Arlington, VA

Morning Notes

Frederick-to-Arlington Transit Proposal — “Proposed transit service connecting Arlington to Frederick (Md.) and points in between remains on the table, but barely, after scoring low in a recent cost-benefit analysis conducted by the Virginia and Maryland state governments… As envisioned, the transit route would start at Frederick six times each workday morning and terminate an hour later at the Pentagon, with intermediate stops at Monocacy, Urbana, Germantown, Gaithersburg, Montgomery Mall and Rosslyn.” [InsideNova]

Women Groped in Aurora Highlands — “At approximately 7:18 p.m. on November 3, police were dispatched to the late report of an assault. Upon arrival, it was determined that at approximately 6:30 p.m., the victim was running in the area when the suspect approached her from behind and grabbed her buttocks. The victim yelled, and the suspect fled on foot, then entered the passenger side of a vehicle and left the area.” [ACPD]

Data Breach Affecting Hospital — “Virginia Hospital Center (VHC), a community-based hospital providing medical services to the Washington, DC metropolitan area for 75 years, has recently learned of an information security incident experienced by one of its vendors… [an] unauthorized party may have acquired a backup of the database that compromises certain limited elements of VHC’s donor and fundraising information, as may be the case with other nonprofits affected by this incident worldwide.” [Press Release]

Grand Opening for New BusinessPaint Nail Bar (1520 Clarendon Blvd) is holding its grand opening celebration this weekend, from 5-8 p.m. on Saturday. “Champagne and light bites will be served and all attendees will receive a goody bag,” the business says. [Facebook]

Tea Returns to the Ritz — “The Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City is now offering Afternoon Tea, bringing a time-honored tradition at an affordable price – all with safety and the health of guests in mind. Offered in their fyve restaurant, featuring globally inspired dishes, the hotel’s Afternoon Tea service is available at three price points, perfect for adults and children celebrating a special occasion or looking for a weekend respite from the day-to-day.” [Press Release]

More Nice Weather on Tap — “Quite a stretch of tranquil weather ahead of us as high pressure dominates into early next week, resulting in dry conditions and temperatures running 5 to 10 degrees above normal for early November.” [@NWS_BaltWash/Twitter, Capital Weather Gang]

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The two retail occupants of a squat commercial building at the intersection of Lee Highway and N. George Mason Drive have now both moved out.

TitleMax, which opened at 5625 Lee Highway in 2014, closed recently and has cleared out of the space, which was previously a 7-Eleven store. A sign on the door directs customers to a remaining TitleMax location at 6198-C Arlington Blvd, in Seven Corners.

No explanation for the closure was given.

Next door, long-time local business Sam Torrey Shoe Service closed in July after the owner decided to move to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

TitleMax’s presence in the neighborhood drew some controversy early on.

Then-County Board candidate Christian Dorsey called the business a “predatory lender” and pushed for its lease to be terminated in the event that a proposed land swap between property owner Virginia Hospital Center and Arlington County happened. A land swap went through, but the Lee Highway property was not included.

Through a PR rep, Virginia Hospital Center said that it is still deciding what to do next with the property.

“TitleMax and Sam Tory have terminated their leases,” the rep told ARLnow. “The Hospital has made no decisions about the future of the site.”

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Morning Notes

County Launching Race Conversations — “Today, Arlington County launched a new effort to address racial equity and disparities in our community. Called Dialogues on Race and Equity (DRE), the effort is part of the County’s broader commitment to racial equity… DRE will include a series of virtual community conversations with individuals, nonprofit organizations, civic associations, faith organizations, and businesses.” [Arlington County]

Local Nurses Hold Food Drive — “Nurses at the Virginia [Hospital] Center are going above and beyond to give back to the local community… Nurses launched the ‘Together We Can’ campaign where they collected canned goods. All together, they collected 10,000 cans and donated them directly to the food assistance center.” [WJLA]

Virtual 5K for Local Nonprofits — “A coalition of three homeless-outreach organizations – Community Lodgings, Bridges to Independence and Homestretch – will be hosting their third annual 5K “Home Run for the Homeless” in a different format this year. Rather than running as a group on the Washington & Old Dominion Regional Trail this year, participants will be able to run where they choose anytime from Oct. 10 (which is designated World Homeless Day) to Oct. 31.” [InsideNova]

Penthouse Sold in New Rosslyn Tower — “The sales team for Pierce announced strong early sales for The Highlands‘ luxury condominium tower… Strong early interest in Pierce has resulted in over $18.7 million in sales by The Mayhood Company since launching sales in August, including the sale of one of two top-of-the-market penthouse residences.” [Press Release]

Theater Holding Virtual Halloween Event — “Synetic Theater will hold its annual ‘Vampire Ball’ in a ‘virtual’ setting this year, with participants enjoying the festivities ‘from the comfort of your own crypt.’ The event will be held on Friday, Oct. 30 from 8 to 10 p.m.” [InsideNova]

Nearby: Trump Rallies at Eden Center — Vietnamese Americans held rallies for President Trump at the Eden Center in Falls Church over the weekend. [Twitter, YouTube, YouTube]

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Arlington County has seen three consecutive days of coronavirus cases below the seven-day moving average.

The relative reduction in cases over the weekend is welcome news, but the county is — like much of the rest of the country — continuing to see a baseline of new cases as colder weather and the flu season approach.

The seven-day moving average of new daily cases currently stands at 15.7, and has remained within a range of 12 to 21 since the beginning of the month.

As of Monday morning, Arlington had recorded 32 new cases, one new COVID-related death and two new hospitalizations since Friday, according to Virginia Dept. of Health data. The cumulative totals for all three currently stand at 3,851 cases, 493 hospitalizations and 147 deaths.

The case fatality rate — the percentage of deaths compared to reported cases — has continued to fall over the past couple of months, and is currently 3.8%. Arlington’s test positivity rate is also currently 3.8%.

Virginia Hospital Center ER chief Mike Silverman, in a weekly update posted to social media, said on Friday that healthcare providers have been getting better at treating COVID patients since the start of the pandemic, using steroids, the antiviral drug Remdesivir, and other treatments and techniques to bring down the death rate — though there’s no silver bullet yet.

He said that the hospital has seen other positive trends lately.

Masks and social distancing remain our best strategies and I think we’re seeing the benefits. Our overall hospital positivity rate continues to trend down. In the [Emergency Department], we’re definitely see less COVID than a month ago. We have less symptomatic patients presenting to the ED week over week for about a month and their test positivity rate continues to trend down. Our overall testing rate in the ED is also trending down. We also have less hospitalized COVID patients than we’ve had in the recent post. All of these metrics are good news for today, though we continue to plan for whatever COVID and the flu bring us later this fall and winter.

Silverman continued to urge people to get flu shots, though there’s some hope that the fast-approaching flu season might not be as bad as once feared.

Flu season is just around the corner. If you haven’t already gotten your flu shot yet, please do so over the next couple of weeks. We always look to the Southern Hemisphere to see what their flu season is like since theirs precedes ours. The good news is that flu appeared mild in many countries that we track. This is most certainly related to mask wearing and having a flu season that occurred during times of significant social distancing. I’m relatively optimistic that mask wearing and social distancing will reduce flu transmission this year. On the other hand, if kids return to school and increase their social activities, and people become complacent with masks and social distancing, we could have a bad winter.

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(Updated at 9:50 a.m.) After holding steady for more than a week, the number of new coronavirus hospitalizations in Arlington have jumped over the past few days.

Eleven new hospitalizations have been reported since Tuesday, according to Virginia Dept. of Health data. The cumulative total now stands at 448.

Two new coronavirus deaths were also reported in the county on Thursday, the first in three weeks, bringing the cumulative total of local fatalities to 137.

The new hospitalizations and deaths come as new cases in Arlington remain elevated. The seven-day trailing total of new cases hit a new summertime peak of 176 yesterday, but has since come down to 160, with 26 new cases reported today.

Arlington’s COVID-19 test positivity rate, meanwhile, continues to tick up. It currently stands at 5.5%, compared to 4.3% one week prior and 6.6% statewide.

Northern Virginia has been lagging D.C. and Maryland in combating a rise in cases this summer, though the region as a whole has made progress. More from WTOP:

The region’s positivity numbers for COVID-19 are the lowest they’ve been in over a month, after seeing a spike from June’s phased reopening. When each area loosened coronavirus restrictions, there was a surge of infections that lasted through most of July.

Maryland’s positivity rate is now 3.29%. D.C.’s positivity rate is 3.2%.

Northern Virginia is still struggling. The area saw an increase last week but the positivity rate has dropped back below 6% in the last few days.

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Virginia Hospital Center (1701 N. George Mason Drive) has opened up a new suite of patient rooms, each a bit larger than the typical hospital rooms with some features designed with COVID-19 in mind.

“Virginia Hospital Center’s new 4th floor patient unit and nurses’ station opened in August, adding 21 more private rooms that are 30% larger than VHC’s standard rooms,” a spokesperson for the hospital said in a statement. “The interior design of the new unit continues the clean, modern aesthetic of the VHC campus creating a comforting space for patients and families.”

The hospital said that each room will have a bathroom and shower, with individual temperature controls, televisions, a sofa for families, a reclining chair and bench.

Perhaps the most important feature, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, is that each room can be converted to negative pressure, which lowers air pressure and requires any air leaving the room to pass through a filter.

“Each patient room also has the ability to convert to negative pressure — an important feature when treating patients with highly contagious conditions, such as COVID-19,” the hospital said. “Negative pressure traps and keeps potentially harmful air particles within the room by preventing internal air from leaving the space.”

The floor plan for the new unit also includes high-visibility nurses’ stations, along with private patient and family consultation rooms and a new lobby.

“Every aspect of the new unit was carefully designed with the needs of both patients and caregivers in mind,” the hospital said, “and to create a nurturing environment that is conducive to healing.”

Separately, Virginia Hospital Center is in the midst of a major expansion project.

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Crowding on sidewalks, which has occurred outside Arlington bars on recent weekends, has significant potential to spread the coronavirus, according to local infectious disease experts.

Confirming fears held by county officials and residents, infectious disease specialists at Virginia Hospital Center and George Mason University said the lack of physical distancing in these crowds, varying levels of mask wearing and the social environment makes the risk of coronavirus spread high.

Sidewalk crowds have become an increasing common sight during Arlington’s weekend nightlife, due to capacity restrictions inside venues. Long lines have formed outside spots like The Lot and Whitlow’s in Clarendon, leading some to fret about the implications on social media.

According to Dr. Kathryn Jacobsen, a professor of global health and epidemiology at George Mason University, pedestrians out for a stroll are not likely to contract the disease, but those standing in a crowd shirking the ordinance are in greater danger.

“There is little risk of infection if two people briefly cross paths walking in opposite directions on a sidewalk, but there is a high risk of the infection spreading if dozens or hundreds of people crowd together at a bar or club for several hours and one patron has coronavirus infection,” Jacobsen said. “That’s how we get superspreader events.”

Photos of the lines and crowds also show only a limited number of people wearing masks. While an exposed face allows for infectious droplets to travel unimpeded, Dr. Amira Roess, also a professor of global health and epidemiology at George Mason University, said prolonged time spent not physically distant is unsafe even with masks.

“Standing in line with masks on less than six feet apart from individuals outside of your family or closed social circle for more than 15 minutes is considered an exposure and these types of exposures should be avoided,” Roess said.

The experts all said being outside is safer than indoors, but there are still risks that customers at restaurants and bars with outdoor seating often underestimate.

Dr. Jennifer Primeggia, a Fellow of the Infectious Disease Society of America and specialist in the Virginia Hospital Center Physician Group, said virus particles can still travel within compact outside seating.

“Generally, being outdoors is safer than being indoors because there is more clean air for the droplets to disperse,” Primeggia said. “There is still a risk of exposure to infectious particles when social distancing is not practiced. Additionally, multiple studies have shown that factors such as wind can disperse particles further than six feet.”

With local coronavirus cases on the rise, the Arlington County Board approved an emergency ordinance two weeks ago “prohibiting groups of more than three people from congregating on streets and sidewalks posted with the restrictions, and requiring pedestrians to maintain at least six feet of physical separation from others on the posted streets and sidewalks.”

The ordinance has gotten pushback, even among those who believe such crowding poses a health danger.

The law “seems well-intentioned but flawed,” Arlington Transportation Commission Chair Chris Slatt wrote last week, adding that it “appears to criminalize common behaviors.” The Arlington Chamber of Commerce also penned a letter opposing it, saying that the ordinance was “constructed hastily, leading to confusion and missed opportunities to develop a better policy.” Others pointed out that it has the potential to prevent families from walking down the street and to lead to inequitable enforcement.

Nonetheless, the county’s new ordinance is seen by the experts as a step in the right direction to reducing disease spread, so long as it is obeyed and succeeds in breaking up the crowds.

“This ordinance highlights the importance of social distancing and wearing masks even outdoors,” Roess said. “However, if this ordinance is not enforced then it will not be effective.”

The police department plans to begin issuing violations and fines that are not to exceed $100 following a public education campaign about the ordinance and the posting of signs, the county said shortly after it passed..

Photo courtesy Brad Haywood

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(Updated at 1:15 p.m.) There’s good news and bad news when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic in Arlington.

The bad news is that the rate of new cases reached a fresh two-month high over the weekend. On Saturday, the seven-day trailing total of new cases reached 156, the highest point since June 2, as the county came down from the peak of its epidemic.

As of this morning, that seven-day total has dropped to 146, with 14 new cases reported overnight, according to Virginia Dept. of Health data.

Also over the weekend, the state as a whole hit a new peak in cases, with 1,307 new cases reported throughout Virginia on Saturday

In Alexandria, Arlington’s neighbor to the south, there are concerns about a virus resurgence.

The president of Inova Alexandria Hospital told our sister site ALXnow that hospital teams are “exhausted” and “burned out” from treating COVID-19 patients.

In Arlington, however, hospitalizations remain low. In fact, there has only been one new reported COVID-related hospitalization in the county over the past week. The cumulative total of hospitalizations — currently 437 — has risen by only 41 over the past two months.

In his latest weekly Facebook post, Virginia Hospital Center emergency room chief Mike Silverman said the hospital is not seeing the level of seriously ill patients it once did.

“Our data continues to look good. Our percent positive rate within the hospital remains low and the number of patients we’re evaluating who require our ‘COVID isolation’ status dropped to the lowest number this past week that we’ve seen in months,” he wrote. “We are caring for COVID patients every day, but I’m not seeing any indication this past week that makes me think next week will be a lot worse. Something to watch.”

There are concerns, however, that the seeds of a fall epidemic are being planted by young restaurant- and bar-goers.

Last week DCist reported that contact tracing in the District has revealed an “increasing number” of coronavirus patients had dined at restaurants. Ten percent had also recently traveled.

In Arlington over the weekend, social media was abuzz with images from Clarendon, where large crowds lined sidewalks waiting for entry into popular nightlife venues, like the outdoor beer garden The Lot, flouting a recently-passed emergency ordinance requiring more distance between those queuing up.

Despite worries about the crowds, many experts say outdoor activities in general are considerably safer than indoor activities, including dining.

“We have very little evidence of outdoor transmission. It’s not zero — there are definitely cases reported — but it’s much, much lower than inside,” Gretchen Snoeyenbos Newman, an infectious-disease physician at the University of Washington, told the Washington Post in June.

https://twitter.com/SunniAndTheCity/status/1292291142571220992

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Arlington’s drive-through coronavirus testing site is back in business after a brief hiatus.

The testing site, across from Washington-Liberty High School, closed around the end of June but reopened on Tuesday. Quest Diagnostics is now partnering with the county to conduct the testing, taking over from Virginia Hospital Center.

The change was necessary as the VHC needed to bring its staff back to the hospital.

“As Virginia continues to move forward with reopening, Virginia Hospital Center is resuming many medical and surgical services and welcoming members of the community back to the hospital to receive previously delayed care,” spokeswoman Maryanne Boster tells ARLnow. “This transition requires the full attention of our entire staff, so in order to provide the highest quality care to our patients we brought the VHC employees previously staffing the drive-through COVID-19 Sample Collection Site on Quincy Street back to the Hospital.”

“VHC shared this needed transition in conversations with Quest and Arlington County in May to provide ample time for the service to continue,” Boster added. “Virginia Hospital Center continues to work closely with Arlington County and partners like the Arlington Free Clinic to support the walk-up COVID-19 Sample Collection Site at Arlington Mill and additional projects to address the health of the Arlington community.”

The reopening of the drive-through testing center comes as Arlington sees a minor uptick in new COVID-19 cases. A week after Virginia entered Phase 3 of its reopening, the trailing seven-day rate of new cases in Arlington is now 74. It reached a low of 42 on June 29.

There were eight new coronavirus cases, one new death and no new hospitalizations reported overnight, according to Virginia Dept. of Health data. The number of cumulative COVID-19 cases in Arlington currently stands at 2,558.

After weeks of a declining epidemic, the rate of new cases in Virginia is starting to slowly rise, according to an analysis by RT.live. The states surrounding Virginia — Maryland, West Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee — all have rising epidemic curves, according to the website. The District of Columbia, on the other hand, continues to see a declining epidemic.

Taken as a whole, the D.C. region is seeing a notable uptick in new cases.

“D.C., Maryland, and Virginia reported the second-highest combined number of COVID-19 cases in almost a month on Tuesday,” DCist reported today.

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Morning Notes

March Planned Tonight in Crystal City — “This Tuesday (6/30) we will be gathering in Crystal City Courtyard Green to march to Pentagon City in defense of Black womxn.” [Twitter]

Petition for APS to Require Masks — “To maximize the chances of success for Arlington Public Schools (Virginia) hybrid return to school model we urge the School Board and Superintendent Dr. Francisco Durán to make face coverings compulsory for both students and teachers during the days they are at school for in-person learning. Those who object to wearing masks can always choose the distance-learning option.” [Change.org]

Local Church to Feed Thousands — “On Wednesday, July 1, 2020, Our Lady Queen of Peace (OLQP) in south Arlington is working with José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen (WCK) to feed families in need of food assistance. World Central Kitchen is providing 3,500 meals to OLQP for distribution to the community. Meals will be offered to take home in conjunction with pre-packed food the OLQP food pantry distributes every Wednesday morning. This is the second time WCK will be providing meals to OLQP during the pandemic.” [Catholic Diocese of Arlington]

Catholic Churches Enter ‘Phase 3’ — “All 70 parishes in the Catholic Diocese of Arlington will move into phase three of Virginia’s reopening plan on Wednesday. Officials announced Monday that each parish is ‘able, but not mandated, to celebrate public Mass with capacity restrictions lifted’ beginning on July 1.” [Fox 5]

County Adjusts Committee Meeting Rules — “After facing a rebellion from members and chairs of advisory commissions, the Arlington County Board has revised rules for holding meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps the two biggest changes from the original plans: Commission chairs (apparently) will no longer have to seek county-staff permission to hold meetings. Advisory-group meetings will be allowed in-person or in a hybrid format, in addition to the previously announced “virtual”-only arrangement.” [InsideNova]

New Construction Contract for VHC Inked — “Skanska USA has inked more work with Virginia Hospital Center as the Arlington hospital soldiers on with its $250 million expansion project. The construction company said Monday it signed a contract worth $96 million for site work for the new outpatient pavilion and parking garage at the hospital. That’s on top of a $37 million contract with VHC it grabbed late last year.” [Washington Business Journal]

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(Updated at 10:30 a.m.) The rates of new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Arlington have hit new lows, though expanding outbreaks elsewhere in the country raise questions about how long the declines will last.

Only 28 new COVID-19 cases have been reported since Friday, according to Virginia Dept. of Health data. The trailing seven-day total of new cases is now 78, the lowest mark since April 4.

Three new COVID-related hospitalizations have been reported since Friday, bringing the trailing seven-day hospitalization total down to just seven, the lowest hospitalization rate since ARLnow started tracking such data in April.

No new coronavirus deaths were reported over the weekend.

As of Monday morning, VDH listed a cumulative total of 2,424 cases, 412 hospitalizations and 126 deaths in Arlington. The county’s coronavirus test positivity rate is now just 5.3%, another new low.

The declining outbreak has been noticeable in the emergency room, according to a public Facebook post from Virginia Hospital Center ER chief Mike Silverman.

“This was a good week for our ED,” Silverman wrote. “Our COVID isolation patient volume (the way we track patients in the computer) did not increase compared to last week. Our admission rate was actually lower than it’s been in months for this patient group and our percent positive rate is dropping.”

Silverman, however, noticed a new trend: many of those enjoying the newfound freedom of going out to bars and restaurants are partying hard.

“In many ways, it resembled a typical summer weekend,” Silverman wrote about the first weekend of Virginia’s Phase 2 reopening, which started on Friday, June 12. “We had traumas, lots of alcohol related illness, and psychiatric patients. What was unusual from the alcohol perspective was the number of highly intoxicated people who were brought directly from bars. People partied hard. What was equally concerning were the reports we were getting from medics about bars being packed shoulder to shoulder with people and no one wearing masks.”

A Twitter user noted one such scene in Clarendon this weekend.

Among the states with expanding outbreaks, a common thread is that the upward momentum seems to have started with reopening. And the new cases are skewing younger, suggesting that bars and social gatherings may be playing a role.

So far, the data here has continued trending positive and Arlington — as well as Northern Virginia as a whole — has not seen the reopening uptick other states and localities have experienced. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, meanwhile, is still holding off on moving the reopening to Phase 3, which some experts fear could be the catalyst that pushes cases and hospitalizations back up.

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