern Virginia’s local governments, including Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey, star in a new video encouraging the use of masks as the region reopens. [YouTube]

Arlington Orgs Providing Food During Pandemic — “Since May 1, CHFA volunteers have delivered 6,174 meals to homebound COVID-19 positive patients and immunocompromised clients, with plans to provide an additional 14,000 meals over the next two months, in partnership with Jeffrey’s Catering. Since the state of emergency declaration on March 15, referrals to AFAC increased by 36 percent, from 3,606 individuals to 4,902 on May 10.” [Arlington County]

Marymount Holding Graduation Parade — “On Friday afternoon, members of Marymount University’s graduating class will celebrate their accomplishments through a Graduation Parade, with faculty and staff cheering them on along a four-mile route that loops between Main Campus and the Ballston Center.” [Press Release]

Local Snakes Face Sticky Situation — “Our Animal Control officers are always on hand to help animals in need, even the scaly ones! Today we got a call that 2 snakes were stuck to a glue trap. Sgt Ballena and Officer Citrone worked hard to gently un-stick the snakes and release them safely nearby.” [@AWLAArlington/Twitter]

ARLnow Receives Google Grant — ARLnow has received a modest grant from Google’s Journalism Emergency Relief Fund. The grant will allow ARLnow to host a paid intern this summer. The pandemic has negatively affected ARLnow’s business, and at the same time has also caused a shortage of internships nationwide. We’re grateful for Google helping us to offer an internship to a promising young journalist.

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Morning Notes

Unease About Va. Reopening — “Local leaders and business owners in Northern Virginia were uncertain about Gov. Ralph Northam’s announcement that parts of the state could begin reopening as soon as May 15. ‘Our first reaction was whoa wait a minute, talk to us,’ said Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey. David Guas, the owner of Bayou Bakery in Arlington County, said the state’s guidance on reopening business is becoming unreliable.” [NBC 4]

Republican Candidate Running for County Board — “The Arlington County Republican Committee, which in recent years has found it challenging to field candidates, announced May 7 that retired attorney Bob Cambridge had won the GOP nod for the special-election ballot. ‘Bob will bring a robust discussion of important local issues to this race – focusing on fiscal accountability, government transparency and planning for the future,’ GOP chairman Andrew Loposser said.” [InsideNova]

Arlington Startup Secures More Funding — “Stardog, the leading Enterprise Knowledge Graph platform, today announced it has expanded its Series B round to $11.4m, securing an additional $3 million from new investors Contour Venture Partners, Dcode Capital, and Presidio Ventures… The additional capital will be used to scale go-to-market operations.” [Stardog via Potomac Tech Wire]

CPRO Launches ‘Feed Our Families’ Initiative — “As the pandemic continues to impact every aspect of our daily lives, access to fresh food has become the most urgent need for many families along Columbia Pike. That’s why we’re partnering with our Columbia Pike Farmers Market vendors to assemble weekly produce boxes that can be distributed to families in need.” [Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization]

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Arlington County says it “strongly supports” a planning effort to “develop a coordinated, safe, and scientifically-informed strategy” to reopen the D.C. region.

In a statement Wednesday night, officials said there needs to be a unified plan for emerging from the coronavirus pandemic.

“Working with our regional partners in a coordinated, intentional way is critical to ensuring the health and well being of everyone in Arlington and the region,” Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said. “We want to ensure our staffs work together so we are aligned on criteria and next steps when the time comes to reopen our County and the region.”

The effort is being coordinated by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, which released the following statement (emphasis added).

While COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise across our region, it is also clear that staying at home and practicing social distancing have been working to reduce the spread of the virus. The best estimates still show that it will take more time before we can return to our daily routines, so we urge everyone to continue following the advice of public health experts and staying home.

In the interim, we are committed to working together to thoughtfully plan for the reopening of the National Capital Region when the time comes. It is our collective desire to work in close partnership with the leaders of the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia to ensure a safe and effective reopening strategy informed by and consistent with the sound guidance of our health officials. Any strategy to reopen must be cautious and deliberate and must consider conditions across our entire region, including the number of new cases being reported, the availability and reliability of testing, the capacity of our health system to accommodate patients, and the ability of the region to take immediate action should a resurgence of the virus occur.

We live in an interconnected region where our residents cross our city, county, and state jurisdictional boundaries daily to live, work, learn, and play. We know that the unprecedented actions taken to respond to this public health emergency have exacted a tremendous economic toll for workers and businesses. It is essential that we continue to coordinate across borders to combat this virus and implement a reopening strategy for our communities that leads to a sustained economic recovery.

As we work through this difficult situation, we thank area residents for staying home, avoiding crowds, and practicing social distancing during the past several weeks and urge everyone to stay committed to these important actions. Your efforts and sacrifices are helping slow the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. And while we ask for you to continue doing your part, know that your leaders in local government are doing everything we can to protect your health and serve you during these challenging times.

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Arlington’s Committee of 100 is planning a public webinar with county leaders to discuss the latest on COVID-19.

“Arlington has been one of the hardest-hit communities in the commonwealth for COVID-19,” the organization said in an event description. “Join us to learn more about how Arlington is responding and what you can do to stay safe and help others.”

The lineup is a who’s who of leadership handling the response on a local level, including:

  • Libby Garvey — Chair, Arlington County Board
  • Zachary Pope — Emergency Manager, Arlington Public Schools
  • Dr. Reuben Varghese — Public Health Director, Arlington County
  • Karen Coltrane — CEO of local nonprofit Leadership Center for Excellence

Varghese has been at the forefront of the coronavirus response in Arlington and has already participated in previous online discussions about the virus’ impact on how Arlingtonians should handle the crisis.

The Committee of 100, which normally holds in-person discussions and debates about community issues, said participants will be able to ask questions during a Q&A portion of the meeting.

The group will be hosting the webinar via Zoom on Wednesday, April 22, from 7-8:30 p.m. A link is sent after registering, along with an email address to which one can submit questions.

The event is scheduled to be moderated by Lynn Juhl, chair of the Committee of 100.

File photo

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(Updated at 2:45 p.m.) Gov. Ralph Northam announced a plan yesterday that will shift summer primary election dates across the state back by two weeks amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The previously-sheduled June 9 primary will now shift back to June 23.

The Democratic primary sees incumbent County Board chair Libby Garvey facing off against challenger Chanda Choun. On the Republican side, there is a three-way primary among Daniel Gade, Thomas Speciale, Alissa Baldwin for U.S. Senate.

“As other states have shown, conducting an election in the middle of this global pandemic would bring unprecedented challenges and potential risk to voters and those who work at polling places across the Commonwealth,” Northam said in a press release. “Making these decisions now will help election officials prepare and implement the necessary changes. This is about protecting the health and safety of Virginians during this pandemic and ensuring our citizens can make their voices heard in a safe, fair, and uniform manner. I urge the General Assembly to do their part and take action to move our upcoming elections.”

Erik Gutshall’s resignation also leaves another empty seat on the County Board. County spokeswoman Mary Curtius said nothing has been decided yet about the special election for Gutshall’s seat.

Gretchen Reinemeyer, Director of Elections, said there are a number of state laws the County will have to sift through as it prepares for a potential special election.

“The Governor’s request that the legislature delay May town and city elections does not apply to our special election,” Reinemeyer said. “The Circuit Court will issue a writ setting the election date 60-80 days from the vacancy.”

Reinemeyer said the special election cannot happen before or on the same day as the primary.

Five candidates are also vying for two vacant spots on the School Board and are seeking the endorsement of the Arlington County Democratic Committee. Arlington Democrats announced earlier this week that it will be holding its endorsement caucus by mail.

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Arlington officials are reminding residents that it’s okay to go outside during the pandemic — as long as they maintain social distancing and stay out of closed facilities.

The county closed parks, playgrounds, athletic courts, tracks, dog parks and other outdoor places where people congregate late last month. Despite that, there have been repeated examples of people still using such facilities, necessitating more stringent measures and — in some cases — a response from Arlington County Police.

With the weather turning warmer, the Arlington Dept. of Parks and Recreation yesterday posted a reminder to Twitter about the closures and the need to maintain a 6-foot distance from others, including on increasingly crowded local trails. It has also been posting signs about social distancing around local parks.

“It’s hard, but social distancing saves lives,” Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said in a video accompanying the parks department’s social media post. “We must do all we can to flatten this curve.”

Not everyone thinks that limiting people’s outdoor recreation options is a good thing, though. While sports that require contact with a shared object, like a ball, are riskier, there is less evidence that being in moderately populated parks is dangerous.

Some believe, in fact, that measures encouraging people to stay inside rather than enjoying the outdoors is harmful. Among them is writer and academic Zeynep Tufekci, who was among the first to prominently question official health guidance against wearing masks (which is now being encouraged) earlier in the outbreak.

Arlington County is trying to strike a balance between the two, closing parks but also encouraging outdoor, individual exercise.

The Dept. of Parks and Recreation’s guidance is below, after the jump.

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