UPDATE: The article has been updated with positive coronavirus test totals as of Thursday afternoon.
While numerous written and verbal cautionary statements have been sent out to date by the Falls Church city government and schools, and while there is behind-the-scenes planning, so far no events have been cancelled or modified here as a result of what has now been declared as a global pandemic of the spread of the potentially fatal coronavirus.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency Thursday in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
On Tuesday, it was confirmed by the Virginia Department of Health, an employee of the U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, located on Arlington Blvd. in the greater area of Falls Church, tested “presumptive” positive for the coronavirus. As of Thursday afternoon, there have been 17 positive cases in Virginia, 12 in Maryland and 10 in Washington, D.C.
Health officials are insisting that “social distancing” is the key to stemming the spread of the virus, officially known as SARS-CoV-2 (SARS standing for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which causes the disease COVID-19, but no specific measures to achieve this result have yet some from the City’s or its schools’ leadership.
A planned trip by the George Mason High band this weekend to Orlando, Florida, is still “on,” although the News-Press has learned that a memo has been sent out to all teachers in the F.C. school system to prepare up to 20 days of instructional plans that students can follow from home, should the need arise.
Communiques from City businesses to their customers have come from the State Theatre and others, even as no changes to their schedules have yet been announced. The Falls Church Anglican, in a message to parishioners, has implemented preventative measures including only giving bread at communion, suspending the passing of offering plates and asking its congregation to not shake hands during services.
Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields told the News-Press Tuesday that added disinfecting efforts of highly-used areas of City Hall have been underway. In a memo to City staff last Friday, March 6, he provided “tips” such as staying informed, washing hands several times a day and avoiding touching the face as much as possible, covering coughs and sneezes and staying at home if sick.
Officially, coming by way of the City’s Chief Information Officer Susan Finarelli, the City’s measures are limited to monitoring, encouraging citizens to check the web and posting updates online. “At this point, City programs and services remain on as scheduled,” she wrote the News-Press. “The City is committed to maintaining its programs and services as much as possible.”
A provision for City employees to take “liberal leave” on Monday, March 16, has been provided, she added, subject to approval from supervisors.
In his memo last week, Shields added, “City staff are getting information out to the community, with priority to vulnerable populations. Local Health and Human Services staff will be delivering Centers for Disease Control informational fliers in person to certain senior housing facilities, apartment complexes and places of worship. The public information office will continue to push information from our Fairfax County Health Department to the community via social media and website.”
He added, “I am very confident we will respond forcefully, thoughtfully, and in close coordination with our Fairfax County Health Department to the challenges that COVID-19 will present to us as a workforce and a community.”
On Monday, Fairfax County Public Schools are closing for the day to, the News-Press has learned, test their ability to issue class lessons to its students remotely, should the need arise.
A more extensive statement from the Falls Church City Public Schools begins, “Despite presumptive positive cases of coronavirus in our area, the risk to our community remains low, according to health officials. We collaborate daily with our partners at the Fairfax County Health Department.”
It states that “we have established deep-cleaning routines with hospital-grade disinfectants in all schools,” adding, “schools are cleaning hot spots, or high touch areas such as door handles and counters, more frequently throughout the school day. We are also cleaning our buses with more frequency.”
It adds, “We have shared handwashing resources across the division and are sharing online resources,” urging students who are sick or do not feel well to remain at home until free from a fever for at least 24 hours.
All clubs and extracurricular activities will continue as scheduled, and any decision to close schools will be on guidance from the Fairfax County Health Department. “A school or multiple schools may need to be closed a day or two for deep cleaning and may need to remain closed for more extended periods based upon the level of exposure.”
“Should our schools have to close for longer than three days, we will begin implementing our instructional response plan,” it continues. “This will be a combination of online learning activities and remote/virtual instruction with classroom teachers.”
“While the majority of learning activities will be online. However, for pre-school and K-2 students, we can provide paper/pencil packets. Please contact your child’s classroom teacher if you wish to have paper/pencil packets for your child,” it goes on.
“We are positioned well here in the Falls Church Public Schools to implement this plan. All students in grades 3-12 already have access to an electronic learning device. These devices and chargers will be sent home should an extended closure occur,” it states.
In the event of an extended closure, it states, “We recognize the hardship some families may have should school closures be extended for more than three days…All families who qualify for the federal free/reduced meals programs will receive a two-week supply of non-perishable foods upon our closure. We will hold
a distribution even through our FCCPS Family Resource Center at Thomas Jefferson Elementary. FCCPS staff and volunteers will help deliver food packages to all who cannot make it in to pick them up.”
There are also provisions outlined for providing authorized medications, and the system’s psychologists and counselors have designed resources to support families with stress reduction that will be deployed in the event of an extended closure.
“While we know that so much is unknown during this time, the one constant is that FCCPS will be here to support our students and families during any extended closure,” it concludes.
According to the VDH, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can cause mild to more severe respiratory illness with symptoms including fever, cough and difficulty breathing. In a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can cause complications, including death, particularly among those who are older or who have chronic medical conditions. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person. COVID-19 is spread primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
The Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will provide $13,371,612 in funding to Virginia in support of their response efforts to COVID-19.
Jody Fellows contributed to this report.