Governor ends mask mandate for vaccinated people, effective midnight
Va. easing all distancing, capacity restrictions May 28, two weeks early
Following federal recommendations, Gov. Ralph Northam lifted Virginia’s mask mandate Friday, effective at midnight, for all vaccinated Virginians. He also announced Friday afternoon that all distancing and capacity restrictions will be lifted May 28, two weeks sooner than planned.
Masks will still be required at Virginia’s K-12 public schools, because of low vaccination rates among children, the governor said. Also, businesses retain the right to require masks, and employees in restaurants, retail, fitness, personal care and entertainment businesses must continue to wear masks until fully vaccinated, Northam added. He also urged those who are not vaccinated or partially vaccinated to continue covering their faces in “all settings.”
“It’s either a shot or a mask. It’s up to you,” Northam said Friday.
In place since last May, the masking mandate has been one of the most controversial parts of the state’s COVID-19 mitigation measures, causing conflicts at businesses that tried to enforce masks among customers and even closures of a few restaurants that didn’t enforce the rule.
In addition to ending the mask mandate for vaccinated Virginians, the governor said that he will lift all physical distancing measures and capacity limits on May 28, ahead of a previously announced June 15 change. So far, Northam has not released precise details, but in Friday’s announcement, he said Virginia’s pandemic state of emergency will remain in effect at least through June 30, “to provide flexibility for local government and support ongoing COVID-19 vaccination efforts. Gov. Northam will take executive action to ensure individuals have the option to wear masks up to and after that date.”
On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance that fully vaccinated people — meaning those who received their final vaccine at least two weeks earlier — no longer need to wear masks or physically distance in any setting, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal or territorial laws. In Virginia, Northam had previously lifted part of the masking mandate to allow fully vaccinated Virginians to shed masks for small outdoor gatherings but still required them at indoor events and crowded outdoor events.
But with Friday’s announcement, delivered via video, Northam said, “Virginians have been working hard, and we are seeing the results in our strong vaccine numbers and dramatically lowered case counts. That’s why we can safely move up the timeline for lifting mitigation measures in Virginia.
“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. 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.”
On Thursday, following CDC and Food and Drug Administration approval, the state began allowing children ages 12 and older to receive Pfizer shots, and more than 63% of Virginia’s adult population, or more than 4 million people, have gotten at least one vaccine dose.
Virginians age 12 and older can schedule a vaccination appointment by visiting vaccinate.virginia.gov or calling 877-VAX-IN-VA, and Northam said that the state will have a “day of action” Tuesday to encourage the unvaccinated to get their shots. Vaccine makers have continued testing their shots, with hopes of providing vaccination to even younger children by the fall, possibly those as young as six months.