PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has announced new requirements in the commonwealth in light of spread of the contagious delta variant and recent guidelines from the CDC.
Virginia is asking all students and staff at K-12 schools to wear masks indoors whether they are vaccinated or not, based on recent CDC guidance. School districts could face apparent legal action if not, per Northam.
Northam is not mandating masks via executive order, but pointed to legislation passed this year that requires Virginia schools to have in-person learning five days a week and provide instruction in a manner that “adheres, to the maximum extent practicable, to any currently applicable mitigation strategies… to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 that have been provided by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
This state guidance would seemingly override decisions previously made at the local level, and school districts who choose not to require masks could face legal action, Northam said.
“They should have a frank discussion with their legal counsel … it is the law of the land,” Northam said.
However the bill’s sponsor, Siobhan Stolle Dunnavant (R-12 District), disagreed with that interpretation.
“I think it is funny and ironic that he is not just deciding to lead and do a mask mandate if that’s what he thinks he ought to do, but somehow he is going to say he has to do it because of this bill. That’s not what the bill says.”
The other major announcement on Thursday was that state employees will also be required to be vaccinated and show proof by Sept. 1. Employees who choose not to get vaccinated will have to be tested weekly. The move impacts about 122,000 employees. Northam says the number of state employees vaccinated mirrors numbers at the state level, with about 73% with at least one dose.
Northam also encouraged private business and local governments to require vaccinations to help prevent spread of the virus and serious illness and death.
“The only way to end this pandemic is to for everyone to get vaccinated against COVID-19,” Northam said. “As head of state government, we have a responsibility to lead by example and ensure the safety of our employees and the people they serve. The three vaccines are safe, effective, free, and widely available, and I strongly urge every eligible Virginian to get their shot. The time for waiting is over.”
At this time, Northam says the focus is on getting people vaccinated and he’s not looking to issue a mandate requiring masking in public. For those who’ve said they’re waiting on FDA approval for the vaccine, Northam pointed to discussion with Dr. Anthony Fauci, who expects full FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine in the coming weeks.
As of August 5, 72.8% of Virginian adults have at least one dose of vaccine. 65.4% of Virginian adults are fully vaccinated, VDH data shows.