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New Public Health Mandates May Reach F.C. as a Result of Delta Variant

SOME LOCAL BUSINESSES never removed their notices from May that suggested unvaccinated or partially-vaccinated customers should wear masks in the store, such as FedEx in the Broaddale Shopping Center. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its masking guidance for vaccinated and unvaccinated people in light of the Delta variant’s spread. (Photo: Alex Russell)

Fairfax County could require all of its 12,500 employees to get vaccinated against Covid-19 when they return to offices this fall. During their meeting Tuesday, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion by Chairman Jeff McKay directing County Executive Bryan Hill to evaluate whether to implement a vaccine mandate for all the county’s government employees, who range from library staff and police to solid waste workers.

The recent significant uptick in the number of Covid-19 infections here and elsewhere in the U.S. is due almost entirely to its spread among unvaccinated persons and the rapid rise of a new variant of the bug, the Delta variant, which is reportedly more virulent, both as contagious and disabling.

This week alone, the region’s seven day average for new daily infections climbed to 1,028, five times the average in late June. In Fairfax County, the number was up to 67 on Tuesday, compared to three just one month earlier.As Fairfax’s immediate neighbor, the City of Falls Church is currently watching what the county is doing very closely, F.C. City Manager Wyatt Shields told the News-Press this week. but no decisions have yet been made here.

That could change as early as next week, however, when the City Council convenes on Monday. Shields said the Council may echo the Fairfax policy approach, which would be to task the chief executive (in F.C.’s case, Shields) with developing a policy. But given how fast things are moving on this, the implementation of a more rapid response may be forthcoming.

As of now, it is not until the Council’s Aug. 9 meeting that Colin Brody of the county’s health department will, once again, show up for a briefing of the Council on the development of the pandemic in this region. As the City of Falls Church falls within the county’s health district, the policies that impact the county are directly felt in the City.

“These matters are continually being discussed here,” Shields told the News-Press. “Our goal is to keep our employees and the public safe and the City moving forward.”

Decisions about general mandates are the purview of the governor’s office, and the City’s powers are limited to public properties and City employees.

In Fairfax’s case, Hill, the county executive, is now evaluating how to best carry out the policy the Board of Supervisors tasked him with earlier this week. Any mandates will allow for health and religious exemptions, but would require that all who don’t get vaccinated or meet the exemption criteria either wear masks or agree to weekly testing.

“Getting vaccinated is an act of public charity,” McKay said. “It’s not just about protecting you, but protecting everyone that you work with, every county resident that seeks our services, and everyone that works in our community.”

He added, “Keep in mind there are thousands of kids in elementary school who don’t have the luxury of getting vaccinated. We need to do it for them.”

In a statement to his board this week, McKay said, “In a little less than eight months, the Fairfax County Health Department, along with trusted partners across the community, have vaccinated over 75 percent of people 18 and older against Covid-19.

“This is a major accomplishment that we all should be proud of. In addition, we have made huge strides in vaccinating our Black and Brown communities that were hardest hit by Covid-19 through equity clinics and one-on-one engagement. We know, however, that our work is far from done, as we continue to vaccinate as many people as possible,” he wrote.

He continued, “We know vaccinations save lives. Significant evidence shows that the vaccine is safe and effective against most Covid-19 hospitalizations and death.

“As a local government, we serve residents every day in a variety of ways. None of us wanted to be in this position, but as we are seeing the Delta variant surging in unvaccinated communities across the country we, as a county, have to do all we can to protect our community and will work to continue to increase vaccination rates, including that of our employees.

“We must keep in mind that our youngest children remain exposed to Covid-19 because they are unable to be vaccinated. We all know how important it will be to fully reopen schools and our economy. Our ability to do so is dependent on people getting vaccinated and feeling safe.

“As the county executive finalizes his return to in-person work for our employees this fall, I move that we thoroughly explore Covid-19 vaccine requirements for all Fairfax County employees, and to consider a requirement mandating face masks and weekly testing for those employees who do not meet exemptions and continue to refuse the vaccine.”