RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – Gov. Ralph Northam updated Virginia’s mask mandate to align with new federal guidance, allowing fully vaccinated people to go without a face covering in most settings starting on Saturday.
Businesses will still have the authority to require their employees and customers to wear masks. They can also ask for proof of people’s vaccination status before entry, according to Northam’s Spokesperson Alena Yarmosky. However, Yarmosky said the Adminstration is officialy ruling out statewide vaccine passports.
Under the new executive order, employees in certain regulated sectors–including restaurants, retail, fitness, personal care, and entertainment–must continue to wear a mask unless they are fully vaccinated. People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their final dose.
“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 changes to the mask requirements will go into effect at midnight when Virginia will ease restrictions on capacity limits on sporting events, gatherings and entertainment venues.
Northam said he also plans to lift all capacity restrictions and social distancing requirements by May 28, two weeks earlier than expected.
The shift on masks from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took officials by surprise, with the governor’s office saying Northam had not been briefed on the decision before it was announced Thursday.
In accordance with the CDC guidance, Virginia will still require fully vaccinated people to wear masks on public transportation, at healthcare and correctional facilities, and homeless shelters.
People who are not vaccinated will not be required to wear a mask in public but will be strongly encouraged to do so still, according to a release from the governor’s office.
Masks will continue to be required in K-12 schools due to low vaccination rates among children.
Republican State Sen. Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover) took issue with that.
“We should be letting individual parents and individual school boards make those decisions for our children,” he said.
Coronavirus cases have steadily dipped in Virginia as vaccinations have gone up. According to the Virginia Department of Health, almost half of the state’s population has received at least one dose and nearly 37% have been fully vaccinated.
“Virginians have been working hard, and we are seeing the results in our strong vaccine numbers and dramatically lowered case counts,” Northam said Friday. “That’s why we can safely move up the timeline for lifting mitigation measures in Virginia.”
The Virginia Branch of the National Federation of Independent Businesses released a statement after Northam’s announcement, applauding his decision.
The NFIB statement says, “Small businesses are excited to know Virginia will be opening up fully sooner rather than later.”
NFIB still is posing questions about workplace safety regulations and how this order effects them.
“However, what isn’t clear to businesses is will they still be held liable to the permanent workplace safety regulations the State imposed on them to combat the exposure and spread of the coronavirus now that the Executive Order 72 will be rescinded on May 28? The last thing government should be doing when small businesses are trying to reopen is continuing to impose irrelevant regulations.”
This story is developing. Stay with 8News for updates.