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Morning Notes

A deer and a fox in the rain, near the Arlington-Fairfax border (photo courtesy Marc Roth)

‘Kindness Yard Sale’ in Penrose — “Susan Thompson-Gaines wants to spread kindness. This weekend, she’s doing it through a big yard sale at her house. She says it’s hard to miss the home she shares with her husband, David — it’s the yellow house with purple trim at the corner of South Second and South Fillmore streets in Arlington… what makes this yard sale different is that the proceeds are all spent on acts of kindness.” [WTOP]

Flood Cleanup for Pike Businesses — From WUSA 9’s Matthew Torres: “A dental hygienist sent me this other video of the flash flooding in Columbia Pike in Arlington. Their business had to close today as they clean up the water that seeped through. Other businesses are having to do the same thing.” [Twitter]

More Vaccinations Added to State Stats — “Today, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has incorporated vaccination data from jurisdictions in Maryland. Virginians who received vaccinations in Maryland that were not reported through the Virginia Immunization Information System are now included in the locality and statewide dashboards. The updated data reflects an increase in COVID-19 vaccine first dose rates of 0.33% Alexandria, 0.46% Arlington, and 0.39% Eastern Shore.” [Virginia Dept. of Health]

AFAC Gets Donation from Library Program –“Representatives of the Friends of the Arlington Public Library (FOAL), together with the Arlington Public Library and Arlington County Department of Technology Services, presented a check for $4,525 to the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC). The donation represents the number of Library readers who successfully completed the 2021 Summer Reading Challenge. The Library’s popular Summer Reading program helps children avoid the ‘summer slide.'” [Arlington County]

Fmr. County Board Member Dies — “Jay Edwin Ricks, 88, passed away at home in Arlington, Virginia on July 18, 2021 due to complications of Parkinson’s Disease… In 1967, Jay was elected to the Arlington County Board where he served until 1971. During this time, he was active in transportation issues and Vice Chairman of Metro during the critical phase of planning the Metro system.” [Legacy]

Local Church Adapts to Pandemic — ‘As another wave of the pandemic comes at us, we are different as a congregation,’ said the Rev. Amanda Poppei, senior minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, Virginia… Poppei’s congregation began hosting outdoor events in spring 2021, including a handbell parade to ring in Pride Month in June and a Flower Communion in May, which they intentionally designed as a multiplatform event.” [UUWorld]

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After a pre-Labor Day dip, Covid case counts in Arlington are again heading upward.

As of this morning the county is seeing just over 44 cases per day, based on a seven-day moving average. That’s the highest point since mid-February.

Though likely inflated due to the Labor Day holiday, 77 cases were reported on Wednesday alone, the highest one-day total since early February.

Reports of Covid-related serious illness remain at a relatively low level: three hospitalizations and one death over the past week, according to the Virginia Dept. of Health.

Amid a continued rise in cases, but relatively low incidence of serious illness among those who are vaccinated, President Biden today is set to announce a stricter vaccine requirement for federal workers and contractors. From CNN:

President Joe Biden on Thursday will impose more stringent vaccine rules on federal workers, and take steps to encourage private businesses to do the same, during a major speech meant to lay out a new approach to combating the coronavirus.

Among the steps the President will take is signing an executive order requiring all federal workers be vaccinated against Covid-19, with no option of being regularly tested to opt out of the requirement, according to a source familiar with the plans.

The President will also sign an executive order directing the same standard be extended to employees of contractors who do business with the federal government.

In Arlington, 73.1% of the adult population has received at least one vaccine dose. That number, which excludes doses administered directly by the federal government, continues to slowly rise over time.

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(Updated at 4:05 p.m.) Arlington’s average rate of new daily Covid cases has plateaued over the past two weeks.

The seven-day moving average currently stands at about 32-33 daily cases. It’s remained around that level, give or take two cases per day, since Aug. 9. The plateau followed a month-long rise in cases since the beginning of July, fueled by the more contagious Delta variant.

One new death and only one new Covid-related hospitalization have been reported over the past week, since Aug. 16.

Though the case average has held fairly steady, the 47 new cases reported on Sunday, according to Virginia Dept. of Health data, represent the highest one-day total since 57 cases were reported on April 9.

With reports of break-through cases among the vaccinated becoming more common, Arlington County last week started offering third doses of the Pfizer and Moderna to certain immunocompromised individuals. The county expects to offer booster shots to the general public later next month, as proposed by the Biden administration.

The Food and Drug Administration, meanwhile, announced today that it has granted full approval to the Pfizer vaccine. It was previously offered under an Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA.

With the full approval, the Dept. of Defense says it is planning to make vaccinations mandatory for U.S. service members.

Though it’s hard to predict what will happen with Arlington’s Covid case rate, there is some cause for optimism. In Florida, hard hit by the Delta wave, cases appear to be peaking or falling in many parts of the state.

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(Updated at 10:40 a.m.) A day after declaring that vaccine booster shots were “not currently available,” Arlington started offering them.

“On Tuesday, August 17, Arlington County Public Health will begin offering an additional, or third, dose of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer) to certain immunocompromised people,” Arlington County announced yesterday in a press release. “This follows FDA’s amended Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) and the CDC’s adoption of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ recommendation.”

The vaccine booster shots are only available to those who attest that they qualify for them due to being moderately or severely immunocompromised. Those receiving the shots must also have already received two doses of either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, with the last dose administered at least four weeks ago.

While currently restricted to only certain vulnerable individuals, booster shots are set to become widely available — and encouraged — this fall.

From NBC News:

Top U.S. health officials announced Wednesday that the country has developed a plan to start offering Covid-19 booster shots to all Americans beginning the third week of September, citing evidence that protection is waning not only against hospitalization and death, but also mild and moderate infections, as the highly contagious delta variant continues to spread.

Arlington County, meanwhile, has been upgraded to an area of “high” community spread of COVID-19 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The local transmission rate was deemed “substantial” by the CDC a couple of weeks ago.

As of Tuesday, neighboring Fairfax County and Alexandria were still seeing only “substantial” community transmission, a lower classification than “high,” according to the CDC website.

Arlington is recording about 33 new cases per day, or 14 daily cases per 100,000 residents, according to a 7-day moving average published this morning by Virginia Dept. of Health.

More on the booster shots, below, from the Arlington County press release.

People who are immunocompromised should speak to their healthcare provider to help decide if they would benefit from an additional dose. Moderately to severely immunocompromised people include those who have:

  • Been receiving active cancer treatment for tumors or cancers of the blood
  • Received an organ transplant and are taking medicine to suppress the immune system
  • Received a stem cell transplant within the last 2 years or are taking medicine to suppress the immune system
  • Moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency (such as DiGeorge syndrome, Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome)
  • Advanced or untreated HIV infection
  • Active treatment with high-dose corticosteroids or other drugs that may suppress your immune response
  • Individuals will be asked to self-attest (confirm) as having a qualifying condition at the time of vaccination.

Bring your vaccination card with you so your provider can fill in the information about your additional dose. Keep your vaccination card in case you need it for future use and consider taking a picture of your vaccination card as a backup copy.

At this time, an additional dose of vaccine is not approved for people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or people who are fully vaccinated and not immunocompromised. The FDA and CDC continue to review evidence regarding the safety and effectiveness of an additional dose for these individuals.

Arlington County encourages everyone 12 and older to get a COVID-19 vaccine, especially those who are immunocompromised or have close contact with immunocompromised persons. Arlington County Public Health Division (ACPHD) will only be offering additional doses for moderately to severely immunocompromised individuals at the Arlington Mill Community Center and Walter Reed Community Center clinics; they will not be available at field missions or “pop-up” events at this time.

Free walk-in and scheduled appointments are available at ACPHD’s clinics. Additional opportunities can be found at vaccines.gov; confirm with individual providers the availability of additional, or third, doses.

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Morning Notes

Arlington’s Biggest House Numbers? — “In the early days of the pandemic, I went on a quixotic quest to walk every one of the 1,114 blocks in my Arlington, Virginia, ZIP code, cataloging the styles of the address numbers on every house along the way… I have kept an eye on the house numbers in Arlington ever since, and imagine my joy this spring when suddenly, on a street I biked down every week, a new set of enormous house numbers appeared.” [Slate, Twitter]

Stepped Up DUI Patrols Begin Today — “This Labor Day, the Arlington County Police Department (ACPD) is participating in the national Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over impaired driving awareness campaign, which runs from August 18th through September 6th, 2021. This campaign aims to drastically reduce drunk driving on our nation’s roadways through a two-pronged approach of education and enforcement.” [ACPD]

Fallen Pentagon Police Officer Laid to Rest — “A Brooklyn-born Pentagon cop who was stabbed to death while on duty in DC was hailed as a “warrior” and a hero at his funeral Monday… ‘He fought ’til the end,’ his NYPD sibling, Rodney Rubert, said during funeral services at St. Barbara Roman Catholic Church in Bushwick.” [New York Post]

Beyer Proposes Healthcare Provider Vax Mandate — “Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) today announced the introduction of the Protecting Vulnerable Patients Act, which would require healthcare providers who see Medicare or Medicaid patients to be vaccinated following final FDA approval of a COVID vaccine.” [Press Release]

Arlington Hotels Still Hurting — “Hotel-occupancy rates improved in June but, overall, the first half of the year remained a bust for the Arlington hospitality industry. The occupancy rate of 44.7 percent in June was better than the cumulative 34.4-percent rate recorded over the first six months of the year, according to new data from Smith Travel research and Arlington Economic Development. But that 34.4-percent rate was anemic even compared to the weak first six months of 2020, when it stood at 37.3 percent.” [Sun Gazette]

Arlington Office Vacancy Rate Rising — “The Arlington office-vacancy rate continues to go in the wrong direction, according to new second-quarter data. The overall office-vacancy rate countywide was 19.4 percent for the quarter, according to figures reported by CoStar and Arlington Economic Development. That’s up from 18.5 percent in the first quarter and 16.6 percent a year ago.” [Sun Gazette]

Local Nonprofit Eyes Tysons Development — “The Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing is adding another project to its new Fairfax County pipeline, pitching a development in Tysons that could become the neighborhood’s first apartment building made up entirely of committed affordable units. The nonprofit hopes to build up to 175 new apartments on about 2 acres on Spring Hill Road near the Silver Line station of the same name, converting car dealership parking lots that are part of the massive Dominion Square development site.” [Washington Business Journal]

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After a month of rising Covid cases, there are some signs that the growth in new cases appears to be slowing.

The seven-day moving average of new daily cases increased by only one over the past week — from 31 to 32 cases per day — the slowest weekly growth since the county’s coronavirus case count started rising one month ago, amid the nationwide surge of the virus’ delta variant.

It’s unclear whether the leveling off is a temporary blip or the start of a sustained trend, however. The United Kingdom, which saw its Covid cases start to rise in late May amid the delta wave, reached a peak in cases roughly two months later, though the rate of new cases remains elevated compared to that country’s spring lull.

Arlington County’s test positivity rate, meanwhile, has risen from 0.4% on July 1 to 3.7% on Thursday, according to Virginia Dept. of Health data. Over the previous five days, however, the rate only rose by 0.1%.

Over the past week, six Covid-related hospitalizations and one death have been reported. It’s the first reported Covid-related death in Arlington since the end of June, according to VDH data.

On Thursday the U.S. Food and Drug administration approved Covid vaccine boosters for some immunocompromised individuals. Arlington County said Sunday that it was not yet prepared to administer booster shots and recommended that those eligible for them go to a pharmacy instead.

There are reports that the Biden administration is working on a plan to allow the general population to receive booster shots in the fall, amid questions about the efficacy of the vaccines over time, particularly against the more contagious delta variant.

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Morning Notes

Vax Mandade for County, APS Employees — “Arlington County Government and Arlington Public Schools (APS) will implement a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for employees. This joint action, effective August 30, is a necessary step to help keep the community safe and is consistent with COVID-19 public health guidance. This policy will also apply to interns, volunteers, substitutes, and contractors… All unvaccinated employees will be required to be tested at least weekly for COVID-19 to limit the potential spread in the workforce and in the community. Testing will be provided at no cost to the employee.” [Arlington County]

Mask Mandate for Va. Schools — “Virginia will require all students, teachers and staff in K-12 schools to wear masks indoors this fall, even if they are vaccinated, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced Thursday. The mandate, set forth in a public health emergency order, is sure to stir controversy and anger amid an already fractious debate over education in the state.” [Washington Post, Gov. Ralph Northam]

Escalator Replacement at Pentagon City Metro — “On Monday, August 16, Metro will begin work to replace the four entrance escalators at Pentagon City station with brand new, more durable escalators.  Construction is expected to take approximately nine months to complete both entrances and will require each entrance to be closed during construction, starting with the east side of South Hayes Street and followed by the two escalators on the west side.” [WMATA]

Arlington Real Estate Remains Hot — “A combination of challenging affordability and low inventory may be conspiring to dampen home-buyer enthusiasm across much of the Washington region, but you wouldn’t know it in Arlington, where some regions remain red-hot locales… While the region as a whole is down, Arlington has an overall rating of 205 – well into the “High” category and leading all other regional jurisdictions.” [Sun Gazette]

Summer Friday for ARLnow — We’re taking part of the day off, so expect a lighter publishing schedule today.

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Morning Notes

Langston Blvd Plan Meets Resistance — “Following this May’s release of area planning maps and a presentation on density from consultant AECOM, a furious screed was published by Lyon Village Civic Association president John Carten. Though the process is still in the community engagement phase that precedes concrete recommendations, the hint of possible changes in the General Land Use Plan prompted the Lyon Village group to predict a parade of horribles.” [Falls Church News-Press]

New Clarendon Apartment Building Sold — “Trammell Crow Residential has sold the Alexan Earl, a 333-unit multifamily building at 1122 N. Hudson St., to Lincoln Property Co. for $192 million… The Earl represents the first phase of the long-planned Red Top Cab redevelopment… Shooshan continues to plan for the second phase, a roughly 250-unit building fronting Washington Boulevard at the intersection with 13th Street North. It expects to start demolition this fall.” [Washington Business Journal]

Online Fundraiser for Fallen Officer –” The family of George Gonzalez started a memorial fund Sunday for the Pentagon Force Protection Agency officer who was fatally wounded Tuesday on the platform of the Pentagon Transit Center… By 3 p.m. on Monday, the GoFundMe campaign had already raised $15,000, outstripping its original goal of $1,000.” [Patch, GoFundMe]

Local BBQ Joint Competing in ‘World Championship’ — “Arlington’s Smokecraft Modern Barbecue… has been invited to compete in the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue.  Taking place in Lynchburg, TN on on October 8th and 9th, ‘The Jack’ as it is known, is widely considered the world’s most prestigious barbecue competition.” [Press Release]

Va. AG Continues to Fight Robocalls — “Attorney General Mark R. Herring today urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to fight back against the scourge of illegal robocalls by moving up the deadline for smaller telephone companies to implement caller ID technology. Attorney General Herring joined a bipartisan coalition of 51 attorneys general have in submitting comments to the FCC.” [Press Release]

Pentagon to Require Vaccinations — “The Pentagon will require members of the military to get the COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 15, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a memo on Monday. About 64% of active duty military members are fully vaccinated, a low enough rate to pose concern for potential outbreaks and international deployment.” [Axios]

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Following the lead of the state and the federal government, Arlington County is considering a mandate for its employees and contractors to be vaccinated.

Last week President Biden announced that federal employees must either sign forms attesting to be vaccinated or submit to mandatory masking, weekly testing and distancing. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced a similar policy for more than 100,000 state employees yesterday.

Now Arlington — like neighboring Fairfax County — is also considering a vaccine mandate, amid a continued rise in local Covid cases fueled by the delta variant of the virus. The proposal was revealed to county employees during an online town hall with County Manager Mark Schwartz, we’re told.

“During an online employee town hall the county manager informed staff it is his intention to require vaccination or submit to weekly testing,” a tipster tells ARLnow.

In a statement, below, Arlington County confirmed that such a policy is indeed under consideration. A final decision is expected later this month.

“The health and wellbeing of our residents and our employees is our top priority. Arlington County has offered vaccines to all employees, and continues to follow Virginia Department of Health guidance regarding vaccination. The County continues to assess its COVID-19 policies and practices as new guidance emerges from Centers for Disease Control and Virginia Department of Health. The County Manager has asked staff to prepare, for review, a program that would mandate vaccination and testing for County employees and contractors. A final decision on whether to pursue such a program will be made during August. In the meantime, we encourage Arlington employees and residents to access no-cost, no-appointment testing and vaccination opportunities.”

Photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Carlos M. Vazquez II

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Amid a rise in coronavirus cases, community leaders and the Arlington County Public Health Division are continuing to find ways to target particular demographics for which more outreach is needed.

So far, 70% of the adult population in Arlington and 61.8% of the county’s entire population has at last one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, excluding federal doses, according to the Virginia Dept. of Health dashboard. Nearly 64% of the adult population and 56% of the overall population is fully vaccinated. But these percentages start to vary more when broken down by age group, race and ethnicity.

For example, vaccination rates differ by nearly 20 percentage points between Asian or Pacific Islander and Latino Arlington residents, whose rates surpass 70%, and Black and white residents, whose rates hover around 56-58%. Meanwhile, the age group with the lowest vaccination rate is 25- to 34-year-olds, 59% of whom are vaccinated, while the highest rate is among 16-17 year olds, of whom 96% are vaccinated, according to VDH data.

Some disparities, particularly in sub-groups with larger population counts, can be tied demographic factors. But some data points, especially for smaller population sub-sets, may be tied to estimation errors, according to the Virginia Dept. of Health.

According to VDH spokeswoman Cindy Clayton, certain demographics with smaller population counts can lead to these high percentages.

“This is likely due to estimation error in the population data, especially when the denominator is a small group, like 16-17 year-olds or Native Americans,” she said. (More than 106% of local Native Americans appear to be vaccinated, according to the state dashboard).

The state health department uses census data compiled and modeled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to calculate vaccine percentages at the local level.

“Although efforts were made to use the best available data and methods to produce the bridged estimates, the modeling process introduces error into the estimates,” according to the CDC’s explanation of the demographic data it stores.

Vaccination rates by race and ethnicity (via Virginia Dept. of Health)
Vaccination rates by age (via Virginia Dept. of Health)

Although some numbers have to be taken with a grain of salt, at this point, both community leaders and the county are now tailoring their vaccine outreach efforts toward “myth-busting” and focusing on particular subgroups.

“Arlington continues to encourage everyone 12 and older in Arlington to get vaccinated to protect themselves, their loved ones and their communities,” said Ryan Hudson, a spokesman for the Arlington County Public Health Division. “Vaccines are free for everyone, and offer the best form of protection against COVID-19.”

The county operates two vaccine clinics, open seven days a week, to accommodate everyone in the community, he said. The division also conducts “field missions” with targeted vaccine clinics at strategic community locations, including libraries.

“Additionally, the County continues to explore creative initiatives (the previously-covered coasters and cocktail napkins; vaccine QR codes at the recent Bands & Brews on the Boulevard; outreach by the Complete Vaccination Committee; etc.),” Hudson wrote.

More recently, the division’s communications have focused on “myth-busting,” which he says is “in an effort to dispel much of the misinformation that exists. Some examples he said include the impact of the vaccine on puberty, fertility, pregnancy and breast-feeding, as well as concern about corner-cutting due to how quickly the vaccine was developed.”

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(Updated at 11:05 a.m.) Earlier this summer, new coronavirus cases were reaching new lows. Now cases remain on the rise across the county, Commonwealth and the country.

In Arlington today another 18 cases were reported, bringing the seven-day trailing average up to 16 cases per day, the highest point since May 5.

Thanks to vaccinations, serious complications from Covid remain at relatively low levels. Over the past two months, two Covid-related deaths and 20 new hospitalizations have been reported in Arlington.

But the more contagious Delta variant of the virus is in some cases infecting even those who have been fully vaccinated. A new metric published by the Virginia Dept. of Health reports 1,377 known “breakthrough” cases, resulting in 114 hospitalizations and 37 deaths.

“Over 99% of COVID-19 cases in Virginia have occurred in people who were not fully vaccinated,” State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver was quoted as saying in a county press release Tuesday. “I continue to encourage everyone who is able to get vaccinated to do so.”

Arlington’s health department has now administered more than 150,000 vaccine doses, the press release notes.

“As of Monday (July 26), the Arlington County Public Health Division has given more than 150,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses!” the county said. “Overall in Arlington, a total of 264,500 doses have been administered and 132,000+ people are fully vaccinated. The vaccines are free, safe and still the best protection against COVID-19.”

As cases rise, talk of mask and vaccine-related requirements have heated up in recent days.

Students at Montgomery County and Fairfax County public schools will be required to wear masks inside schools this fall regardless of vaccination status, the school systems announced this week. Arlington Public Schools has yet to make a formal announcement of its mask policy for the fall; Virginia is strongly recommending that all elementary school students, teachers and staff wear masks.

President Biden is expected to announce tomorrow that all federal employees must be vaccinated or face “repeated testing mandates,” the Washington Post reports. Fairfax County is also mulling a vaccination requirement for its municipal employees.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meanwhile, updated its mask guidance yesterday to recommend that even vaccinated people wear masks in indoor, public settings where prevalence of the virus is elevated. There is some disagreement among experts as to whether the mask guidance will make a substantial difference in combating the spread of the virus, in part because many are likely to ignore the guidance.

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