Northam to lift universal indoor mask mandate

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) released a video statement last week announcing he is lifting Virginia’s universal indoor mask mandate.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced Friday afternoon that he will lift the universal indoor mask mandate for vaccinated people starting on Saturday, according to a Friday tweet.

Fully vaccinated people will not be required to wear masks indoors or out, except on public transit, in health-care facilities or in congregate settings, in accordance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"This is a tremendous step forward," Northam said in a two-minute video. "It’s simple: either get your shot, or wear a mask."

The state of emergency in Virginia will remain in place at least through June 30 to provide flexibility for local government and support ongoing COVID-19 vaccination efforts, a Friday release stated. Northam will take executive action to ensure individuals have the option to wear masks up to and after that date. Masks will continue to be required in K-12 public schools, given low rates of vaccination among children.

On Thursday, the CDC announced that fully vaccinated Americans do not need to wear a mask both indoors or outdoors in most situations.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said the recommendation was made due to a downward trend of COVID-19 cases, the performance of the vaccine and CDC’s understanding of how the virus spreads.

Virginia is currently reporting a positivity rate of 3.5 percent, which is lower than at any time since the start of the pandemic, according to the Virginia Department of Health. The commonwealth’s seven-day average of new cases is 555, the lowest number in over 10 months. Virginia is currently recording its lowest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations at 684.

Virginia's restrictions on business capacity and social distancing will be lifted on May 28, weeks before the previously announced date of June 15.

Northam told the Washington Post he is lifting the potential misdemeanor criminal penalty for refusing to wear a mask, and has no plans to institute a “vaccine passport” or require any kind of proof of vaccination.

Employees of certain businesses will be required to continue wearing masks indoors if not fully vaccinated, including those in restaurants, retail, fitness, personal care, grooming and entertainment.

Businesses will be allowed to require mask-wearing by customers and employees as they see fit, the governor's release states.

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