Falls Church City Manager Wyatt Shields advised the F.C. City Council Monday night that he will recommend the City follow the lead of its much larger neighbor Fairfax County in terms of mitigation efforts to deter the Covid-19 virus, especially its more contagious and deadly Delta Variant that now constitutes over 90 percent of new infections in the U.S.
In response to a question from Council member Letty Hardi on whether or not the City government has the authority to mandate vaccinations, Shields answered yes, but added that sorting out the exceptions will be a bigger challenge.
“We will coordinate with Fairfax County,” he said, noting that the county’s health district, in terms of monitoring and reporting cases, covers the City. He added that the county’s health department liaison to the City will appear at this Monday’s Council meeting to report on the latest moves and take questions from the Council. It is important, Shields said, that the region act in a coordinated way.
In his latest public communique, Fairfax Board of Supervisors’ chair Jeff McKay announced the “bad news” that “after a careful look at the data, our Health Department determined that per Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance we have unfortunately reached a ‘substantial’ level of Covid-19 transmission. We are thus recommending that everyone, including individuals fully vaccinated against Covid-19, wear a mask in public indoor settings.”
This is short of a mandate, and in his report McKay cited the statewide data showing 4.6 million fully vaccinated in the state and that over 99 percent of new cases reported are among persons not vaccinated. Therefore, he clearly stressed the need for anyone not yet vaccinated to become so as soon as possible.
In this context, in Falls Church it remains “full steam ahead” for the reopening of the public schools with full in-person instruction beginning Monday, August 30.
Superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan, in an interview with the News-Press yesterday, said that while Delta-driven increases in new infections “are of concern to us all,” there are no plans to interrupt the full-time, five days a week in-person instruction throughout the system.
Decisions on masking, he said, will be made in the next couple of weeks, but that the plan is “to follow the science all the way through, as we have done to date.”
He noted there are fewer cases in Falls Church proper than in surrounding jurisdictions, including Fairfax County, and that is on top of the fact that all City school employees have been vaccinated and over 500 students ages 12 and up were vaccinated in one event last spring.
“Unless ordered otherwise by the governor, we’re staying on our current schedule,” Noonan said. That includes activities beginning on Aug. 16 of welcoming new teachers and staff that will include a bus tour of the Little City, a luncheon at a local restaurant, and orientation to the teaching curriculum.
He said the system is “very close to being fully staffed now, and will be by the time school opens.”
There are only a couple slots at the Oak Street Elementary that have yet to be filled.
The schedule this month includes a Back to School forum with Noonan open to all via Zoom on Monday, Aug. 23, at 7 p.m. and an all-administrator retreat that will be held at the brand new Meridian High School.
While details on masking policies will be forthcoming, the system “will continue to observe all mitigation strategies,” he stressed, and that means striving to meet three feet of social distance in classrooms.
Although not bound to them, the recommendations of the Virginia Department of Health, Virginia Department of Education and CDC were published this summer in a “Summer in the Central” memo. They included,
• Elementary schools should implement a requirement that students, teachers, and staff wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, until vaccination is available for children under 12 years old and there has been sufficient time to allow for children younger than 12 years old to be fully vaccinated.
• At a minimum, middle and high schools should implement a requirement that students, teachers, and staff who are not fully vaccinated wear masks indoors.
• Schools may want to consider universal masking for specific reasons or under certain circumstances, as outlined by the CDC. (Masking is required on school buses as well as all other public transportation options.)
• All schools should be prepared to adjust local mask policies as local public health conditions evolve throughout the year.