Arlington, VA

The following was written by ARLnow staff photographer Jay Westcott, before he underwent successful hip surgery on Tuesday. Jay is doing well and about to start physical therapy. We expect him back on the Arlington beat in September.

I’ve been trying to write about the last four months or so for a few days now. It seems like a blur, right? Or maybe it just seems that way because staring at a blank screen for days has made everything blurry. Now then, where are my glasses?

Four months ago, toward the end of February, someone dear to me died. She suffered a long illness and I documented things along the way, trying to make sense of what was happening the best way I know how: through a lens.

One week after the funeral, Virginia was in lockdown because of Covid-19. I hit the ground running with an N95 mask and my cameras and with that same purpose, trying to make sense of what was going on by getting to work and documenting things as best as I can through my lens.

The running part has been difficult, let me tell you.

About 11 years ago, when I was living in Westover, I quit smoking. Awesome, right? I knew that I needed a lifestyle change and that regular exercise had to be a part of it. I never really cared for running and being so close to the Custis Trail I figured I would get a bike and see how it went. I instantly fell in love with the freedom and the speed and I rode all the time. I loved it. I even joined the Arlington-based cycling club Squadra Coppi and started racing.

In the fall of 2010 I started feeling pain in my hip. It got progressively worse and in 2011 I learned I had a condition called Femoral Acetabular Impingement. My femoral head and hip socket were shaped abnormally, limiting my range, and the repetitive motion of cycling likely exacerbated things tearing the tissue in my socket. I had arthroscopic surgery at Virginia Hospital Center in July 2011 to reshape my femoral head and acetabulum and pin down the soft tissue. After 9 months of recovery and physical therapy I was able to throw a leg over a bike again. I even raced one month before the first anniversary of my surgery. I finished 22nd, but on the lead lap. ūüėČ

Fast forward to the spring of 2018 and I started having that familiar intense pain in my left hip again. Between dealing with the Veterans Administration health care system and moving for a job, it wasn’t until December 2018 that I had another arthroscopic surgery to remove bone growths and repair tears in my hip socket. I was out completely for 8 weeks and wore a brace for 12 weeks, locking it straight when I slept.

The results of that surgery have not been so great. Despite two rounds of physical therapy I deal with daily, continuous pain in my hip. It’s gotten progressively worse, to the point where I am having trouble sleeping. In early February I learned that I would need another arthroscopic surgery or possibly a replacement. Then Covid-19 hit. A telehealth appointment in March ended with the VA telling me to “come back after coronavirus, maybe June?”

While covering 7 protests in 7 days at the beginning of June, I also saw a couple hip specialists and had a 3D CT scan. I’ve literally worked myself to the bone for you, Arlington! The consensus is that while I could probably have another arthroscopic surgery, the recovery is very long and at some point soon I’m going to need a replacement anyway. It might as well be now.

I’m scheduled for an anterior approach total hip replacement on July 7 with Dr. Gautam Siram at an outpatient surgery center in Bethesda, Md. I’ll be out completely for 6 weeks, and will be on some form of light duty after that for a number of weeks depending on how my recovery goes. He’s a Washingtonian “Top Doc” and came highly recommended, and accepts my insurance. Luck be a lady tonight.

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We asked our staff photographer, Jay Westcott, to document a pair of notable events Friday in Arlington.

First up: the partial reopening of local restaurants and businesses. After that, a Marymount University graduation parade down N. Glebe Road.

The photos are above. Here is what Jay wrote about what he saw around the county:

I spent the bulk of my day walking around Clarendon and Ballston with restaurants preparing to open as the county proceeds into Phase One of reopening. There weren’t as many people eating lunch outside as you would normally expect on a balmy late May afternoon, in fact there weren’t many at all. A couple of tables of folks at Northside Social, a few tables at Circa in Clarendon. There still seems to be sense of anxiety in the air about what’s next. It’s palpable.

As I was walking up Wilson Blvd I spotted a bright white cap and gown. I caught up to the young man, Josh Cisneros, and made a picture of him about to cross the street as we got caught at the light. We got to talking and he is graduating today from Wakefield High School. He looked around for a minute, hoping to spot someone familiar to take his picture with his phone, but he found none. Well, I wasn’t about to let that stand. I made a few pictures of Josh in his cap and gown, with his diploma, on his graduation day. Congratulations, young man!

At lunch I made pictures of Marymount University’s Class of 2020 parading in cars with a police escort down Glebe Road. Sirens wailed, horns honked, and lights flashed. Grads cheered out of sunroofs and side windows, some filmed TikToks. Later Friday, I swung by the Village at Shirlington and photographed groups of people on outdoor patios, enjoying a first dinner out since mid-March.

What I saw today was Arlingtonians adapting and going forward. We have to, right? Be safe, be kind. Keep the faith, keep wearing masks, keep washing your hands.

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Another week has passed, and Arlington is still at least partially locked down.

But it feels like the dam has sprung a leak. The roads seem busier, more and more people are getting outside as the weather gets warmer, there are still plenty of people out shopping for food and other essentials, and there’s a sense that everyone is ready to resume something closer to normal life.

Our staff photographer Jay Westcott has been observing life in Arlington during the pandemic. Here’s his latest weekly dispatch.

I keep thinking back to late February and early March for many reasons, some deeply personal, but also because for Arlington, it was our last opportunity for “normal” life pre-coronavirus.

I think about all the interactions I had on any given day, driving around Arlington County and documenting what’s going on in this great community. How many parking meters did I touch? How many cashiers handed me receipts and change and credit cards and groceries? How many elevator buttons did I push? How many door knobs and handrails did I grab? Crosswalk signals pushed?

How we interact with each other and with things will be altered going forward. I hate the terms “reopen” and “go back” because those words imply that the threat is gone. Folks, the threat is still present.¬†Testing still lags significantly here in Arlington.

This is where we adapt our behavior, so we can overcome. Yes, businesses need to figure out a way to operate, but the priority has to be practices that negate the spread of the disease. Since we don’t seem to have any clear guidelines coming from the federal level, it’s taken time to make a plan.

Scientists still don’t fully understand this disease. It may be causing illnesses in children that are similar to Kawasaki disease. We have to adapt our behavior until the rate of infection has decreased significantly. We have to have enough testing in place and we have to be able to contact trace and isolate those infected.

I also keep thinking about about this quote from this Atlantic article: “Models show that if 80 percent of people wear masks that are 60 percent effective,¬†easily achievable¬†with cloth, we can get to an effective R0¬†of less than one.” What’s so challenging about that?

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If this were a Navy deployment, we’ve reached the part where “scuttlebutt” starts to spread throughout the ship.

Rumors and innuendo on where we are going and what the mission might be run rampant, especially through the lower ranks and the people who are the least likely to actually know what’s going on.

In times like this, the captain of the ship would address the crew and reassure all the sailors under his command that things would be alright. We would get through the tough times together, and he would tell us we needed to stay focused on what is important. He would remind us to stay safe, follow our procedures and protocols, and listen to our leadership and follow orders.

Some of that leadership seems to be lacking at the federal level, and at the state level things vary so drastically from state to state that it’s hard to make sense of what to do. Here in Arlington, cases are going up though the rate at which they are going up is declining ,at least for now.

The CDC recommends wearing face masks when going out in public places, where maintaining six feet distance from others is difficult and unlikely. If everybody wears masks, the rate of transmission drops. And as this Atlantic article points out, “If 80 percent of the people wear masks that are 60 percent effective… that’s enough to halt the progress of the disease.”

We can’t be complacent, we can’t look at this and say “let’s get back to what was” or “we need to re-open.” Until there is a vaccine that eradicates this virus, we have to learn how to adapt to living with it as a potential risk to each of our lives.

A training mantra in the military is “adapt and overcome.” In this case, until there is adequate testing and contact tracing, we have to adapt our routines and wardrobes to include staying away from people you don’t live with by at least six feet and wearing a face mask. It’s really that simple. This is the “adapt” part. Let’s do our part to adapt until those at the helm of our research find a vaccine that can overcome this.

This past week, in my observations, more Arlingtonians seem to be wearing masks. People are keeping six feet apart from each other, mostly. The cost of the flyover by the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds last weekend can be debated ad nauseam, but it was nice to share in a collective moment, together. As long as you were six feet away from strangers.

Jay Westcott is ARLnow’s staff photographer. See more of his work on our Instagram account.

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Morning Notes

More Arlingtonians Getting Out of the House — “The District and its suburbs all saw an increase in travel and a 1 percent to 5 percent drop in people staying home by April 17. The biggest drop occurred in Arlington County, where 50 percent of residents stayed home, down from 55 percent the previous Friday.” [Washington Post, @Matt4Arlington/Twitter]

County Launches Homeless Outreach Effort — “Last week, Arlington launched a homeless outreach coalition to help identify unsheltered individuals at high risk for COVID-19 and connect them with available resources and services. The coalition is comprised of stakeholders from the¬†Police Department,¬†Department of Human Services, and¬†Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN).” [Arlington County]

YHS Senior Photos on CBS Evening News — “For America’s nearly four million high school seniors, the end of this school year is not what they imagined would be.¬†But as Chip Reid reports, one photographer is making sure some members of the class of 2020 are not forgotten.” [CBS News]

Dem Primary May Be Called Off — “Chanda Choun, who was slated to face off against incumbent Libby Garvey in the June 23 Democratic County Board primary, anticipates pulling out of that race to seek the Democratic nomination for the July 7 special election to fill the seat left open by the death of Erik Gutshall…¬†if Choun does drop out, the Democratic primary will be nixed.” [InsideNova]

Video: School Board Candidates Forum — “The questions covered a wide range of topics – whether/how much new curriculum should be taught during the COVID-19 crisis; how best to feed families during the pandemic; distance learning access during and after the pandemic; equity initiatives; equality in the classroom; encouraging integrated classrooms; AP and IB classes; community engagement; boundaries; sex education; and the superintendent’s contract.” [Blue Virginia]

School Board Rejects Furlough Day Proposal¬†— “Arlington School Board members on April 23 rejected a budget-cutting proposal from Superintendent Cintia Johnson that would have had every school-system employee take an unpaid ‘furlough’ day in the coming school year. Instead, the school system will use about $3 million in reserve funds to pay staff that day and fund several other initiatives that Johnson had recommended reducing or eliminating.” [InsideNova]

Amazon Donates to Va. Comp Sci Education — ”¬†Amazon will donate¬†$3.9 million to¬†CodeVA¬†through 2022 to support their long-term plan to offer computer science education and training to every high needs school across Virginia – more than 700 schools… The donation will support more than 500,000 students and more than 12,000 teachers.” [BusinessWire]

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Another week of social distancing has come and gone, as the days blend together and Arlington residents try to make the most of the reality that we’re not going back to normal anytime soon.

Over the weekend we asked our staff photographer, Jay Westcott, to narrate the past week of observations and reflections from his treks around Arlington.

Here’s what he wrote:

As I’m writing this, today is my daughter’s 17th birthday and I can’t hug her. She’s at home with her mom and step-dad and brother in Virginia Beach, safe and sound. She’s finishing her junior year of high school at home with online classes. Her grades are awesome. There will be no soccer this spring, which was something she was really looking forward to. She can’t take college admission tests until September.

I can’t hug my daughter on her birthday, but I’m thankful she is as good as can be amid this pandemic. What is her summer going to be like? Or her senior year? This pandemic is altering every aspect of our lives, and feelings of anxiety about what is coming, and how uncertain our future is, are weighing on us all.

When I am out and about with my cameras, I can feel it in the air. A former shipmate from my time in the Navy made a comment on social media that I’ll share as best I can: “we’ve only been underway a month and people are already going [expletive] crazy!”

My shipmate was referring to the recent protests and the month since the stay-at-home order and closing of non-essential business went into effect. Tensions are high and being stuck inside at home most of the time is hard.

I think about the two 6 month deployments I did aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt — the same ship that’s been in the news lately — in 1993 and 1995. In March of 1993 we deployed for the Adriatic and in April started no-fly zone enforcement over Bosnia-Herzegovina during their civil war. That meant keeping planes in the air 18 hours a day, 7 days a week. We were underway for 78 straight days before we had a break. Day after day of drawing 25 mile wide squares in the Adriatic with 5,500 other Sailors and Marines before we had a port visit to Rhodes, Greece.

That’s two and half months. We didn’t have Amazon Prime or Netflix, or Grubhub or Doordash. We didn’t have smartphones or social media. We had two channels on a newly-installed satellite television system that I helped monitor. CNN International and MTV Europe were our link to the outside world along with the mail, if the plane came. Some days it did not. Stay at home? At 23, being twice-deployed and feeling salty, I’d probably have called it a “cakewalk.”

Then I think about the living space I shared with 20 other men, maybe as big as my apartment, sleeping on “coffin lockers” stacked three high in a compartment that can be sealed watertight. I think about the hundreds of people on my former ship that have suffered and the sailor that has died from the COVID-19 outbreak and the scandal around the wrongful ouster of their Captain, who will hopefully be reinstated soon.

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Morning Notes

Another Sewage Release in Four Mile Run — “Avoid contact with Four Mile Run Creek downstream of 7th St S until further notice due to a sanitary sewage release. County Water/Sewer/Streets is responding.” [Twitter]

ACFD Rolls Out New Medic Unit — “As we progress through the COVID-19 pandemic, ACFD continues to adjust our response to ensure the best service and safety for our community. Yesterday we deployed a new resource that will provide rapid on-scene assessment to identify non-critical patients with potential or confirmed¬†#COVID¬†related complaints.” [Facebook, NBC 4]

Former Police Chief Dies — “On Friday, April 17, 2020, retired Chief of Police William K. ‘Smokey’ Stover passed away of natural causes. He was 89 years old… Chief Stover was known for his integrity, character and straight talk, no-nonsense style.” [Arlington County]

Hotel Heart Turns to Hope — “If you’ve driven the 14th Street Bridge from DC to Virginia over the past few weeks, you’ve seen it: a giant illuminated heart on a Crystal City building…¬†Thursday night, the hotel broadcast a new message: ‘HOPE.'” [Washingtonian]

YHS Dad Photographing Seniors — “Matt Mendelsohn’s Instagram feed¬†is a veritable who’s who, featuring portraits of Stephen Hawking, Ray Charles, Nicole Kidman, Bill Clinton, Chris Rock and countless other famous figures… Now he’s set an ambitious goal amid the backdrop of the COVID-19 crisis: to photograph every member of Yorktown High School’s Class of 2020.” [Arlington Magazine]

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It has been one month since local restaurants started to close and social distancing took hold in Arlington amid the coronavirus pandemic.

During that time our staff photographer Jay Westcott, along with Flickr pool contributors Kevin Wolf, Erinn Shirley, Tom Mockler, Dennis Dimick, John Sonderman and others have been documenting what everyday life looks like in our 26 square miles.

The gallery above highlights some of the photos showing desolate local streets, closed parks, and people keeping their distance, plus businesses and institutions trying to adapt and survive under difficult circumstances.

Thank you to all of the photographers out there who are helping those staying at home see what’s going on around the community.

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The hotel industry has been hit hard by coronavirus crisis. Huge hotels are now only hosting a handful of guests while most of the country hunkers down at home.

But that hasn’t stopped some local hotels from showing their community some love during tough times.

The DoubleTree Hotel in Crystal City, one of the first buildings you see when driving into Arlington via the 14th Street Bridge, has turned one of its now-vacant wings into a large, lighted heart.

The hotel’s general manager, who together with another manager turns the 52 lights on at night,¬†told WJLA¬†that the gesture is intended to “help everybody recognize that they are not alone and that there’s a little bit of love and hope out there.”

“We’re going to get through this together and we will be here to welcome them back when the time comes,” he told the station.

Other hotels in the Crystal City area, as seen in the following social media post from Arlington County, have followed suit.

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The past week has seen rising coronavirus cases and concerns in Arlington, but also considerable springtime beauty.

For those largely stuck at home, here are some scenes from around the county from the last seven days.

ARLnow staff photographer Jay Westcott had this to say about what he’s seeing, including observations about the all-too-frequent lack of social distancing in certain places:

I am seeing lines to get into grocery stores (Whole Foods in Clarendon) because they are limiting the number of customers in the store at one time. I am seeing more people wearing masks when they are out and about. Retail personnel at grocery stores and pharmacies are wearing personal protective equipment. To the folks working retail at groceries and pharmacies right now, I applaud you. Thank you. Please don’t judge my addiction to Lindt dark chocolate bars.

I also feel like people are still taking chances that they don’t need to. I’ve seen group yoga sessions in parks and group runs. And people just do not seem to know what 6 feet is. You can’t share a sidewalk with someone coming from the other way and be 6 feet apart. Sidewalks are 4 feet wide at best, right? You have to actively pay attention to your surroundings while you are walking around or running on the trail systems and sidewalks. Please, stay 6 feet away from people! Act like they have it. Act like you have it.

Not much has changed for my day-to-day as the photographer for ARLnow. I work mostly in the field anyway; I am either somewhere shooting pictures or I am traveling to the next spot. I’m out trying to document the various aspects of daily life around Arlington amidst all of this and how people are responding to it.

It still feels surreal. Each day it’s 14 minutes to Lynn Street and Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn, from my place in Fairlington, no matter what time I leave. There are fewer planes taking off and landing at DCA so there is less jet noise in Rosslyn. Seeing businesses such as Whitlow’s shuttered is haunting.

There are still beautiful sunsets to be seen along Columbia Pike, though. The Air Force Memorial looks amazing when the sun breaks through the clouds late in the day. And the tulips along Boundary Channel Drive near the Pentagon are amazing. Not far from there, trees are sprouting blossoms near Columbia Island and the Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove.

Support your local businesses, support each other. Be kind. Stay 6 feet apart when you do go out, please.

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The calendar turns to April tomorrow, after a momentous March.

There are only a few times in one’s life that you know for sure that you’re living through a boldface entry in the history books. The coronavirus outbreak and the resulting disruption of much of the economy and daily life is one of those times.

We compiled some of the photos readers and our intrepid staff photographer, Jay Westcott, have taken around town over the past couple of weeks. The images are those of isolation and disruption, but also hope and those trying to make the most of a bad situation.

Here’s how Jay described his observations from out and about in Arlington:

A typical morning rush hour in Rosslyn is a cacophony of sight and sound. Whistles shriek as ACPD directs traffic and pedestrians at Wilson and Lynn. Jets departing and arriving to DCA reflect and reverberate off the tall glass towers. Construction up the hill at 1500 Wilson. Traffic. Pedestrians. Metrobuses. 

Not anymore. 

Monday, Mar. 16 was the first work day after the region began teleworking in earnest and schools were closed. The intersection of Wilson and Lynn felt like the opening scene to the movie “I Am Legend.” In an hour’s time I saw less than 10 pedestrians. To call this surreal is an understatement.¬†

But that was the first morning. As the weather has warmed, people are venturing out more and more, and people are being really cavalier about social distancing. This is not a time for picnics in the park or group bike rides. And people don’t seem to realize how far six feet actually is. Sure, you may be six feet behind someone ahead of you on the trail, but people coming at you from the other way are passing within a foot of you. You have to remember this virus can live in the air for 3 hours. You can’t bump into people, you can’t try to squeeze past someone in the grocery store. You have to actively pay attention to your surroundings and people just don’t seem to be doing that.¬†

Around Arlington, rush hour seems to be non-existent. Don’t get me wrong, people are still out driving around, but from what I have been seeing traffic at 8:30 a.m. is no different than traffic at 1 p.m. or 6 p.m. From my place in Shirlington to the Key Bridge takes less than 15 minutes. I can’t help but imagine what it would be like if the majority of people that can do so continue working from home as much as possible after this pandemic has been contained.¬†

Seeing the COVID-19 test site open up on Quincy St. N was both welcome and frightening. 60 tests a day. 60. That is a lot, right? Is it enough? 

I am encouraged to see businesses find new and creative ways to continue operating through this, like Acme Pie and El Pollo Rico offering delivery. I had El Pollo Rico last week and if there was ever a comfort food to have in a time like this, it’s their amazing chicken.¬†

I hope my fellow Arlingtonians take this seriously. I have a friend in Colorado that has COVID-19. He flew through Seattle for work at the end of February and likely picked it up there. He’s now two weeks into the illness. His fever hit 103 last week, and he went to the ER on Friday with pneumonia-like symptoms. He is retired military, physically fit and it’s wiped him out. Before the ER trip he was in bed for three days straight. “It’s no joke,” he said.¬†

Please, stay safe. Stay home. Stay away from people.

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