We are in this together to save the lives of people in Fairfax County, the Commonwealth of Virginia, the nation and across the globe – a fight against COVID-19. It's real; it's here, and this is not a test. Take it seriously. Cesar del Aguila, Town of Herndon Councilmember, reflected on the week's events late Sunday night, March 15. "This is a generational transformation to our country and culture. This will affect everything. How we work, communicate and congregate," he said.
During the days leading up to Sunday, March 15, events related to COVID-19 escalate. Residents and leaders in the Town of Herndon, nearby communities of Reston and Great Falls, Fairfax County, the Commonwealth of Virginia, the nation and globally try to make sense of it and how best to respond. They consider needs and risks as COVID-19 spreads.
Tuesday, March 10: The World Health Organization releases the statement: "The International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC), UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) today issued new guidance to help protect children and schools from transmission of the COVID-19 virus... In the event of school closures, the guidance includes recommendations to mitigate against the possible negative impacts on children's learning and well-being. This means having solid plans in place to ensure the continuity of learning, including remote learning options such as online education strategies and radio broadcasts of academic content, and access to essential services for all children.”
In Fairfax County, Health Director Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu and Benjamin Schwartz M.D., Division Director, Epidemiology and Population Health, Health Department, provide a coronavirus (COVID-19) briefing to the Board of Supervisors at its regular meeting. "What you will hear today is the Health Department turning up that dial-in collaboration with partners like the healthcare community, schools and businesses, community organizations and leaders of our diverse ethnic communities and places of worship and so on...and minimize potential impact of this global public threat on our community," says Addo-Ayensu.
Schwartz addresses the Supervisors. "The spread is mainly from person-to-person through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes...those droplets do not remain suspended in the air…and only travel less than six feet. That is our magic distance," he said... Is this going to be a global pandemic that engulfs our communities and our country?" says Schwartz. "Certainly, we cannot predict the future, but I think there is a better question than what can we predict, and that is what we should be planning for," he says.
Wednesday, March 11: The World Health Organization officially declares the new coronavirus disease COVID-19 a pandemic. It is rapidly spreading far and wide.
Thursday, March 12: COVID-19 becomes a reality in Fairfax County. At a press conference that evening, Jeff McKay, Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, says, "It is a challenging and evolving situation, but we are well prepared in Fairfax County." Dr. Scott Brabrand Superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools says they will guide with a "tiered approach" collaborating with local medical authorities and others. He adds that the public schools will stay open because there is no evidence of "community spread" in the Northern Virginia area of the virus, according to health officials.
At 11:34 p.m. that evening Fairfax Schools @ fcps tweets: "All FCPS schools will be closed Friday, March 13, 2020. School offices and central offices will open on time with an unscheduled leave policy in effect for 12-month employees. (Condition 2). More details to follow."
Friday, March 13: World Health Organization announces: "More than 132,000 cases of COVID-19 have now been reported to WHO, from 123 countries and territories. 5,000 people have lost their lives, a tragic milestone. Europe has now become the epicenter of the pandemic, with more reported cases and deaths than the rest of the world combined, apart from China. More cases are now being reported every day than were reported in China at the height of its epidemic...Our message to countries continues to be: you must take a comprehensive approach. Not testing alone. Not contact tracing alone. Not quarantine alone. Not social distancing alone. Do it all."
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam declares a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic as public school districts across the Commonwealth start to announce closures. "Quite frankly, we're getting mixed messages from the federal government. We find that unacceptable, so I'm taking the lead on this, but we will do everything and continue to do everything in Virginia to keep Virginians safe," says Northam. A declaration is an administrative tool that allows for additional flexibility in dealing with the virus.
Fairfax County Public Schools announces schools closed through April 10; for staff who work less than 12 months, schools closed for at least two weeks. According to the Fairfax County Public Schools website: "We will reassess schools reopening for those staff members after two weeks, and we will make that decision no later than Friday, March 27...Schools will be open on Monday, March 16, to assist with providing technology to students in grades 3-8 that do not have technology at home."
St. Joseph Catholic School in Herndon announces it is closed until Apr. 10. However, students can access the building to gather materials for distance learning, which begins Tuesday, March 17.
Fairfax County Emergency Information, Fairfax Alerts posts 4:26 p.m.: "Fairfax Alerts: Two new presumptive positive COVID-19 cases announced Friday, March 13 https://bit.ly/2WdrGWW nixle.us/BPC4E
Fairfax County Emergency Information, Fairfax Alerts posts 6:20 p.m.: "March 13 daily update: info on getting tested, school closures, SACC, courts, businesses and more https://bit.ly/3cZ4mST nixle.us/BPCFC"
Shelves at local Costco, Walgreens, Giant and other stores empty of given items, with rationing of goods such as rice, sugar and antiviral cleaning supplies. Home Depot in Reston posts a sign "No N-95 masks."
Emergency food programs stand up overnight at five public schools to cope with food insecurity for some of the community's neediest. At Hutchison Elementary School in Herndon, Dawn Dzurilla, food manager at Terraset Elementary School in Reston, helps out. She stands on the sidewalk in front of a table piled high with grab-and-go-meals. In the first thirty minutes of being open, she reports 96 free lunches served at no cost to students and 12 adult lunches at $2 each distributed. Plans are to expand the food distribution to other schools the week of March 16, according to the FCPS website. A spokesperson for Fairfax County Schools confirms, "The grab-and-go meals are available to anyone, regardless of age or residency."
In the Town of Herndon, a handwritten sign inside the Herndon Community Center reads, "HCC Classes CANCELLED Friday @12:00 until Sunday night." The hallway is empty. No one is in the gym, two people are in the exercise room and one person is in the pool. At an adjacent outdoor playground, a woman, who asked not to be identified, sits with a bottle of sanitizer in her hands and watches children from a karate studio play on the equipment.
Saturday, March 14: Fairfax County Emergency Information, Fairfax Alerts posts: "Four new presumptive positive COVID-19 cases announced Saturday. Details: https://bit.ly/38Knv7G nixle.us/BPEQN
"The total number of (COVID-19) cases in the Fairfax Health District is now 10. The results are considered presumptive, pending confirmation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has not yet occurred for any of the cases." The alert adds: "One of the individuals is a Fairfax County Public Schools teacher at Lynbrook Elementary School."
The release quotes Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu, Director of Health with the Fairfax County Health Department, to say: "At this time, there is no evidence of sustained community spread of the novel coronavirus, and the risk to the general FCPS community remains low."
Reston Community Center announces on its website: "RCC will follow Fairfax County Government decision-making and guidance...Our facilities are receiving added hygienic cleaning attention regularly...Aquatics Patrons: The CDC has issued the following guidance with respect to the ability of people to use swimming pools during the pandemic: There is no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread to humans through the use of pools and hot tubs." As of 3:30 p.m., RCC cancels 15 programs and events at its Lake Anne Community Center. Only two programs remain open.
The Virginia Department of Health reports the state's first COVID-19 death, a hospitalized man in his 70s who previously tested positive for COVID-19 and died of respiratory failure after acquiring the virus through an unknown source.
Sunday, March 15: Closures trend. "VDH (Virginia Department of Health) is no longer reporting the pending number of tests as testing capacity has expanded to include commercial laboratories. Commercial laboratories report all results to VDH," according to the Virginia Department of Health.
At 1:08 p.m. Fairfax County Emergency Information posts: Senior Centers, Adult Day Health Care Centers closed effective immediately. Details: https://bit.ly/39To4xm nixle.us/BPFN4.
Additionally, beginning Monday, March 16, Fairfax County will provide meal delivery service to registered participants who wish to obtain them. County staff will be contacting participants and caregivers directly to make those arrangements."
At 4:46 p.m., Fairfax County Emergency Information posts: "Fairfax Alerts: Park, library and other community facilities to close for two weeks. Details: https://bit.ly/39To4xm nixle.us/BPFN4
At 6:07 p.m., Fairfax County Emergency Information posts: Fairfax Alerts: Guidance for community events includes state ban on gatherings of more than 100. Details: https://bit.ly/33lYm2b nixle.us/BPGBJ
The Herndon Community Center and Tennis Bubble close until Mar. 27; preschool classes close until April 10, according to the Herndon Parks and Recreation Facebook page.
At 7:43 p.m., Fairfax County Emergency Information posts: "Fairfax Alerts: Circuit Court open Monday, General District Court cancels all dockets (GDC bond hearings will continue)."
Meanwhile, small crowds are out and about at weekend events in the northwestern area of Fairfax County. An indoor Farmers Market in Great Falls Saturday at the Grange draws a reported 100 patrons over the four hours of operation, with individuals spread out over the two floors. In Herndon, families and individuals stroll and cycle on the W&OD Trail. In Reston, the Kalypso Sports Bar Leprechaun arrives by pontoon boat, docking at Lake Anne. He distributes gold coins, much to the delight of the 10-person crowd. In Herndon, patrons visit a local nursery planning their next garden.
Current information on the COVID-19 pandemic changes not just daily but hourly. Situation reports are being updated; facts presented and myths knocked down. Reliable information can be sourced from local to global sites such as:
Fairfax County - Fairfax County Health Department www.fairfaxcounty.gov/health/novel-coronavirus
Call 703-267-3511. The center is open from 9:30 a.m. until 9 p.m. on weekdays and from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends. Residents can text FFXCOVID to 888777 to receive updates from Fairfax County about COVID-19.
State of Virginia – Commonwealth of Virginia Health Department: Virginia Department of Health (VDH) www.vdh.virginia.gov/coronavirus
National Center for Disease Control and Prevention: www.cdc.gov/covid19.
Global – World Health Organization: https://www.who.int
The Connection asked residents to reflect on how COVID-19 was affecting their lives.
Elaine Sadid, of Great Falls, Farmers Market Manager, Winter Indoor Market located at the Great Falls Grange, 9818 Georgetown Pike Great Falls: We are planning to be outdoors the first week in April, on April 4. Open-air, open space. People can walk around with social distancing. Even when we are indoors in the winter, there are only approximately 25 people an hour. There is an upstairs and downstairs space.