As the spouse of a vulnerable individual living in Northern Virginia (Falls Church City), I am intensely focused on monitoring the spread of the virus gripping our nation, our state, my region, my community and even my neighborhood.  Primarily I track relevant statistics gathered from sources like, @isfBob on twitter, and where I can get factual data without the spin from politicians or newscasters.  Using this information my hope is to see through the slants in messaging so I can identify any relevance in news conferences and news reporting.  

What’s emerged from sifting through the data and thinking about the geography of our state is a plan that could greatly inhibit our continuing import of COVID.  Consider:

1.     The New York supercell infection has engulfed the neighboring states of New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Eastern Pennsylvania.  In multiple jurisdictions within the Supercell population infection rates exceed 1 in 200 individuals.  As of Tuesday morning, the worst is in Rockland County, NY with 1 in 57 individuals infected.  Also as of Tuesday morning, 53.19% of nationwide virus cases are in the NY, NJ, CT, MA and RI - it would be higher if I had a mechanism to include the Eastern PA cases.

2.     Unsurprisingly, the tentacles of spread of the New York supercell follow transportation corridors into the neighboring states.  Consider, for example, that Pennsylvania’s most intense infections are not in their largest cities, rather they are in areas Such as Allentown and Bethlehem with direct interstate connections across New Jersey to New York City.  The story is the same along the regions road and rail lines. Northern Virginia is now on the extreme border of these tentacles.  

3.     In recent days national messaging calls out DC, Pennsylvania, and Colorado as emerging infection hot-spots.  Not very meaningful if they are just words that are highly reported on, but it turns out this message is glaring in the statistical charts published on Twitter by Robert Williams (@isfBob).  These three areas have infection densities that are most likely to cross above the national average infection density (DC has already crossed).  All other entities at higher infection densities are already identified focus areas (the NY supercell, Western Washington, New Orleans, Chicago and Michigan) so these three callouts make perfect sense.  It’s important to this discussion because DC borders Virginia and Pennsylvania is in some areas only a few miles from our state border.

4.     Virginia is blessed with a geography that can be used to our advantage in fighting the spread of this virus.  To the East is oceanfront which is not a threat for viral advance.  The South and West are bordered by very rural areas that are continuations of the land use in Southern and Western Virginia.  With the exception of the ‘VA’ in the DELMARVA peninsula, the Northern border is for a very long stretch defined by a water boundary.  Importantly, this water boundary has very limited crossing points and is the DC boundary.

Here in Virginia should use our position on the Eastern seaboard to prevent the tentacles of spread southward and westward.  We can do this by inhibiting travel from DC and MD into Virginia.  Slowing traffic flow across the Potomac would make it undesirable for local population crossings thereby encouraging compliance with the ‘stay at home’ directives.

1.     Neck the American Legion bridge down to one lane (the right lane) with a very low speed limit (maybe 10 mph) for most vehicular travel.  Reserve a separate lane (the left lane) for long haul truck travel that should flow unimpeded. Traffic control mechanisms normally used for paving operations could readily be used to neck down the crossing and self-sort the long hauls from other traffic.

2.     The Chain, Key, and Memorial Bridges should be closed entirely because they are not part of any major throughway.

3.     Similar to the American Legion bridge, all traffic on the 14th street bridge should be necked to a single lane with no provision for long-haul traffic.  Use jersey barriers so set up a serpentine pathway for the single lane to cross.  Make it slow, cause a backup and people won’t bother to cross.

4.     The Wilson bridge with local and express lanes is ideally set up for this.  The express lanes become truck only lanes.  The local lanes get the same narrowing and slowing as the American Legion bridge.

5.     Metro should bisect so that trains cannot cross the Potomac.

6.     Pedestrian and bicycle crossings of the Potomac crossings need to be eliminated.  Closing pedestrian/bicycle pathways on the Chain, Key, Memorial, 14th Street, and Wilson Bridges eliminates population contamination points where ‘social distancing’ simply isn’t possible.  

7.     Closely monitor the I-85 corridor for a need to suppress crossings from the North.

The immediate goal is to prevent the rapidly rising infection rates in DC and surrounding MD counties from taking Northern Virginia ‘along for the ride’.  DC is presently reporting an infection rate of 1 in 640 people.  Their land-border neighbor counties are infected at 1 in 993 and 1 in 1327 individuals.  Arlington is too closely tied to this infection rate at 1 in 1170 persons whereas the rest of Northern Virginia is under (but nearing) 1 in 2000.  Using the water border as a barrier can change the trajectory in Arlington and the rest of Northern Virginia for the immediate term, and the rest of the state and beyond for the longer term.  Arlington also needs tighter mandatory restrictions to break away from trending with DC, but that’s a solution for another to develop.

Rob Kahr

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