Virginians will still need to wear masks indoors and at large, crowded events outside, but Gov. Ralph Northam amended his executive order Thursday to allow fully vaccinated people — meaning those who received their final COVID-19 vaccine dose at least two weeks earlier — to remove their masks outdoors in small gatherings, following new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
“The CDC’s recommendations underscore what we have said all along; vaccinations are the way we will put this pandemic behind us and get back to normal life,” Northam said in a statement. “Our increasing vaccination rate and decreasing number of new COVID-19 cases has made it possible to ease mitigation measures in a thoughtful and measured manner. I encourage all Virginians who have not yet received the vaccine to make an appointment today.”
Northam’s mask mandate — first affecting all Virginians ages 10 and older, and then lowered to age 5 — was put in place in late May 2020 to curb the spread of COVID-19, following the CDC’s recommendation.
With Thursday’s change, mask use is still required indoors and at crowded events like concerts, sporting events and graduation ceremonies, the governor’s office said in a news release.
Northam, who previously announced some lifted restrictions beginning May 15, moved up one change to go into effect immediately, allowing up to 1,000 people to attend outdoor recreational sporting events. The news release said that Northam expects further rollbacks by mid-June as long as health metrics and vaccination continue to progress positively.
Virginia’s and other states’ masking policies heavily influenced life across the nation over the past year. Some businesses in Virginia were shut down after repeatedly violating the mandate, and state Sen. Amanda Chase was forced to sit in a Plexiglass cubicle during state senate sessions because she refused to wear a mask. However, health officials and Northam have attributed Virginia’s relatively low COVID rates compared to other states to its mask mandate and other safety precautions.
Although some governors have completely rescinded masking mandates in recent weeks, others have taken more cautious approaches. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan declared this week that Marylanders did not need to wear masks outdoors except for in large ticketed venues and on public transit, a similar policy to Northam’s. Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser also released new mask guidance Thursday, allowing vaccinated people to shed face coverings for small indoor private gatherings, and vaccinated people can socialize with unvaccinated people outdoors, although unvaccinated people should still wear a mask.
As of Gov. Northam’s mask use change, 3.7 million Virginians — 43.9% of the population — are vaccinated with at least one dose, and 29.9% of the state, or 2.5 million people, are fully vaccinated. Shots are available for anyone age 16 or older. Although there are walk-in appointments available in some regions of the state, many clinics are still requiring advance appointments.
All adult residents of Virginia can now register to get vaccinated at vaccinate.virginia.gov or call (877) VAX-IN-VA, or (877) 829-4682.