Newsletter

Alexandria health providers are now offering the COVID-19 vaccine to children under five years of age, according to the Alexandria Health Department.

According to AHD:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for this age group and accepted the recommendation of its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which met on June 17 and 18 to review administration and safety data for the vaccine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration amended the vaccines’ Emergency Use Authorization last week to include doses and vaccine schedules for children between six months and five years of age. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is for ages six months – four years and is three doses, with three weeks between the first and second dose, and eight weeks between the second and third dose. The Moderna vaccine is for ages six months – five years and is two doses separated by four weeks.

Parents and guardians in Alexandria have multiple locations to choose from when getting their youngest vaccinated, including AHD vaccine clinics, pharmacies (for ages three and up), and pediatricians’ offices. Minors are not able to consent to immunizations, so a parent or guardian must consent either in advance or at the vaccination site, depending on the provider. Vaccine appointments for this age group at AHD clinics will be posted on a rolling basis, and parents and guardians are encouraged to contact their children’s healthcare provider/pediatrician to see if their office is providing COVID-19 vaccines for this group.

Appointments are required at this time.

In the meantime, two more residents have died from the virus, bringing the death toll to 191. The number of reported cases has reached 36,369, and the seven-day rate for new cases is 68.7, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

Last month, AHD announced the availability of booster shots for kids ages five to 11.

Vaccinated in Alexandria

  • About 78% of residents (119,667 people) are fully vaccinated
  • 86% (131,739 people) of residents got at least one dose
  • 65,283 residents got booster shots
  • There are 22,141 unvaccinated Alexandria residents

Alexandria’s two-and-a-half-year-long state of emergency will expire on June 30..

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Mayor Justin Wilson says its time to take a step back and reassess Alexandria’s approach to student safety.

In a joint City Council meeting with the School Board on Monday night (June 13), Wilson said that the community needs to be educated on how the city and school system plan to make schools safer.

“I do think part of this conversation is to step back, because I don’t think there’s many communities around the country that invest the amount that we do in the very ways that we do in our kids, and clearly we still have kids slipping through the cracks in this institution. That’s sobering for us all.”

Wilson and Gaskins presented the Board with a draft memo that will start a “rigorous engagement” program to talk with youth and parents to “learn what is at the root of youth trauma and violence, and act.”

Wilson said that it’s been an interesting last several weeks since the fatal stabbing of Alexandria City High School Senior Luis Mejia Hernandez on May 24. He also said that there is no one single solution, but that a coordinated approach on improving students safety is about creating a public process and approach to solving the issue.

“I don’t mean to be negative on this, but I’m doubtful that in this effort we will determine some kind of magic thing that we have never thought of,” Wilson said. “I don’t think we’ll have anything like that. But I think it’ll be a conversation around how we provide services, scale, scope, how we target things, and where the need is, and I hope that as we have that conversation, we’ll learn more about the effectiveness of what we do today, rather than unnecessarily (try) dramatically new things.”

Council will discuss the memo at its meeting tonight (June 14).

Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., who announced his resignation last Friday, did not attend the meeting, and is out of the office until June 21.

Board Chair Meagan Alderton said that the Board needs to improve its efforts to inform to community on ACPS activities.

“I agree,” Alderton said. “I do think we need to do a better job as a Board of educating the community about what actually happens in our schools, because I think that could also shift the conversation. People are making guesses all the time. It becomes counterproductive to what we’re actually trying to do. I second that 100%. I think that there’s an educational component to all of this, so that people just know what’s happening.”

Gaskins said that the memo does not specifically outline City departments for certain projects, since it is the duty of the city and its multiple departments to work collaboratively. She also wants there to be a student summit at some point in the near future to discuss coping with the pandemic and violence-related traumas.

“I think it really is a starting point and call to action to give space for us to listen to our young people, hear what they have to say, be able to evaluate what we’re doing, identify the things that we’re not doing and then put in place a plan that we are holding ourselves accountable to,” Gaskins said at the meeting. “I think this is really an opportunity to think about: How do we activate multiple departments? How do we activate and normalize every resource we have available to ensure the health and safety of our young people?”

School Board Member Abdel Elnoubi said he would do everything to help Council in the effort.

“Politicians and and leaders are looked at as good ones when they can articulate and speak, but we really need some time for people how much we should be listening as well,” Elnoubi said. “Thank you so much for doing this. I’m looking forward to seeing how this turns out.”

Former Sheriff Dana Lawhorne watched the meeting from home.

“I’m glad that our City Council and School Board had a robust discussion tonight about the safety and wellbeing of our youth,” Lawhorne said. “I’m encouraged by the plan put forward by Councilwoman Gaskins and Mayor Wilson. We all need to do our part to support it.”

According to a school safety report released in March, 18 ACPS students were arrested in the first two quarters of this school year, in addition to 41 reported fights/assaults and 13 seized weapons. The weapons seized include a gun, five knives, a stun gun, two fake weapons, and pepper spray. Students also filmed dozens of fights and posted them on social media.

At tonight’s meeting, Council will also consider designating former School Board Member Chris Lewis as its designee to the proposed 16-person School Law Enforcement Partnership (SLEP) Advisory Group. That group will make a recommendation this fall to the interim-Superintendent (or new Superintendent) on the future role of school resource officers at Alexandria City High School and Francis C. Hammond and George Washington Middle Schools.

Separately, Council will also consider passing a gun violence prevention resolution, which encourages the school system to “review school curriculum, safety protocols, and professional development” related to gun safety and suicide prevention, as well as the scheduling of School Board work sessions before the start of the 2022-2023 school year to review those measures.

According to the memo:

In the short-term the Alexandria Police Department will continue its work to investigate recent acts of violence and provide appropriate security interventions to make future acts of violence less likely. To sustainably support the resiliency of our youth and prevent violence, we need to listen as much as we talk. We must engage a diverse range of stakeholders to listen to the experiences of our young people and center their voices, learn what is at the root of youth trauma and violence, and act. With this rigorous engagement, we can design and refine the systems and reforms required to:

  • Address youth trauma and mental health
  • Coordinate across sectors to identify challenges, needs, and opportunities
  • Develop sustainable strategies to align services and existing initiatives
  • Identify metrics and transparent processes to hold ourselves accountable
  • Target investments at identified gaps
  • Prioritize equity
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Updated at 5:30 p.m. On April 19, at 6:30 p.m., a social worker at Inova Fairfax Hospital contacted the Child Protective Services hotline.

The social worker reported that a three-year-old girl was overdosing and was brought to the hospital emergency room by her mother in a Lyft transport, according to a police search warrant affidavit.

“By the time (the child and her mother) arrived at the hospital, the child was in full cardiac arrest,” police said in a search warrant affidavit. “The child was treated with Narcan and immediately reacted.”

Narcan is a prescription medicine that can reverse an opioid overdose through injection or intranasal mist.

Police later found the mother and daughter in the hospital’s pediatric unit. The mother told police that she is homeless was staying at a friend’s house. She told police that her child picked up a cup and put it to her lips, and that soon after she became increasingly lethargic, according to a search warrant affidavit.

The woman also reportedly told the social worker that she did not know what was inside the cup. When police asked the mother where she was when the incident occurred, she said that she didn’t know the address. She also said that her friend’s name is Tiffany.

The child was removed from her mother during the investigation and placed in the custody of one of the father’s cousins, according to the search warrant affidavit.

Over the next several days, the social worker spoke with the child’s father, who told her that his ex (the mother of the child) confided that she “made up Tiffany’s name and that she was at another friend’s house,” according to the search warrant affidavit.

“[The mother] is purposely not telling us where she was when the incident occurred,” police said in the search warrant affidavit.

The cousin told police that the child reported she and her mother were, in fact, at another cousin’s house when the incident occurred, that the mother of the child has always struggled with drugs, and that “her preference is Percocet laced with Fentanyl,” police said in the search warrant affidavit.

“[The cousin] stated that even though [the mother] knew what was going on with [the child], she didn’t tell the medical staff when she arrived at the hospital. She knew that [her child] had drugs in her system and stayed quiet,” police said in the search warrant affidavit.

No arrests have been made in connection to this incident, and APD could not be reached for comment.

Anyone who suspects that a child is being abused or neglected should call the city’s CPS hotline at 703-746-5800, or the Virginia hotline at 1-800-552-7096. If a child is in immediate danger, call 911 for police assistance.

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Updated at 3 p.m. on June 6: A family member of Luis Mejia Hernandez walked the stage and received a standing ovation from the students, staff and families in attendance at George Mason University’s EagleBank Arena.

Guillermo Romero took took the diploma for his nephew, kissed it and raised it to the sky.

Hernandez was fatally stabbed in the parking lot of the Bradlee Shopping Center on May 24.

Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., said that Hernandez’s life was tragically cut short on by a senseless act of violence.

“We were looking forward to seeing Luis cross the stage today,” Hutchings said.

Hernandez was recognized by ACHS Executive Principal Peter Balas as a hard worker.

“I want to take a moment to ask everyone to hold Luis Hernandez in their thoughts — a Titan who should be here with us today,” Balas told students. “To the Hernandez family, please know that you are forever a part of the Titan family. We are with you now and we always will be. We will hold you in our hearts during this challenging time, and we thank you for entrusting your son to us for his education.”

More than 800 ACHS seniors walked the stage. This is the first graduating class of Alexandria City High School since it changed its name from T.C. Williams High School. It was also the first indoor, in-person graduation for the school in three years.

Balas said that students in this generation are taking their mental health seriously, and that the past few years have been full of traumatic events.

“These past few years have not been normal or usual in any way,” Balas said. “I hope you can look back and remember that you were there for each other, lifting each other up, as you made your way into the world.”

The story and caption incorrectly said that the person who received the diploma was Hernandez’s father. It was a family member.

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Police at the Bradlee Shopping Center, two days after the fatal stabbing in the parking lot on May 24, 2022. (staff photo by James Cullum)

It’s been quiet at the Bradlee Shopping Center McDonald’s since 18-year-old Luis Mejia Hernandez was fatally stabbed in a brawl in the parking lot on Tuesday (May 24). Two days after the incident, a lone police cruiser now sits near the spot where Hernandez was stabbed.

Video of the incident obtained by ALXnow revealed that police arrived at the scene before the stabbing occurred, no sirens were used and they struggled to break up the fight. There were about 30-50 Alexandria City High School students involved and no arrests have been made in connection to the incident.

Alexandria Police told ALXnow that they are not investigating their response to the incident and sirens were not used because they did not anticipate such a big brawl.

“We got a call for a fight, and we sent officers to a fight,” Alexandria Police spokesman Captain Courtney Ballantine told ALXnow. “When they got there, they realized how big the fight was, and they asked for more additional units. As the incident went on, more units were requested and sirens started coming in as the need was a priority.”

Lunchtime and after-school are reliably busy periods at the restaurant, and staff said that fights between students are frequent. One person was injured in a fight there last year and a juvenile was shot last September.

“Fights happen all the time in here,” a McDonald’s staffer said. “It’s bad.”

Meanwhile, a GoFundMe for Hernandez has so far raised more than $17,000.

Alexandria City High School sent students home after the incident and transitioned to virtual learning for the rest of the week.

ACPS leadership will also take these days to prepare for in-person learning to resume at all ACHS campuses with enhancements to the security posture on Tues., May 31, 2022,” ACHS principal Peter Balas wrote in an email. “We have made some adjustments to the high school day for the remainder of the school year to support student movement throughout the building to include a staggered dismissal at 3:15 p.m., a refined lunch block and class transition process.”

The incident occurred while students were taking their Standards of Learning tests. It was not a full school day and large groups of children were walking between both ACHS campuses.

This year the school implemented a new Lunch and Learn policy, where four separate lunch periods were converted to a single 74-minute-long lunch period where students don’t have to eat in the cafeteria.

“If there are any needs or concerns about how a student is coping, students or families should reach out to their school counselor via email, through Canvas, or by calling the school at 703-824-6800,” Balas wrote.

Hernandez’s death marks the city’s third homicide of 2022 after a murder in the Foxchase neighborhood and a teenager killed in an alleged attempted carjacking in Potomac Yard earlier this month.

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Alexandria’s Homegrown Restaurant Group just stumbled across a proverbial goldmine of infant baby formula, and on Friday morning (May 20) they donated 10 cases of Similac Advance to ALIVE!.

It could take months before Alexandria grocery store shelves are stocked with infant formula, as communities around the country are struggling through the shortage.

HRG’s Bill Blackburn was inspired to find the formula after reading a Washington Post article about a restaurant owner who found a stash through his commercial food supply chain.

Blackburn made a call and found that his distributor had 10 cases of Similac Advance. It cost $1,000, which was paid for by HRG, Alexandria Celebrates Women and the Del Ray Business Association.

“Homegrown Restaurant Group is proud to partner with these organizations to provide this much-needed baby formula to ALIVE! during this crisis,” Blackburn said.

ALIVE! Executive Director Jennifer Ayers said that the nonprofit needed the formula and is grateful.

“Once again neighbors have demonstrated that if there’s a need in this community that we can work together to help other neighbors,” Ayers said.

Courtesy photo

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Alexandria parents should consider breastfeeding and using cow’s milk for short periods during the nationwide baby formula shortage, according to the Alexandria Health Department (AHD).

Those were just a couple of the department’s recommendations since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s recall of Similac, Alimentum and EleCare powdered infant formulas produced at the Abbott Nutrition factory in Sturgis, Michigan — the largest producer of infant formula in the country.

Four children got bacterial infections because of formula made at the Abbot plant and two children died. Now more than 40% of the country’s baby formula supply is now out of stock. The Abbot factory is now set to reopen in two weeks, and it will take up to two months for products to reach grocery store shelves around the country.

Many Alexandria parents have turned online to find baby formula, with one resident even creating the NOVA Baby Formula Finding Network Facebook group, which now has 2,200 members.

If no formula is available, the Alexandria Health Department recommends feeding your baby whole cow’s milk for short periods.

“If you are still pregnant but will deliver soon, please give extra consideration to breastfeeding,” AHD advised. “Most women can breastfeed, and you are likely to avoid the formula shortage altogether.”

AHD provided the following dos and don’ts if parents are struggling to find baby formula:

DOS:

  1. Do contact your baby’s physician or healthcare provider with any questions, especially if your baby is on a restricted diet or has any medical conditions.
  2. Do call ahead to nearby stores to find the ones that have formula before you travel.
  3. Do check smaller markets and drug stores when big box stores and supermarkets are out.
  4. Do consider buying formula online if you can afford it, only from well-established distributors and pharmacies.
  5. Do buy only a 10-14-day supply each time. It appears unlikely that the supply is going to run out, and hoarding will only make shortages worse.
  6. Do consider alternate or store-brand formulas if your baby is not on a restricted diet and has no major health problems.
  7. Do check local social media groups for tips or help finding formula in your area.
  8. Do contact the Alexandria Health Department or the Alexandria WIC office at 703-746-4998 for recommendations or resources.

DON’TS:

  1. Don’t purchase formula online from private vendors or auctions. You won’t know what you’re actually getting, and there is little or no control over pricing.
  2. Don’t purchase formula from foreign or overseas locations. These products will not be FDA cleared, and may contain contaminants or ingredients inappropriate for your baby.
  3. Don’t feed homemade formula from a recipe. Even if only safe ingredients are used, these formulas will not provide adequate nutrition.
  4. Don’t water down or dilute your existing formula as your baby will not get adequate nutrition.
  5. Don’t feed your baby any plant-based milks as they lack many key nutrients.
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Alexandria City Public Schools will likely soon begin carrying Nalaxone, or Narcan, as an emergency medication to be given to students if they are overdosing on opiates.

If approved by the School Board on May 5 (Thursday), school nurses or anyone “acting on behalf of the School Board who has completed a training program may possess and administer naloxone or other opioid antagonist for overdose reversal,” according to a staff report.

The policy would go into effect immediately if approved by the Board.

The City began offering free Narcan spray and fentanyl test strips years ago as the number of opioid-related overdoses was on the rise. Residents can get access to Narcan for free by mail, and it is also available without a prescription at pharmacies.

“The drug Naloxone, also known as Narcan, can save the life of someone who is experiencing an opioid overdose, if given in time,” the city said.

Residents can get Narcan by mail by emailing their name and address to [email protected] or picking up a dose of the nasal spray by calling the Alexandria Health Department at 703-746-4888 or the City’s Opioid Response Coordinator at 703-746-3326.

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“Extremely problematic,” “inappropriate,” and “disrespectful” was how Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. said School Board members handled edits of his plan to create a School Law Enforcement Advisory Group.

In a March 9 email, Hutchings scolded a majority of School Board Members — Michelle Rief, Ashley Simpson-Baird, Adbel Elnoubi, Kelly Carmichael Booz and Chris Harris — for editing his SLEP proposal. He said that such “behind the scenes” operations raised transparency issues by violating the Virginia Freedom Of Information Act.

“I believe that this approach is extremely problematic, inappropriate, disrespectful and most of all not aligned with our legal board practices,” Hutchings wrote. “SLEP is not an action item for the board and I’m not understanding why this is being presented to me this way. I believe some of the points in the document are welcome revisions; however, I hope that this will not be shared with our team tonight at the meeting.”

The 16-person SLEP advisory group will begin meeting in May or June to develop feedback recommendations for Hutchings on the future of the controversial school resource officer program within ACPS.

The group will send back their recommendations in a report in December. ACPS is now in the process of going through a solicitation process to hire a meeting facilitator.

The email was sent shortly before Hutchings and staff presented the Board with the first draft of the SLEP proposal on March 10. The edited draft circulated by the Members have some recommendations that stuck around in the final proposal, including adding a SLEP link to the ACPS website for community information.

At that March 10 Board meeting, Hutchings said: “This is our first time having a public discussion about this partnership and having a public discussion around this particular information that we’re sharing out and we’re sharing that with the board.”

The Board is allowed to discuss their positions on issues with each other outside meetings.

“I didn’t come here to uphold the status quo or be a rubber stamp,” Elnoubi said. “There’s nothing wrong with members sharing and discussing ideas outside the board room as long as as long as it’s in a one on one setting to abide by the ‘Sunshine Laws’ and that’s what we did. In this situation here when I see a proposal that continues to marginalize people of color like me, I have an obligation to speak up.”

According to the Board’s operating procedures:

The School Board transacts all business at Board meetings, and does not vote by secret or written ballot. However, nothing prohibits separately contacting the membership, or any part thereof, of the School Board for the purpose of ascertaining a member’s position with respect to the transaction of public business, whether such contact is done in person, by telephone or by electronic communication, provided the contact is done on a basis that does not constitute a meeting under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

Board Member Tammy Ignacio was not pleased to receive the edited document in a Board-wide email before the March 10 meeting from Harris, who asked that Board members look at it for discussion. Ignacio said she was not privy to the edited recommendations, and that they equated to “backstabbing” from her colleagues.

“We can’t openly expect to bring data forward when we’re backstabbing our own Board and making decisions and writing memos and editing them for our own specific purpose,” Ignacio said at the March 10 meeting. “And if that is the way that this Board is planning to run, I don’t want to be a part of it. Transparency. Do not stand up here in front of our public and our children and our staff and talk about transparency when you’re going behind the backs of other Board members and creating memos and editing them. It is unacceptable. It is unprofessional.”

Booz then failed in a 4-4-1 vote to get the advisory group to report directly to the Board instead of the Superintendent.

Simpson-Baird said on March 10 that ACPS has one chance to get the issue right.

“We have one chance to get community input and go through a very thorough processthat we all know didn’t happen over the past year,” she said at the March 10 meeting. “I know that’s where a lot of our our passions come from.”

On March 14, Hutchings provided the Board with a refresher on their operating procedures, which include not talking to the media.

Hutchings’ full March 9 to the School Board is below the jump.

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Need to get your Irish on? While Alexandria’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade has been pushed off until September, there are two Irish-themed bar crawls coming to the city in the days ahead.

The Shamrock Stampede will descend on Alexandria’s Carlyle neighborhood on Saturday, March 12. Participating restaurants include Whiskey & Oyster, Sweet Fire Donna’s, Tequila & Taco, Lost Boy Cider and Joe Theismann’s Restaurant.

The event includes outfit contests, giveaways and raffles. It runs from 2 to 6 p.m. and costs $10. All registration proceeds will be donated to ALIVE!.

On the actual St. Patrick’s Day — Thursday, March 17 — Daniel O’Connell’s Irish Restaurant & Bar (112 King Street) will start things off with musician Mike Richards from 1 to 4 p.m., followed by four-piece rock band By All Means from 7 to 11 p.m.

But that’s not all.

On Saturday, March 19, six King Street restaurants will host the fifth annual Lucky’s St. Patrick’s Day Crawl. The event runs from 4 to 10 p.m., and tickets cost $20-25 per person.

“We will shuttle our leprechauns, four-clover wearers, Irish lovers and everyone else on the King Street Trolly between all restaurants,” event organizers wrote on Facebook.

Participating restaurants:

Photo via Murphy’s Grand Irish Pub/Facebook

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