The Alexandria Drive-In showed ‘Casper’ and ‘The Mummy’ on Halloween. (Image via ALX Community)

The short-lived resurgence of drive-in movie screenings in Alexandria during the pandemic seems to be winding down as the organizers of the Alexandria Drive-In announced the event will be discontinuing after this Saturday’s screening of Shrek.

The closing marks the end of short-lived fad when movie theaters were unsafe due to COVID-19. The Alexandria Drive-In launched last August with Jurassic Park and within four days all six initially scheduled movies were sold-out.

Alexandria wasn’t alone. Tysons, Arlington, and D.C. all featured drive-in movie screenings over the last year, but many ongoing drive-in series have been discontinued as locals return to movie theaters.

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Summer school is in full swing, and Alexandria City High School Principal Peter Balas says he and his staff will be ready to open to five days a week of in-person instruction when the 2021-2022 school year starts on August 24.

“We’ll be ready on August 24,” Balas told ALXnow. “I’m excited. Anything other than my kitchen table five days a week would be wonderful… I hope we start in August with no masks, no restrictions.”

Wrapping up his fourth year at the helm of the biggest high school in Virginia, Balas isn’t your ordinary principal. On one bicep he has a tattoo of Madonna, on the other a quote by Shakespeare, and on a recent summer day sported a T-shirt that said, “We are on an anti-racist journey!”

It’s more than just a clever shirt, since his school was recently renamed. For 50 years it was T.C. Williams High School, a name that Balas and many of his colleagues didn’t look too far into until last year, when community activists reminded the School Board that Williams — the former superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools for three decades — was a staunch segregationist.

“I remember when I first started teaching here, I had no idea who he was,” Balas said.

Now, with about 630 or so students attending summer school five days a week, Balas is hoping to start the next school year at full capacity — nearly 4,000 students — and to open without restrictions. There will also be security challenges, as the City Council recently voted to eliminate funding for the School Resource Officer program, which takes away the presence of armed police officers at the school, and Balas said the security company that ACPS contracts with does not handle criminal activity.

ACPS is reportedly working with the police department to continue a police presence in schools.

“We do have security officers who are contracted employees who help us ask your kids to class, check passes, clear hallways,” he said. “They help us through hallways and they do help us break up altercations. They are unarmed. They help with security, but they are not the people you call if there’s a crime or if there is suspicion of a crime.”

Balas started his teaching career at the school more than a decade ago, before becoming an assistant principal at T.C. for three years and then principal at Mount Vernon Community School for five years. He tears up at the prospect of returning to full capacity next month, and said his staff will need time to share their stories.

“We probably need some trauma processing time together,” Balas said. “I think [educators] need a chance to process with their colleagues what they’ve been through, what it meant for them, what are they looking forward to and what do they fear going forward.”

He says ACHS will see an impact from learning loss.

“There are certain courses where skills are cascading,” he said. “What our teachers are going to have to do is take a look at and measure what that loss was, and what are the gaps that have to be filled.”

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Alexandria has seen a jump in its COVID-19 numbers this month, as the state health department says unvaccinated Virginians are making up 99.6% of new cases.

The Virginia Department of Health, on Friday, revealed the information in a new dashboard that launched Friday. Alexandria has suffered 11,921 reported cases, 140 deaths and 572 hospitalizations since the onset of the pandemic. The last death was reported on July 1, there were two deaths in June and four deaths in May.

There have been 39 new cases reported so far this month in the city, and 13 cases were reported on July 9. That was the biggest single-day jump since May 20, when 18 new cases were reported. There were only 43 new cases in June, which was a 77% drop from the 193 new cases reported in May.

So far, 76,697 residents have been fully vaccinated and 91,724 residents have been partially vaccinated.

Alexandria has a goal of fully vaccinating 110,000 residents, which is 80% of the population, and the Alexandria Health Department and mayor believe the city has already reached that goal. They say that city’s vaccination numbers don’t reflect shots given to residents outside of the city, like in Maryland or D.C.

Find vaccine providers in Alexandria here. If you feel sick, get tested.

Courtesy Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash

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Alexandria will spend millions on emergency financial support programs, stormwater repair, childcare and dozens of other projects as part of its first portion of American Rescue Plan Act funding.

“Now the really hard work begins,” Mayor Justin Wilson said after Council’s unanimous passage of a plan Tuesday night. “I think this is an opportunity to make some transformational investments.”

The City received its first $29.8 million on May 17, and has to spend the total $59.6 million in funding by Dec. 31, 2024. Alexandria is getting substantial funding by being counted as both a city and county — along with 41 other cities across the country — and will get its second allotment in May 2022.

Federal funds will not directly go to individual businesses, but some are allocated toward the funding of business districts for trial street closures, ABC-licensed special events and public access parklets.

“Our thought was that direct assistance for businesses was best provided, and continues to be provided, through the federal government at scale,” Alexandria Economic Development Partnership CEO Stephanie Landrum told Council. “We are much better equipped as a community, and certainly as an economic development group to reach a wider swath of businesses than we ever have been. And so part of our challenge and responsibility is to make sure all of those businesses know about other programs not being provided by the city.”

The 30 projects include:

  • $4 million for an Alexandria Community Access and Emergency Support program to determine which city services are eligible for residents, including emergency financial aid, rent assistance and child care
  • $3.7 million in stormwater repairs at the Hoofs Run Culvert
  • $3 million for a Guaranteed Basic Income Pilot, which will give $500 in gift cards to 150 poor families for 24 months
  • $2.8 million for a Unified Early Childhood Workforce Stabilization Initiative to “support hundreds of childcare providers and early childhood educators, provide a safe and healthy learning environment for thousands of children, and help parents, especially women, get back to work.”
  • $2.5 million for food security to ensure two years of continual free food distributions at hubs throughout the city
  • $2 million for Alexandria Housing Development Corporation flex space to expand city services for the Arlandria neighborhood
  • $1.9 million in flash flooding spot improvements throughout the city
  • $1.1 million to scale up a workforce development pilot
  • $800,000 to make permanent the closure of the 100 block of King Street
  • $620,000 to fund the Out of School Time Program to help with learning loss associated with the pandemic
  • $560,000 to the Alexandria Economic Development Authority fund commercial business districts for trial street closures, ABC-licensed special events and public access parklets
  • $500,000 for Visit Alexandria marketing efforts
  • $295,000 to fund two new Office of Historic Alexandria tourism experiences on the city’s history with civil rights and and the Duke Street Corridor
  • $253,000 to increase services for LGBTQ and BIPOC communities
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Morning Notes

‘Ghost kitchen’ could be headed to Alexandria — “Commercial kitchens like the one proposed are also known as ghost kitchens and they allow restaurants and food entrepreneurs to prepare delivery orders. Ghost kitchens grew in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic when many traditional restaurants were forced to close and the demand for take-out increased.” [Alexandria Living]

Face masks required at public and private schools until July 25 — “To address potential gaps in critical prevention measures at schools this summer, the State Health Commissioner, Dr. Norm Oliver, issued a Public Health Emergency Order effective July 1, requiring children and adults aged 5 and older to wear masks in public and private K-12 schools through July 25. The requirement applies to individuals regardless of vaccination status. The mask order also applies on school buses. Individuals are not required to wear masks when outside on school property, however the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) recommends that unvaccinated individuals aged two and older wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings.” [City of Alexandria]

Del Ray featured in movie — “A new movie that recently premiered at the Brooklyn Film Festival filmed several scenes at local businesses in Del Ray. Kringle Time, a satirical comedy film about a singing snowman ‘that has nothing to do with Christmas,”‘was written and directed by Matthew Lucas, a former American University student and Arlington resident.” [Zebra]

City Council to vote on replacement services for SRO funding Tuesday — “City Council on Tuesday evening will consider how to spend the nearly $800,000 that used to fund the School Resource Officer program.” [Alexandria Living]

Today’s weather — “Sunshine and some clouds [during the day]. A stray shower or thunderstorm is possible. High 96F. Winds SSW at 5 to 10 mph… A few clouds [in the evening]. Low 73F. Winds SSW at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New job: Assistant teacher — “The Campagna Early Learning Center Assistant Teacher is responsible for assisting the Teacher in planning and implementing age-appropriate curriculum for the children in the classroom in accordance with the program policies, guidelines and philosophy.” [Indeed]

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It was a quick week in Alexandria. Here’s the rundown.

With summer in full swing, three Alexandria athletes have made it on the U.S. Olympic Team — sprinter Noah Lyles, high-jumper Tynita Butts-Townsend and boxer Troy Isley.

In other sporting news, Old Town businesses beat Del Ray in a controversial softball game Wednesday, adding fuel to the fire of an intense rivalry.

It’s been super hot out lately, and the City urged caution and reminded residents to take advantage of special cooling centers.

On the COVID front, the city’s DASH bus service announced that one of its drivers passed away from complications from the virus.

Meanwhile, Mayor Justin Wilson believes that the city has met its 80% vaccination threshold, while Virginia Department of Health data says about 65% of residents over the age of 16 are partially vaccinated. The Alexandria Health Department, which just launched a COVID-19 test and vaccine pilot at T.C. Williams High School, says the data does not take into account city residents vaccinated in Washington, D.C., and Maryland.

It’s also July 4 weekend, and in this week’s poll we asked whether readers plan on traveling, with 67% of respondents voting to stay home, 27% opting to travel by car and just 6% traveling by air.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Researchers call out shoddy craftsmanship in buried 18th century Alexandria ship
  2. Man suspected of raping 12-year-old stepdaughter in Landmark area flees to El Salvador
  3. Landmark Mall plan approved as Planning Commission demands better environmental considerations
  4. Alexandria leaders acknowledge serious security issues with elimination of school resource officer funding
  5. Shortened Alexandria Birthday celebration is still on for July 10
  6. Alexandria eyes bus rapid transit and bike lanes for Duke Street
  7. Parker-Gray tiny lot home moves forward with some unique challenges
  8. Alexandria woman dies after veering off road on Interstate 95
  9. City talks strategy on making Chirilagua/Arlandria neighborhood Amazon-proof
  10. UPDATE: Man taken into custody as West End apartment barricade situation ends peacefully
  11. BREAKING: California man arrested for West End murder, indicted with 16 others in massive racketeering conspiracy

Have a safe weekend!

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On paper, Alexandria has had a hard time closing the gap to the city’s goal of 80% of residents getting vaccinated or even the Virginia target of 70%.

Several explanations for the challenge have been put forward, but in a town hall this week Mayor Justin Wilson put forward another: the city has already hit that goal, but the way the calculations work don’t show it.

“I get a lot of questions about ‘Why [are we] not at 70%?'” Wilson said. “The short answer is my view is we’ve actually made that goal.”

Wilson said the city’s figures are thrown out of wack in part because many Alexandrians didn’t get vaccinated in Virginia.

“Part of the data discrepancy that we have right now is that there are two very big populations excluded form the data we’re using,” Wilson said. “The [Virginia Department of Health] does not include Alexandrians vaccinated outside of the state. In other states that had lower demand and perhaps greater accessibility: we had a lot of Alexandrians who went to other states. They went to Maryland or DC. They’re not showing up in the numbers reported.”

The other factor Wilson said could be holding back Alexandria’s count is federal vaccinations. In 2019, the Alexandria Times noted that 12,831 Alexandrians are federal employees, citing the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

“Perhaps bigger than that is federal doses,” Wilson said. “These are folks who would have received doses through their employers, and in some cases dependents. That’s reported at the state level, so we know how many of those folks are Virginians, but we don’t have a good jurisdictional breakdown of those numbers.”

Currently, the city sits at around 60% of the city being partially vaccinated and 56% are fully vaccinated. Wilson said, between federal employees and those vaccinated out of state, the has probably at least hit the lower benchmark.

“I suspect we’re well over 70% for the 18+ folks,” Wilson said. “That being said, still have a lot of work to do.”

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The Alexandria Health Department has launched a COVID-19 testing and vaccine clinic at the Teen Wellness Center in an effort to get more 12-to-19-year-olds vaccinated.

The pilot will help the department figure out how to incorporate it into the school system, acting AHD Director Dr. Anne Gaddy told City Council and School Board members in a meeting Monday night.

So far, about 65% of city residents over the age of 16 have been at least partially vaccinated, as AHD works toward goal of getting 80% of that population (106,618 people) fully vaccinated.

“They don’t have to be attending T.C. to be able to get the vaccine,” Gaddy said. “The appointments are open not only to students, but to parents as well as to school staff.”

To date, 75,428 residents have been fully vaccinated and 90,319 residents have been partially vaccinated. There have been 11,880 COVID-19 cases reported in the City, and 139 deaths.

It is relatively easy process to get a vaccine. Anyone over the age of 12 is able to get the vaccine for free.

“Many of our grocery stores and pharmacies have the capacity to be able to offer you a walk-in shot, as do as any of our clinics and many other medical providers,” said AHD population health manager Natalie Talis. There’s really options all over the city, all of them are free, and you do not require insurance or an ID to get your vaccines.”

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Morning Notes

Virginia extends ‘cocktails-to-go’ laws for another year — “During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many restaurants were shuttered, the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority (ABC) created a safe and secure way for restaurants to offer cocktails to go with a meal. The General Assembly has now continued this practice in statute for one year.” [Zebra]

Republican mayoral candidate Catchings announces she won’t get education endorsement — “I will not be receiving the endorsement from APACE – Alexandria Political Action Committee for Education. What matters most is that I receive the support from Alexandria parents and citizens for School Choice !!” [Twitter]

Alexandria Restaurant Week returning Aug. 20-29 — “For 10 days (including two weekends), diners can enjoy specials from 60+ restaurants throughout Alexandria including Old Town, Del Ray, Carlyle, Eisenhower and the West End. Participating restaurants will be offering special $49 in-person and/or to-go dinner for two and select restaurants will also be offering a $25 in-person and/or to-go dinner for one.” [Alexandria Living]

‘Queens On King Street’ is back — “After a hiatus of more than a year due to the pandemic and COVID-19 restrictions, Alexandria’s Queens on King Street group will reconvene on Tuesday, July 13th at The Light Horse from 6:00-8:00 p.m. The occasion will also serve as the group’s five-year anniversary. In 2015, co-founders Timothy McCue, Nathan Sell, and Alex Rodriguez-Rozic created Queens on King Street to provide a space for LGBTQ+ individuals that live, work, or just love to visit Old Town Alexandria.” [Visit Alexandria]

VDOT seeking feedback on Little River Turnpike improvement plan — “Give input on a study assessing potential Rt 236 (Little River Tpk) improvements from I-495 in Annandale to I-395 in Alexandria! View a presentation and take our online survey (also available in Spanish and Korean) through 7/28.” [Twitter]

Today’s weather — “Sunny skies (during the day). Hot. High near 95F. Winds SSW at 5 to 10 mph… Clear skies (in the evening). Low around 75F. Winds SSW at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New job: Manager — “Dolci Gelati is a small, customer-focused cafe and gelato shop in the heart of Old Town, Alexandria. We strive to serve the very best in innovative coffee drinks, gelatis, and various other pastries and desserts.” [Indeed]

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This weekend, Alexandria bus network DASH suffered its first death from COVID-19.

The bus service is not releasing the victim’s name, but marketing and communications manager Whitney Code said the victim was a bus driver.

“It is with profound sadness that we mourn the passing of one of our DASH bus operators due to complications related to COVID-19,” the Alexandria bus company said. “The operator’s last day at work was June 21. We learned the employee tested positive of COVID-19 on June 23. We are devastated by this loss and extend our deepest condolences to the family.”

DASH has had 30 reported cases — 29 DASH employees contracted COVID-19 and and one contractor.

Code said the bus driver died on Saturday, June 26.

“In response to this case, we have completed a contact tracing investigation with the Alexandria Health Department and identified no close contact,” DASH said in the press release. “In an abundance of caution, full disinfection of all equipment was performed.”

The city is hovering at around 59% of its residents being fully vaccinated, but has struggled to close the gap to its goals of getting 80% of the city vaccinated.

DASH said that, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, all passengers and operators on the bus service must wear masks.

“The CDC continues to require that all passengers and operators wear masks on public transportation and DASH provides masks as needed to protect our community,” the press release said. “We remain committed to slowing the spread of the virus by actively communicating our policy to passengers and encouraging all DASH employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.”

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