Gov. Northam lifts universal mask mandate for those who are vaccinated

Virginia Politics

RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY/WRIC) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced on May 14 that he was lifting the universal mask mandate starting that night at midnight, following new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The governor’s new guidance means those who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear a mask in “most situations.”

All gathering restrictions will also be lifted on May 28, including capacity and distancing requirements in businesses and public spaces, according to a video released by Northam’s office.

“It’s very simple. It’s either a shot, or a mask,” Northam said.

Businesses will still be able to require mask-wearing and ask for proof of people’s vaccination status. Masks will also still be required in schools.

In accordance with the CDC guidance, Virginia will still require fully vaccinated people to wear masks on public transportation, at health care and correctional facilities, and homeless shelters.

Northam said his decision is based on lower COVID-19 case counts and increases in the number of people vaccinated.

Northam said about two-thirds of Virginia’s adults have received a vaccine shot. He urged Virginians to get vaccinated in the next two weeks if they haven’t already.

“I strongly urge any Virginian who is not yet vaccinated to do so — the vaccines are the best way to protect yourself and your community from COVID-19,” Northam said in a video Friday. “The message is clear: vaccinations are how we put this pandemic in the rearview mirror and get back to being with the people we love and doing the things we have missed.”

The updated restriction on masks coincides with an already-planned change in restrictions starting May 15.

Those restrictions include limits on crowd-size limits for sporting events, entertainment venues and gatherings.

Under the proposed changes to Executive Order 72, on top of being permitted to sell alcohol after midnight again, restaurants will also be able to keep their dining rooms open between midnight and 5 a.m. on May 15. The governor’s announcement comes a day after he quietly amended the same executive order to allow restaurants to open up their bar seating for customers for the first time in more than a year.

10 On Your Side spoke to health officials ahead of Northam’s announcement Friday on the commonwealth’s mask guidance.

The CDC’s updated guidance on Thursday says fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks indoors or outdoors in most situations.

Earlier Friday, the Virginia Republican Caucus demanded the governor take action now.

In a letter, they said: “We call on Governor Northam to conform the Commonwealth’s guidance to that of the CDC’s by immediately rescinding his mask mandate… It’s time for Virginians who have been vaccinated to breathe freely once again.”

The CDC’s announcement Thursday seemed to catch many off guard. One local health director confirmed they were given no advance notice in order to prepare. The announcement led to confusion for some who saw the CDC’s recommendation and the governor’s existing mask mandate as conflicting.

10 On Your Side reached out to the CDC to ask if the agency gave states any advance notice. We also reached out to the governor and state health officials to ask the same. No word from any of them.

Finally, we asked congressional leaders from Virginia if the CDC dropped the ball and whether the government agency bears the responsibility to give states advanced notification of something like this.

United States Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both Democrats from Virginia, sent a joint statement in response, which did not answer those questions. Here is what it said:

“Last spring, officials at every level of government—federal, state, and local—continually had to adjust course as we learned more about this new virus. Now, understandably, we are continually having to adjust course again as we learn more about the protections these vaccines offer. The most important take-away from the CDC announcement is that COVID-19 vaccines offer powerful protection and are the key to returning to normal life. Just as we have trusted Governor Northam, the Virginia Department of Health, and local health authorities to implement COVID-19 precautions as we rapidly learned more about the virus, we trust them to incorporate the CDC’s latest announcement in determining how best to loosen precautions for vaccinated Virginians.”

As far as travel, The Transportation Security Administration reminded Americans on Friday that travelers are still required to wear a mask on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation.

“CDC guidance is clear that fully vaccinated people are safe to travel and can resume travel,” the TSA said.

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