Commentary, Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts: News of Greater Falls Church

“To re-open, or not to re-open” may be a poor paraphrase of Hamlet, but it definitely seems to be the question of the week, or perhaps the month. It’s been 10 weeks since Fairfax County schools closed; 10 weeks since life changed for most Northern Virginia residents, and 10 weeks since many got their most recent haircut (or dye job)! Ten weeks with little or no traffic, 10 weeks of cleaner air, and 10 weeks of wondering “how much longer will this go on?”

Whether as parents of students, or via Zoom conferences for work or keeping in touch with distant family and friends, nearly everyone is figuring out distance learning, how to mute and unmute microphones, and especially how to arrange the camera to avoid looking at nostrils and ceilings. After one virtual meeting, I asked a participant about the curious wall hanging behind him. He confessed it was a virtual backdrop, not actual artwork. I so want to believe that the bookcases and art shown in virtual meetings reflect the real tastes and personalities of participants, not just virtual props selected to impress.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam is balancing the “Hamlet” question with the scientific data provided by the Virginia Department of Health and local health departments. At the same time, there is pressure from some to re-open right away, despite what the metrics tell him. He provided a blueprint for easing of the public health restrictions already in place: a downward trend of positive tests over a 14-day period; a similar downward trend in hospitalizations over 14 days: enough hospital beds and intensive care capacity; an increasing and sustainable supply of personal protective equipment (PPE); and increased testing and contact tracing. In Northern Virginia, the Health Directors indicated that they are either unable to assess those metrics, or the metrics, as outlined, are unmet. Based on that assessment, the Health Directors said that Northern Virginia has not met the criteria for moving into Phase One tomorrow.

That is why several Northern Virginia leaders, whose jurisdictions account for 70 percent of the Commonwealth’s positive Covid-19 cases, asked the governor to consider their perspectives on any reopening decisions he must make. Northern Virginia is the economic engine of the Commonwealth, but that engine has been mostly off-line for months. Re-opening is not as simple as putting the key in the ignition, and returning to daily life as it was before Covid-19. It must be phased, unhurried, and with appropriate PPE. Most importantly, it must be safe, and adhere to the outlined metrics. Northern Virginia isn’t there yet. More time is needed, and governor Northam announced on Tuesday that Northern Virginia localities can delay implementation of Phase One until midnight on Thursday, May 28. Hunger is a significant outgrowth of Covid-19.

For many of our neighbors, especially those who may not qualify for unemployment benefits, job loss intensifies what already was a delicate balance of paying rent and putting food on the table. An extra “Stuff the Bus” food drive is underway, to fill the shelves of 10 local nonprofits’ food pantries. On Saturday, May 16, and Tuesday, May 19, Fastran buses will be parked at county facilities, not grocery stores, to collect donations of nonperishable foods.

From 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. each day, buses will be at the Mason District Governmental Center, 6507 Columbia Pike in Annandale, the Woodrow Wilson Library, 6101 Knollwood Drive in Falls Church, and the James Lee Community Center, 2855 Annandale Road, also in Falls Church. Please be as generous as your means will allow.

As noted last week, the purple dumpsters for glass recycling have returned to service. Handy hint: take your glass for recycling when you bring nonperishable foods to Stuff the Bus at the Mason District Governmental Center.

Sadly, a casualty of Covid-19 appears to be at least some of the free summer concerts in the parks. The Fairfax County Park Authority announced the cancellation of all concerts scheduled for June, and will reassess conditions to determine if the July and August concerts can be held.

Stay safe, and healthy.

Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at mason@fairfaxcounty.gov.