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Fairfax County to end its covid state of emergency

Coronavirus vaccine doses sit ready to be administered at the Fairfax County Government Center in January 2021. The county will end its pandemic state of emergency on March 1, saying many area residents are vaccinated and cases are relatively low. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)
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Fairfax County on Tuesday declared that it will end its covid-19 state of emergency March 1, making Virginia’s most populous jurisdiction among the last to do so in the Washington region.

With most area residents vaccinated and the rate of serious covid-19 cases a fraction of what it was during the pandemic’s most severe periods, the hazard surrounding the disease that has killed nearly 41,000 people in the region “has diminished to the point that it no longer necessitates a local emergency,” according to a resolution unanimously approved by the county’s Board of Supervisors.

“This is a milestone,” Jeffrey C. McKay (D-At Large), the board’s chair, said before the vote, crediting the county’s vaccination efforts and the diligence of Fairfax residents in adhering to pandemic guidelines. “It’s been a journey.”

“This is a journey that none of us wants to repeat,” added Supervisor Penelope A. Gross (D-Mason).

The move by the county comes in advance of what President Biden has said will be an end on May 11 to the national emergency declaration regarding the coronavirus, which will restructure the federal government’s response to the pandemic.

Many local jurisdictions in the region — including the city of Alexandria and Arlington and Prince William counties in Virginia — ended their pandemic states of emergency last year. The District, Virginia and Maryland have let their states of emergency expire but have temporarily helped struggling hospitals during surges in cases.

McKay said Fairfax could have ended its emergency declaration sooner because of the county’s consistently low numbers of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. But, he said, the county decided to allow the declaration to continue so it could take advantage of federal pandemic funds.

“We would have forfeited a lot of flexibility” in collecting those funds, McKay said.

The seven-day average number of newly reported cases in Fairfax was 157 Tuesday, less than a third of what it was during the last surge in December. Deaths in the county have hovered at zero, with some occasional spikes, for more than a year.

Though the virus is still a hazard, the main concern in ending the local emergency declaration on Tuesday was how it will affect local restaurants that have been able to offer outdoor dining in parking lots, thanks to revised zoning regulations related to the pandemic.

“A lot of folks have gotten used to this, now, over years,” McKay said.

Those revised provisions will remain in place until March 2024, allowing time for restaurant owners to either eliminate outdoor seating as an option or make permanent arrangements with the county to continue the practice, county officials said.