Arlington, VA

(Updated 4 p.m.) Since Girl Scout cookie season started, troops in north Arlington have donated 671 boxes to their hometown heroes: the staff at Virginia Hospital Center.

“It’s very local and very personal,” said Dorine Andrews, the Service Unit Manager for the local scouts. “[VHC] is a real institution in Northern Virginia, and we really feel that the healthcare workers are overworked.”

One of the troops — six Glebe Elementary 3rd grade girls of Brownie troop #60229 — harnessed the power of Instagram to sell 1,415 boxes, 395 of which they donated to VHC, she said. The troop with the second-most boxes, #60160, donated 59 boxes.

“None of the other troops have really done what this troop has done in terms of social media,” Andrews said. “It really worked well.”

The third-grade entrepreneurs used Instagram to work around some limitations to the online Girl Scout cookie platform, she said.

“The system works fairly well for buying cookies online, but for any kind of custom donations, it’s very difficult,” Andrews said. “I think these girls and their parents were incredibly creative.”

The cookies will be distributed via a “sunshine cart,” which one employee volunteers to wheel through the hospital, distributing snacks to boost morale, said Hilary Phillips, the executive assistant to the president at Virginia Hospital Center Foundation.

“We are thrilled that our local Girl Scout Service Unit has adopted Virginia Hospital Center as its ‘Hometown Hero,’ collecting more than 650 boxes of cookies to share with our staff,” Phillips said in a statement. “We continue to be grateful for the incredible support we receive from the Arlington Community.”

Phillips said the foundation tries to feed staff who work directly with COVID-19 patients, which works out to about 140 people each shift. Other local organizations have also pitched in.

The Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization has donated thousands of lunches to nurses. Local startup HUNGRY facilitated the donation of 600 meals to VHC in January, in addition to its other local food donation efforts.

But Phillips is looking for more support.

“Now I’m going on local people calling out of goodness of people’s heart,” she said.

Donations can be made by going to the foundation’s donation page and select “Healthy Meals for Clinical Staff by TryHungry.com.” Those who want to loop in a local restaurant through their donations can contact Phillips directly at [email protected]virginiahospitalcenter.com

Those interested in donating cookies can email Andrews at  [email protected].

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(Updated 4:30 p.m.) Arlington County officials are acknowledging the fear, anger and frustration people feel and are asking for patience as vaccine plans change.

During the County Board meeting on Saturday, board member Libby Garvey said the state and federal governments are “moving the goalposts, changing the rules and switching out equipment.” County Manager Mark Schwartz said that in the distribution process, “chaos is reigning.”

“I hear the pain and the upset and I don’t blame people for feeling that way,” Garvey later told ARLnow.

About 50% of Virginians are eligible for doses because of their age, job or health condition, but the state is telling local jurisdictions that it will take until March or April to get through this group unless the slow drip of supply from the federal government is sped up.

“There are simply not enough doses available yet for everyone who is eligible to receive them,” said Craig Fifer, a liaison on vaccines between the state and local governments.

During the Saturday County Board meeting, when the news that Virginia Hospital Center had to cancel thousands of appointments was still fresh, Board member Christian Dorsey mused that the county cannot solve the bigger problems, but it can explain them better.

“Maybe we can lean into our role of helping our community understand [the rollout],” he said.

Here’s what we know.

Who has been vaccinated?

According to the state vaccine dashboard, nearly 24,000 doses have been shipped to Arlington County but as of this week, only 7,850 of them have gone to Arlington Public Health Division. Some went to VHC and others are earmarked for the federal partnership with CVS and Walgreens to vaccinate long-term care residents.

Public Health Division spokesman Ryan Hudson also attributed the gap to reporting delays, since providers sometimes take up to 72 hours to log administered doses.

Arlington County is not “holding onto the vaccine, except [to get] ready for the following week,” Arlington County’s Public Health Director Dr. Reuben Varghese said on Saturday. He said he saves about 10% of vaccines as a contingency until a new shipment comes.

Hudson said that the county’s public health division and VHC can together administer at least 2,000 doses per day, based on infrastructure, staff and preparation.

“We can do more if we were assured a greater supply of doses from Virginia,” he said.

Virginia is currently receiving approximately 105,000 new doses per week, a pace that could increase by 16% in the near future, said Fifer, who also serves as communications director for the City of Alexandria.

Like Arlington, the Commonwealth is seeing gaps between delivered and administered doses. The state has worked to close these gaps by redistributing doses, reducing data entry backlogs and accounting for the status of doses sent to CVS and Walgreens, Fifer said. About half of doses marked as received, but not administered, are earmarked for second doses.

Who is eligible?

About 50% of Virginia is currently eligible under Phase 1B, which Gov. Ralph Northam has expanded to those 65 and older and those younger than 65 with high-risk medical conditions.

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Morning Notes

VHC Cancels Vaccine Appointments — “One of the main COVID-19 vaccine providers in Arlington, Virginia had to cancel about 10,000 appointments for people scheduled to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine because there wasn’t enough supply. Virginia Hospital Center was operating a vaccine clinic at the Walter Reed Community Center for residents 75 and older, but Friday the Virginia Department of Health announced that going forward, allotments of vaccine will only go to local health districts” [NBC 4, Arlington County]

Most VHC Staff Has Been Vaccinated — “Among the first groups to receive COVID-19 vaccines have been front-line medical providers, and in the first weeks of availability, almost 8,000 doses have been administered to those in the Virginia Hospital Center community. ‘The COVID vaccines have been well-received, and I would guesstimate that about 70 percent of Virginia Hospital Center employees and medical staff have received at least the first dose of the vaccine,’ said David Lee, M.D., senior vice president and chief medical officer at the hospital.” [InsideNova]

School Reopening Metrics Improving — From Arlington School Board Vice Chair Barbara Kanninen: “Arlington’s school metrics remain in the ‘highest risk’ category for cases but secondary metrics continue to improve. Keep it up, Arlington. We appear to be past the holiday peak, which is great news.” [Twitter]

School Opening Protest Draws Crowd — ” After more than 300 days of virtual learning, some Arlington Public Schools families are demanding a return to the classroom for their students. About 150 people came out for the Arlington Parents for Education’s rally Saturday at Quincy Park, where both parents and students spoke about the hardships they’ve faced with virtual learning.” [WUSA 9, Fox 5]

Central Library Closed Due to COVID CaseUpdated at 9:25 a.m. — “Central Library’s Holds Pickup Service will close at 4 p.m. on Sunday, January 24 and will remain closed on Monday, January 25 after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19. This staff member did not have recent contact with the general public and there is no concern for exposure to library patrons.” [Facebook]

Snow Expected Tonight — “Precipitation breaks out sometime after 3 p.m., probably starting as light rain before changing to a sleet/snow mix. Mixed precipitation will continue to fall lightly through midnight, probably changing back to light rain overnight. High temperatures in the mid- to upper 30s. Accumulations in the D.C. metro area will be mostly confined to grassy surfaces.” [Capital Weather Gang]

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(Update at 8:05 pm) The Arlington County Board will vote on Saturday to expand the partnership with Virginia Hospital Center for administering COVID-19 vaccines to the public.

The memorandum of understanding lays out how VHC would manage the online appointment system, operate vaccination clinics, bill insurance, and provide individuals with their proof of vaccination, on behalf of the county.

In turn, Arlington County agrees to order the vaccine from the state at VHC’s request, provide adequate location and space for the clinics, and manage a call center for those unable to make an appointment online.

The agreement would be retroactive to January 13.

County Manager Mark Schwartz recommends the approval and ratification of this agreement, which would also allow him to decide the location of such clinics and make similar agreements “with other entities for provision of space for pop-up vaccination events, consistent with the terms of the template MOU.”

While this agreement does not specify the locations of the clinics, community centers, school auditoriums, and pharmacies have all been discussed as possibilities. The Pentagon parking lot, however, likely will not be the site of a county vaccination clinic, according to Arlington’s health director.

VHC and the county announced a partnership agreement earlier this month for a vaccination clinic for residents over the age of 75.

However, as of Thursday (Jan. 21), VHC has closed scheduling for vaccinations. Today, the hospital posted the following update.

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) announced that going forward, disbursements of vaccines will go only to local health districts. Hospitals in Virginia will no longer receive vaccines directly from VDH.

As a result of this change, Virginia Hospital Center must cancel all future first dose appointments at our community vaccine clinics, including the Walter Reed Community Clinic and the VHC Physician Group clinic beginning with appointments that are scheduled for Jan. 26, 2021 and thereafter.

This change does not affect those receiving a second dose. If you already received your first dose at the VHC Physician Group or a VHC-run community vaccine clinic, you will still receive your second dose at the same location on your originally scheduled date and time.

The agreement that will be voted on will cover the over 75 vaccine clinic and other existing efforts, as well as additional clinics and administration tasks going forward, according to Ryan Hudson, the acting public information officer for the Arlington County Public Health Division.

“Arlington County is prepared to ramp up and expedite appointments as soon as the County receives additional doses from Virginia,” he wrote in an email to ARLnow.

Arlington County has faced criticism in recent days for the slow rollout of vaccines and an appointment system not working as promised. County officials have also previously said that all the necessary tasks needed to vaccinate Arlington residents would put a huge administrative burden on staff.

A constant refrain from County officials is that the Virginia Health Department is not providing enough vaccine doses to the county, which is slowing efforts. Other Northern Virginia localities have expressed similar complaints about a lack of vaccine supply from the Commonwealth.

The pace of vaccinations in Arlington has been quickening, nonetheless.

The current seven-day moving average of vaccine doses administered in Arlington is currently 545 per day, according to an ARLnow analysis of state health department data. As of Friday morning, a total of 8,385 doses have been administered and 735 people have been fully vaccinated, with two doses about one month apart.

Coronavirus cases in Arlington, meanwhile, have slowed after peaking ten days ago. The current seven-day moving average of new COVID cases in the county is 83 cases per day, down from 123 cases per day on Jan. 12.

A total of 26 COVID-related hospitalizations and nine deaths have been reported over the past week.

Screenshot from VHC video

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More than 10,000 coronavirus cases have been diagnosed in Arlington since the start of the pandemic.

The county passed that milestone this morning, as 120 new cases were reported, bringing the cumulative total to 10,117.

Arlington’s one-week trailing average of new daily cases also reached a new pandemic peak today: 118 cases per day. One new COVID-related death and 16 new hospitalizations were reported today in the county.

New coronavirus records are also being set statewide.

“Virginia reported new single-day and seven-day records for new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, and hospitalizations for the virus hit another high,” InsideNova reported. “The Virginia Department of Health also reported 69 new deaths related to COVID-19 on Saturday, the second-most ever, behind 96 on Sept. 15, when a backlog of death certificates were recorded. Overall, the state has recorded 264 deaths over the past seven days, making it one of the deadliest weeks ever since the pandemic began.”

The rate of vaccinations in Arlington, meanwhile, has picked up a bit since last week. VDH reported 303 new vaccinations in the county today, bringing the total number of doses distributed locally to 3,294.

Arlington is among the Virginia jurisdictions entering Phase 1b of vaccine distribution this week. That priority group includes “Persons aged 75 and older; Police, Fire, and Hazmat; Corrections and homeless shelter workers; Childcare/K-12 Teachers/Staff; Food and Agriculture (including Veterinarians); Manufacturing; Grocery store workers; Public transit workers; Mail carriers (USPS and private); Officials needed to maintain continuity of government.”

The county is currently pre-registering employers of those in the Phases 1b and 1c groups. Arlington is also partnering with Virginia Hospital Center to set up a new vaccination clinic. More from social media:

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

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(Updated at 3:45 p.m.) Vaccine distribution in Virginia started three weeks ago, and in Arlington County, the focus remains on healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities.

Officials say widespread distribution is still months away.

“We certainly share the enthusiasm about the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine in Virginia, and we appreciate everyone’s patience during this initial rollout,” Ryan Hudson, the acting public information officer for the Arlington County Public Health Division, told ARLnow in an email.

“As quantities are limited, [the vaccine] may not be widely available to the general public until at least mid-2021,” he said.

As of this morning, 2,216 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Arlington County, according to Virginia Department of Health statistics. At the current vaccination rate — around 150 per day — it would take more than three years to vaccinate Arlington’s adult population. The county, meanwhile, saw 121 new coronavirus cases reported today.

Statewide, 116,247 doses of the vaccine have been administered.

Gov. Ralph Northam acknowledged during a press conference on Wednesday that the state could be going faster. To that end, he announced a state goal of administering 25,000 vaccine doses a day in the coming weeks.

Virginia is planning for a weekly allocation of about 50,000 doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines apiece, Hudson said. The actual amount received, however, depends on “when and how quickly vaccination doses are manufactured,” he said.

Arlington County is following the vaccine prioritization list that Northam outlined. The focus through the spring will be on people categorized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state authorities into Phases 1A, 1B and 1C.

The state is currently in Phase 1A, immunizing doctors, EMT workers, nurses, and those who live in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

A Virginia Hospital Center spokeswoman said its allotment of doses of the vaccine have been allocated to staff or an affiliated frontline health worker.

“The first wave of over 2,000 VHC physicians and employees are receiving their second dose of the vaccine this week,” she said. “The second wave of staff received their first dose in late December and will return for the boost in late January.”

The hospital downplayed reports that some members of the general public are being given the chance to receive excess vaccine doses that would otherwise go to waste.

Doctors affiliated with VHC were told that the hospital received excess dosage that would made available to the general public, and several people successfully scheduled appointments, a reader who wishes to remain anonymous told ARLnow. The reader was able to successfully make an appointment to get the vaccine, which was confirmed with a screenshot.

Maryanne Boster, director of corporate communications at VHC, affirmed Thursday afternoon that the hospital is following VDH guidelines for vaccine distribution.

“The scheduling system referenced is intended for healthcare providers and their staff,” she said in a statement. “Individuals accessed the site and scheduled appointments. We have since corrected the issue. Virginia Hospital Center continues to offer the vaccine to those who meet the criteria defined as the highest priority in Phase 1A and is committed to using all of our allotted vaccines.”

In Arlington, distribution will expand to 1B as supplies and resources increase, Hudson said.

Phase 1B includes those who are 75 years and older, as well as: firefighters, police officers, teachers, hazmat workers, grocery store workers, food processing plant workers, agriculture workers, mail carriers, and those who work in transit and corrections.

Teachers make this bracket because “they’re critical to getting schools open and getting people back to work,” Northam said.

It will take “well into the spring” to immunize Phases 1A and 1B, roughly 2 million people, he said.

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Vaccinations are underway at Virginia Hospital Center.

Healthcare workers at Arlington hospital are receiving some of the first does of the recently-authorized Pfizer vaccine.

The hospital at 1701 N. George Mason Drive administered 500 COVID-19 vaccines yesterday, with another 1,450 doses expected to be administered through Saturday.

“VHC was one of 18 hospitals in Virginia to receive a portion of the initial Pfizer vaccine shipment,” according to a press release, adding that it “was one of the first hospitals in Northern Virginia to secure the necessary equipment to store and distribute the COVID-19 vaccine.”

In all, Virginia is receiving an initial vaccine distribution of nearly a half-million doses, set to go to healthcare workers, first responders and those in long-term care facilities.

“Virginia Hospital Center is thrilled to have this opportunity to vaccinate our front-line workers,” said Rohit Modak, MD, the hospital’s infectious disease chief, in a statement. “While we are definitely not out of the woods just yet, and people should remain vigilant about masking and social distancing guidelines, the arrival of this vaccine brings us hope that we are approaching the end of this pandemic.”

More vaccine is on the way, the hospital says.

“VHC expects to receive an additional shipment of vaccine before the end of the year and will distribute the doses in accordance with CDC and state guidelines,” the press release notes.

On social media, hospital workers expressed their appreciation.

VHC released the following video of the vaccine distribution.

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Arlington’s cumulative coronavirus case count has passed the 7,000 mark, only two weeks after it crossed 6,000.

By contrast, it took more than 70 days over the summer to go from 2,000 to 3,000 cases.

Over the past two days, the county has reported 158 additional cases, 7 new hospitalizations and 4 COVID-related deaths. Arlington’s seven-day trailing case count is now 645, or an average of 92.1 cases per day, a new record.

The county’s test positivity rate currently stands at 8.4%, according to Virginia Dept. of Health data.

Disproportionately, the growth in cases in Arlington over the past month has been among those under the age of 40. In total, patients 39 and younger account for 63% of new local cases since Nov. 9.

With the U.S. as a whole experiencing record hospitalizations, Arlington’s hospitalization rate — 11 new hospitalizations over the past seven days — may seem relatively low. That’s at least partially explained by demographics, but the raw hospitalization figure from VDH does not seem to tell the whole story.

At Virginia Hospital Center, a tent used as a “secondary ER waiting room” was set up outside the hospital last week, for the first time since the spring. The number of coronavirus patients at the hospital is rising, according to ER chief Mike Silverman, in a weekly public social media post.

“As a hospital, our inpatient census continues to climb, hitting levels that we haven’t seen since May,” Silverman wrote on Friday. “We have almost double the number of positive cases in every way we look at data — symptomatic, asymptomatic, and total patients… Our positivity rate has almost doubled compared to any week in the recent past.”

In the Emergency Department, “the number of patients we put under COVID isolation protocol, is 15-20% more than we’ve seen the last several weeks,” Silverman added. “We’re admitting slightly more of these patients than the last few weeks.”

Silverman said the hospital is likely to start rolling out vaccinations for front line healthcare workers shortly after an Emergency Use Authorization is granted, perhaps as early as this week.

“Although the vaccine gives us hope and shows the light at the end of the tunnel, we likely have 6 months until there is mass vaccination,” he write. “Hospitals are full. This time everywhere. Every hospital. People are dying. I’m very worried about the number of COVID patients that we’ll take care of over the next couple of months as the surge continues. This is the time to remain diligent and safe.”

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Morning Notes

Arlington’s ‘Bachelorette’ Contestant Talks — “For me, I like the hole-in-the wall bars. Just like, a dive bar where I can just like, grab a beer. Like I love drinking Guinness or some sort of Allagash White or something like that. If I were to go to a bar in Arlington to watch a game, I don’t know — maybe like, First Down in Ballston or like Spider Kelly’s.” [Washingtonian]

CaBi Comes to DCA — “The Capital Bikeshare station at National Airport is live! Traveling to the airport just got a whole lot easier.” [Twitter]

National Landing BID Expanding — “The National Landing Business Improvement District (BID) today announced two new executive appointments and three promotions within the organization.” [National Landing BID]

Fmr. Interim Superintendent Leaves APS — Arlington Public Schools staff wished goodbye to Cintia Johnson, the long-time school staffer who recently served as interim superintendent. [@APSVirginia/Twitter]

Chamber Continues Supporting Dillon Rule — “As part of its 2021 package of legislative priorities, the Chamber of Commerce is continuing its position that the ‘Dillon Rule’ needs to be maintained, and urged members of the General Assembly to do nothing that would lessen it. Leadership of the business organization comes and goes and other policy positions evolve over time, but the Chamber’s support for the Dillon Rule has remained steadfast over the decades.” [InsideNova]

Hospital CEO Staying On, For Now — “Virginia Hospital Center is experiencing some leadership changes — and holding off on others. VHC president and CEO Jim Cole, who’s held the position for 25 of his 35 years with the Arlington hospital, has continued and will remain in the top slot for now after announcing a year ago his intention to retire in September 2020.” [Washington Business Journal]

‘Section 230’ Explained With ARLnow — So what is Section 230, exactly? Per cybersecurity law professor Jeff Kosseff: “[An] example is that I go to my favorite local news site, @ARLnowDOTcom, and post a terrible, defamatory rumor about my neighbor… Neighbor can sue me, but a suit against ARLnow would fail because ARLnow was not responsible in whole or in part for creating or developing my defamatory post.” [@jkosseff/Twitter]

Nearby: Bethesda Encouraging ‘Streeteries’ — “A fund with $1.25 million from federal aid money might help. The county is considering using that money to give outdoor ‘streeteries’ — blocked-off streets filled with tables and chairs for patrons to eat outdoors — tools to prepare for operating during winter, such as heaters.” [Bethesda Magazine]

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Morning Notes

Major Metro Cuts Proposed — “With sharply reduced ridership and lacking fresh federal relief, Metro is proposing a new operating budget with a nearly $500 million deficit. Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said Monday the proposed 2021 budget includes closing Metro rail at 9 p.m., ending weekend service, closing 19 stations and reducing the number of trains, which would result in longer wait times.” Among the stations that would close under the proposal are the Arlington Cemetery, Clarendon, East Falls Church and Virginia Square stations. [WTOP, Washington Post]

County Working on New Payment System — “Arlington officials continue to work on developing a one-stop online presence so the public can pay for a wide array of local-government services from their computers or smartphones. The initiative, being worked on by the treasurer’s office and Department of Technology Services, would go beyond the current CAPP [Customer Assessment and Payment Portal], which allows local residents to pay certain taxes, utility bills and parking tickets online.” [InsideNova]

Renovations for Mostly Vacant Building — “Wheelock Street Capital is seeking to renovate a long-vacant Arlington office building with the hope of attracting companies to the same corridor as Virginia Tech’s planned innovation campus and Amazon.com Inc.’s second headquarters… All of 3550 S. Clark St.’s office space thus far remains vacant. Small portions of the building’s retail space are leased to LA Fitness and child care center operator Bright Horizons.” [Washington Business Journal]

New Charitable Giving Portal — “New Looking for a way to add more charitable giving to the season of giving while supporting your neighbors in need? Arlington Community Foundation is launching its first ever Nonprofit Wish Catalog featuring grant ideas of 24 local nonprofits with wishes of up to $5,000 each this Giving Tuesday.” [Arlington Community Foundation]

Art Event Still On This Weekend — “The Arlington Artists Alliance presents its 18th annual Artful Weekend at Fort C.F. Smith Park. The show, featuring 30 top local Arlington-based artists and held in historic Hendry House at Fort C.F. Smith Park in Arlington, will be held December 4 to 6 this year. The show will feature paintings, ceramics, sculpture and cards, in addition to bins of unframed works.” [Event Calendar]

New Top Doc at VHC — “David Lee, MD, a member of the medical staff of Virginia Hospital Center for 30 years, has been tapped as the hospital’s senior vice president and chief medical officer.” [InsideNova]

It’s December — Today is Dec. 1. After today, there are only 30 days left in 2020.

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