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Virginia recommends but doesn’t require wearing masks indoors

Face masks (via Mika Baumeister on Unsplash)

(Updated at 4:10 p.m.) Virginia recommends that even vaccinated individuals wear masks indoors in certain circumstances, but with different locations experiencing different levels of COVID-19 transmission, the state has stopped short of issuing a mandate.

While some states revised their mask rules shortly after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s announcement on Tuesday (July 27), Virginia had not indicated how it will approach mask-wearing amid rising COVID-19 case levels, with officials saying only that they were reviewing the new guidance.

Gov. Ralph Northam issued the first official statement on the issue via social media on Thursday (July 29), writing that “all Virginians should consider wearing a mask in public indoor settings where there is increased risk of COVD-19  transmission, as the new CDC guidance recommends.”

“This is not a requirement, but a recommendation,” he said.

These situations include masking indoors at K-12 schools and in areas of the Commonwealth that have “substantial” community transmission of the virus.

Northam noted in further tweets that there has been a dramatic rise in COVID cases in Virginia over the last month due to the delta variant and that “over 98%” of hospitalizations and deaths are residents who are unvaccinated.

When asked why the state is recommending but not requiring indoor mask-wearing, a Virginia Department of Health spokesperson said the department “doesn’t have anything to add at this moment” beyond Northam’s statement.

When explaining the decision to revise its guidelines, the CDC cited new scientific evidence showing that vaccinated people infected with the delta variant could potentially spread the virus to others. While the available vaccines effectively protect against severe illness and hospitalizations, the findings concerned officials enough to prompt a reversal of sorts after mask requirements were eased in May.

“This new science is worrisome and unfortunately warrants an update to our recommendations,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky said.

With case numbers climbing locally, as they have elsewhere around the country, Fairfax County has moved to put new rules in place in the hopes of slowing the virus’ spread without jeopardizing plans to reopen workplaces and schools.

Fairfax County Public Schools announced yesterday (Wednesday) that it will require universal masking in school buildings regardless of an individual’s vaccination status, and the Board of Supervisors approved a motion on Tuesday (July 27) to evaluate whether to implement a vaccine mandate for 12,000 county employees.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said in a statement that he supports a shift back to wearing masks indoors for places with high COVID-19 transmission and around people who are unable to get vaccinated:

With the delta variant surging in unvaccinated communities, I support masking in areas with more people vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 who aren’t able to be vaccinated (such as schools) and areas with a high risk of transmission. In Fairfax County we will continue to follow state guidelines on masking and sharing the effectiveness of masking to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Currently, 76% of Fairfax Health District residents over the age of 18 have received at least one dose of the vaccine and 69.4% are fully vaccinated, according to the Fairfax County Health Department’s vaccine dashboard.

While that’s above Virginia and national rates, those numbers have barely budged over the last several weeks as the county looks for ways to get more residents immunized.

Health experts and public officials continue to reiterate that vaccines are the best tools in the fight against the pandemic.

“The vaccine is the strongest tool we have to fight this pandemic,” McKay wrote. “For the sake of our economic recovery, sending students back to school, and returning to normal, we need even more people to get vaccinated. If you aren’t vaccinated, go to vaccine.gov to get scheduled, there are appointments available near you!”

In terms of transmission rates, Fairfax County is currently doing better than many other Virginia counties.

While the CDC’s COVID tracker shows that a large swath of the Commonwealth has “substantial community transmission,” Fairfax County currently has “moderate” transmission like Arlington County. A number of nearby localities like the City of Alexandria, Stafford, and Spotsylvania counties have “substantial” or even “high” transmission.

D.C., which has substantial spread, announced today that it will require everyone 2 and older to wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status starting Saturday (July 31).

Photo via Mika Baumeister/Unsplash

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