Arlington, VA

Gov. Ralph Northam announced today that he is easing some public health restrictions, including the 10 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales.

Effective March 1, Virginians will be able to buy and drink alcohol at restaurants, food courts, breweries, distilleries and wineries until they are required to close at midnight.

The changes to the current executive order come amid declining rates of hospitalizations and infections and rising vaccination rates in the Commonwealth, Northam said during a press conference this morning (Wednesday).

Northam is also easing restrictions for outdoor entertainment and social gatherings, where evidence shows the risk of airborne transmission of COVID-19 is lower, as well as allowing overnight summer camps to open “with strict mitigation measures in place.”

“Thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of all Virginians, hospitalization and positivity rates across the Commonwealth are the lowest they have been in nearly three months,” Northam said in a press release. “As key health metrics show encouraging trends and we continue to ramp up our vaccination efforts, we can begin to gradually resume certain recreational activities and further reopen sectors of our economy.”

He attributed the rise in cases over the winter to cold weather and the holidays.

In Arlington, the rate of new coronavirus cases dropped from a peak of around 850 cases per week since mid-January, but has since leveled off between 250-300 cases per week. Cases have similarly dropped nationwide, but that drop has been leveling off.

Meanwhile, Virginia’s Safer at Home strategy — and its accompanying requirements for physical distancing, mask-wearing, gathering limits and business capacity restrictions — will remain in place.

“Even as we take steps to safely ease public health guidelines, we must all remain vigilant so we can maintain our progress — the more we stay home, mask up, and practice social distancing, the more lives we will save from this dangerous virus,” Northam said.

The current modified Stay at Home order will expire on Sunday.

Several Arlington restaurants have told ARLnow that they were waiting on a decision about the Stay at Home order before making plans for March, a month that includes St. Patrick’s Day, March Madness basketball and other events that are traditional draws for local bars.

The full press release from the governor’s office is below.

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Gov. Ralph Northam made an Arlington apartment building his venue to announce a half-billion dollars in rent relief for Virginia families.

Northam announced the new federal funding for the Virginia Rent Relief Program at Gillam Place, an affordable apartment complex along Columbia Pike. He did so after touring an Arlington vaccination clinic Tuesday morning.

The rent relief “will assist households and landlords with rent payments to avoid eviction” during the pandemic. Virginia residents can apply for up to 15 months of rent relief, for payments dating back to April 1, 2020 and up to three months in the future.

More from a press release:

Governor Ralph Northam today announced $524 million in new federal funding to help keep Virginia families in their homes amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Virginia Rent Relief Program (RRP) is funded through the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program included in the recent federal stimulus package and will assist households and landlords with rent payments to avoid eviction. Governor Northam made the announcement at Gilliam Place Apartments, which is owned by the nonprofit organization Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have prioritized efforts to keep Virginians safely in their homes,” said Governor Northam. “There continues to be an overwhelming need for additional relief to help those struggling to make ends meet. This new federal funding will provide an important lifeline to individuals and families, and bolster our ongoing work to address housing affordability in the Commonwealth. I urge eligible households to act quickly and work with their landlords to seek rental assistance through this program.”

Virginia is immediately putting $160 million into the RRP to increase housing stability across the Commonwealth and will make additional funding available based upon need. The program will be administered by the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).

In June 2020, Virginia was one of the first states in the nation to create a statewide rent and mortgage relief program with federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds. To date, the Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program (RMRP) has distributed over $83.7 million in 24,294 rent and mortgage payments for households throughout the Commonwealth. Families with children represent the majority of households assisted by the program. Governor Northam and the General Assembly allocated Virginia Housing Trust Funds to continue supporting the program prior to this new federal allocation.

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(Updated at 10:50 a.m.) CVS locations in Virginia, including in Arlington, will start administering COVID-19 vaccines tomorrow (Friday).

CVS pharmacies across the Commonwealth are fully booked with appointments, which are for now open to residents 65 and older.

More from a Virginia Dept. of Health press release (link added by ARLnow):

VDH worked closely with CVS over the last week to ensure that the CVS system follows Virginia’s priority guidelines and to provide an advance opportunity for eligible individuals already registered on VDH waiting lists. However, due to technological limitations with their national appointment system, CVS is unable to reserve appointments for pre-registered individuals. Virginia will continue to work towards a solution in partnership with other participating states and the federal government.

The federal program will supplement existing vaccination programs by providing 26,000 more vaccines to Virginians. CVS is the first of Virginia’s pharmacy partners in the federal pharmacy partnership to move forward with vaccinations. More pharmacies and more locations are expected to start vaccinating patients in the future.

The Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination is a public-private partnership, between pharmacy companies and the federal government. Pharmacy companies receive vaccines directly from the federal government through the partnership program. Initially, the federal government asked states to limit distribution to one pharmacy chain partner. CVS Health is the initial pharmacy partner for the program in Virginia.

The appointment for the second vaccination will be made when the first vaccination appointment is scheduled. Those without online access can contact CVS Customer Service at (800) 746-7287. Walk-in vaccinations without an appointment will not be provided.

Those who were unable to book appointments, when CVS unexpectedly opened vaccine registration early, described the process as “really frustrating.”

With county-run vaccinations still constrained by limited supply from the state, the CVS vaccinations promise to provide a bit of a relief valve amid high demand in Arlington, which has the highest percentage of residents willing to be vaccinated in the country, at 92%.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and leaders in the District and Maryland, meanwhile, are pushing the federal government to vaccinate more D.C. area federal employees.

Vaccinations in Arlington are continuing apace, with an additional 651 doses reported to have been administered, for a cumulative total of 12,440 doses, in the latest figures from the Virginia Dept. of Health. The seven-day moving average is 888 doses per day in the county.

The figures for second doses, a measure of completed vaccinations, have been rising. At the current rate of second administered doses, Arlington’s entire adult population would be fully vaccinated in 533 days, a number that has continued to fall over the past several weeks.

County officials say that, as of last week, Arlington’s health department has administered 10,184 first doses of 11,425 received, as well as 1,037 second doses of 3,300 received.

An Arlington Public Health spokeswoman emphasized that those with vaccination appointments should not show up early, to help prevent the kind of lines seen during vaccination events this past weekend.

“We have individuals arriving an hour or more ahead of their appointment times,” the spokeswoman said.

File photo

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Nearly one year after Arlington Public Schools closed classrooms, the end of distance learning is in sight for students and teachers.

Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Francisco Durán said today (Friday) that on Tuesday he will announce dates when students can return to their school buildings — with students expected to return by mid-March.

The forthcoming timeline for the announcement is one-and-a-half weeks ahead of Durán’s schedule. The push to announce the phased return dates next week comes in response to a press conference that Gov. Ralph Northam held this morning.

During the School Board meeting last night (Thursday), Durán told board members and listening community members that he would provide dates on Feb. 18. This morning, Northam urged all K-12 school divisions in Virginia to make in-person learning options available to students by March 15.

“Given Governor Northam’s press conference this morning, I will announce the dates in my Return-to-School Update this coming Tuesday,” Durán said in an APS School Talk update sent this afternoon. “Our timeline aligns with the Governor’s guidance.”

Principals and school staff have been preparing for student returns in March, he said.

Arlington teachers and staff have been re-entering their classrooms in phases since last week. Durán came under fire last night for not following other Virginia school divisions, which have announced firm return dates.

“I’m certainly aware of the announcements of other divisions in Northern Virginia and others that are moving forward, but we are taking the time to do what is asked… to make sure we’re safe and ready to go back in person,” he said during last night’s meeting. “I’m going to continue to make decisions to best serve the needs of students in Arlington while ensuring the health and safety of everyone.”

Student groups will return in this order:

  1. Preschool through 2nd grade students and countywide elementary special education students
  2. Grades 3-5
  3. Grades 6-12

Students from grades 3-12 will learn via “concurrent instruction” models. They will remain in their current classes, with their current teachers, regardless of whether they are in-person part-time or fully virtual. Teachers will instruct both online and in-person students whether they are in the classroom or working remotely.

On Wednesday, students enrolled in select technical education courses, from cosmetology to auto collision repairs, were able to return to their classrooms at the Arlington Career Center, Durán said. Students with disabilities who need in-person supports were the first to return on Nov. 4.

This week, APS launched a health screening application for teachers and staff to use daily, providing the school system with information on who tests positive, experiences symptoms or comes in contact with coronavirus-positive people, he said. The app will be available to students and families on Feb. 18.

Meanwhile, Durán said in-person instruction and support are having a “moderate” impact on reports of positive cases and close contacts with sick individuals. He cited the following statistics on positive cases and reports of close contacts among staff and students:

This morning, Northam also encouraged school divisions to offer summer school for families who want their children to make up for any loss of learning incurred during this school year.

“The health and safety of students, educators, school personnel, and communities continues to be our top priority,” Northam said. “We know that children learn better in classrooms and that going to school is vital for their social-emotional needs and for receiving critical services like meals. It is also important for our youngest learners, students with disabilities, and those with limited access to technology who have struggled most with remote learning. By focusing on mitigation measures, we can provide our kids with safe and equitable learning environments.”

Responding to early signs of falling grades during distance learning, two former School Board members indicated their interest in summer school options in December.

Photo via Arlington Public Schools Twitter

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Morning Notes

Rosslyn Redevelopment Approved — “The Arlington County Board today approved a mixed-use redevelopment that will add 740 new housing units, including on-site affordable housing, to the Rosslyn neighborhood. The Board approved developer Snell Properties’ plan to build two residential towers with ground-floor retail and office/retail flex space at 1820 and 1830 Fort Myer Drive in Rosslyn.” [Arlington County]

Inova Cancels Vaccine Appointments, Too — “COVID-19 vaccine supply shortages have forced Inova Health System to cancel first-dose appointments for people in Northern Virginia’s Group 1B starting Tuesday, a group that includes employees of Fairfax County Public Schools. The news comes as elected leaders appeal directly to the governor for more doses.” [NBC 4]

Virginia Ranks Last in U.S. for Vaccinations — New data ranks Virginia dead last in terms of percentage of COVID-19 vaccines administered. That has prompted bipartisan criticism and questions for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. [Becker’s Hospital Review, Twitter, Twitter]

UK Coronavirus Variant Found in N. Va. — “A variant of the COVID-19 virus first found in the United Kingdom last year has been found in Virginia, in the state’s first case, officials say. A Northern Virginia resident with no reported recent travel history tested positive for the variant, the Virginia Department of Health announced in a statement Monday afternoon.” [NBC 4]

Cases Still Growing in Virginia — “A new report paints a grim picture of Virginia’s coronavirus response. New York Times data shows new cases in the Commonwealth have risen 12 percent in the past 14 days ending Saturday, making Virginia the ‘only state reporting significant increases in new cases.'” [Fox 5]

Coming Soon: Lots of Cicadas — “Gazillions of insects that have been underground since Britney married K-Fed will tunnel through the earth this spring. When they emerge, they’ll ruin young trees, delight food-motivated dogs, and just generally gross out a high percentage of the population. Yes, the cicadas of Brood X… are due back in the DC area (and most of the East Coast) this spring, possibly around late April or mid-May.” [Washingtonian]

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(Updated on 1/17/21) A number of bridges connecting Arlington to D.C. across the Potomac River are closing due to presidential inauguration security measures.

Virginia State Police is working with the United States Secret Service to close Roosevelt Bridge, the Arlington Memorial Bridge, the I-395 Bridge and the 14th Street Bridge starting Tuesday morning through Thursday at 6 a.m., according to a joint statement from Virginia lawmakers.

The Arlington Memorial Bridge closed Friday night but then reopened, according to news reports. The HOV span of the 14th Street Bridge was set to close Saturday morning until Thursday, according to the Secret Service, but was open as of noon on Saturday.

Those closures would leave the Key Bridge in Rosslyn and the Chain Bridge from N. Glebe Road as the main routes from Arlington into the District for two days.

“The 2021 Presidential Inauguration Ceremony will see the strongest Capital-area security response in history. We worked together to push for a response that balances protecting public safety in a manner commensurate with available intelligence about threats without going too far,” reads the lawmakers’ statement.

It was issued by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, and Reps. Don Beyer, Gerry Connolly, and Jennifer Wexton.

“It is very important now that the U.S. Secret Service and its partner agencies communicate road and bridge closures swiftly and clearly in order to keep disruptions to a minimum,” the lawmakers added. “All of us want the transfer of power to be as peaceful as possible, and we thank all of the men and women in uniform helping to make this historic occasion safe.”

Additionally, Metro announced this afternoon that the Pentagon Metro station will be closed, and bus service there suspended, on Inauguration Day.

“Blue and Yellow Line trains will continue to operate but will pass through the station without stopping,” Metro said. “The Pentagon Transit Center, served by six Metrobus lines, will also be closed. Buses will be relocated instead to Pentagon City, on the east side of Hayes Street S. and 12th Street S. for the day.”

Arlington Cemetery station is also closing, along with a number of D.C. stations, starting today.

Virginia Railway Express trains, meanwhile, will not be running Monday through Wednesday, due to the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday and “enhanced security measures” related to the presidential inauguration.

Arlington County Police Department recently announced an “increased police presence” on Inauguration Day in the wake of the storming of the U.S. Capitol.

While Arlington Acting Police Chief Andy Penn didn’t commit to any road closures in Arlington as of yet, he did say discussions are ongoing.

Much of D.C. will be shut down, though, including many roads and the National Mall.

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Morning Notes

Beyer: Trump Must Be Removed — Rep. Don Beyer: “Donald Trump is a danger to our democracy. I continue to support his impeachment and removal from office, and am looking carefully at new articles of impeachment being drafted and offered by my colleagues… Congress must ensure Trump’s removal from office by the swiftest and surest method available: confirmation of the American people’s will as expressed in the 2020 election.” [Press Release]

Bishop: ‘Saddened and Appalled’ — From Bishop Michael Burbidge, of the Arlington Diocese: “Today, I was saddened and appalled to see the violence at the US Capitol that disrupted a constitutional process. I ask all people to pray for unity and healing in our nation. May God bless and protect this great country and grant us the peace for which we long.” [Twitter]

Northam: ‘Virginia Will Be There’ — Gov. Ralph Northam: “I continue to pray for the safety of every member of the House and Senate, all the staff, the journalists, everyone who works in the Capitol. And I commend the Virginia National Guard and Virginia State Police for quickly stepping up in this time of great need. Let me be clear: Virginia will be there for as long as it takes to protect our nation’s capital and ensure the peaceful transfer of power.” [Gov. Ralph Northam]

Lopez Discussed Capitol Chaos on BBC — Del. Alfonso Lopez appeared on BBC’s Newsnight, discussing the insurrectionists who stormed the U.S. Capitol: “This is an extreme group that have bought into the misinformation from the Trump family,” he said. [Twitter]

State to Speed Up Vaccinations — “Governor Ralph Northam today announced new actions to support the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution program and accelerate the pace of vaccinations across Virginia.” [Gov. Ralph Northam]

Now for Something Completely Different — “About this time yesterday I posted a video of an Arlington fox playing with dog toys — I’m just gonna re-post now for anyone who needs a break from today’s news cycle.” [Twitter]

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Morning Notes

Cristol Recovering from Surgery — County Board member Katie Cristol was absent from this week’s Board meeting. She is on medical leave after surgery to treat Graves’ disease, she said. [Twitter]

Axios Makes Local News Moves — Clarendon-based media company Axios has purchased North Carolina-based Charlotte Agenda as it makes a push into local news. [New York Times]

Board Balks at Preservation Request — “Efforts to place the 9-acre Rouse estate at the corner of Wilson Boulevard and North McKinley Road into a local historic district appear to have pushed the property owner to move forward with the ‘nuclear option‘… And, county officials say, there is not much they can do to prevent it. ‘Our hands are pretty much tied,’ County Board Chairman Libby Garvey said Dec. 12, effectively rebuffing a request that the county government take stronger actions.” [InsideNova]

Board Responds to Reopening Request — “A request that Arlington County Board members use their influence – whether through sweet-talking or something more forceful – to get county schools back up and running fell largely on deaf ears Dec. 12. Board members said they were working with their School Board counterparts, but had no power to force a reopening of schools that have been shuttered since last March.” [InsideNova]

Local Nonprofit Expands Aid — “Since April of this year [Arlington] Thrive has provided more than $5 million is assistance to 1,300 families and individuals, a dramatic increase from the $805,000 Thrive provided to families and individuals during the same period last year. Typical requests to Arlington Thrive used to be for one or two months rent but since the pandemic now extend to six or seven months.” [Press Release]

Church Continues Drive-Thru Donations — “Clarendon Presbyterian Church recently announced that it will continue holding monthly Drive-thru Food and Toiletry Collections to support our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness. Since the first Collection in June through the most recent one in December, the community donated the equivalent of 756 brown paper bags of groceries – an estimated value of $30,000.” [Press Release]

Northam Proposes State Budget — “Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Wednesday proposed a state budget that would restore some spending frozen earlier this year amid uncertainty around the coronavirus pandemic, updating a spending document that the General Assembly just finished tinkering with last month.” [Washington Post]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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The trajectory of coronavirus infections in Arlington continues to be up and to the right.

As of Friday the county again set a new record in its seven-day trailing average of reported COVID-19 cases. The Virginia Dept. of Health reported 109 new cases overnight, bringing the seven-day total to 671 and the daily average to 95.9 cases.

The county’s test positivity rate ticked down slightly this week, and is now 8.0%

Since Wednesday, seven additional hospitalizations have been reported, bringing the seven-day trailing total to 15. Two new COVID-related deaths have also been reported in that timeframe.

New statewide coronavirus restrictions were announced by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam yesterday and are set to go into effect Monday. The new rules include a midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew, a 10-person cap on social gatherings and a strengthened universal nask requirement.

“Arlington welcomes the Governor’s actions to protect Virginians from the surging spread of the COVID-19 virus,” County Board Chair Libby Garvey said in a statement Wednesday evening.

“We have all seen the numbers and the trends, and they are deeply disturbing. We know that pandemic fatigue is real, and that it is particularly difficult to hunker down during the holidays, when we all want to be with the people we love,” Garvey continued. “But we need everyone to comply with these measures to help avoid overwhelming our healthcare system. Stay home, wear a mask if you must go outside, keep at least six feet of distance between you and those outside your household, and wash your hands frequently.”

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(Updated at 8:50 p.m.) Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced a new round of coronavirus-related restrictions this afternoon.

The changes, which are to take effect early Monday morning, include tightening the limit on social gatherings from 25 to 10 people, and a “modified stay at home order” between midnight and 5 a.m. daily.

The new restrictions come with some exceptions.

The social gathering rule does not apply to “religious services, employment settings, or educational settings.” The midnight curfew doesn’t apply to those “obtaining food and goods, traveling to and from work, and seeking medical attention.”

Another change: a tightening of the state mask mandate, for those five and over. It will now apply “in indoor settings shared with others and when outdoors within six feet of another person.”

Despite the new restrictions, Northam said restaurants will be able to stay open with existing rules in place, including no on-site alcohol sales after 10 p.m.

During his Thursday afternoon press conference, Northam said coming COVID vaccines are cause for optimism, but with nearly 4,000 new cases and dozens of deaths per day in the Commonwealth, “hard realities” necessitate tighter restrictions.

Intensive Care Unit hospitalizations have been rising, Northam said, and nurses and doctors are becoming exhausted. Here in Arlington, the rate of new cases hit a new high on Monday.

“If you don’t have to go out, stay at home,” the governor said. “This is just plain common sense.”

The new rules will go into effect until Jan. 31, but may be extended beyond that.

Northam also took a dig at President Trump near the end of the press conference, saying that the president had “checked out” on the pandemic and “it’s time for real leadership.”

The full press release from the governor’s office is below.

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