Northam lifting mask mandate; capacity, social distancing restrictions to end May 28

Updated: May. 14, 2021 at 11:26 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Governor Ralph Northam is lifting the mask mandate for those who have been vaccinated starting at midnight. The date of when all restrictions were going to be lifted has moved forward by two weeks.

“It’s very simple. It’s either a shot or a mask. It’s up to you. If you’re not vaccinated yet we strongly encourage you to wear a mask in public,” said Governor Ralph Northam, (D) Virginia.

Northam says all restrictions on capacity and social distancing are now set to lift on May 28, just before Memorial Day. This will give the state two weeks to get as many more people vaccinated before fully opening up. The restrictions were originally set to lift on June 15.

“Now we are able to move up the timelines and end them all thanks to new CDC guidance, our strong vaccine numbers, and dramatically lower case counts,” said Northam.

“Virginians have been working hard, and we are seeing the results in our strong vaccine numbers and dramatically lowered case counts,” said Northam. “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.”

The state mask mandate will be lifted for those who are vaccinated at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday in accordance with CDC guidance. Those who are not vaccinated are strongly encouraged to wear a mask.

“People get to see my smiling face,” said Carter Daniel, who works in the food industry. “I work as a waitress so that would be fantastic...It’s really annoying a lot of times but I feel a little bit safer. I feel a bit safer for my customers, but I’ll be happy to work without it.”

Everyone will still need to wear a mask on public transit, in health care facilities and in congregate settings.

Those who are not vaccinated but work in certain sectors, such as retail, fitness, restaurant, personal care/grooming and entertainment venues must wear a mask.

“The vaccines are clearly working and they are saving lives. Our case counts are dropping to levels not seen since last summer. In these next two weeks I strongly urge every eligible Virginian to get vaccinated,” said Northam.

Masks will also still be required in K-12 public schools due to the low vaccination rates among children. Children age 12 and up are now eligible to get the Pfizer vaccine after the FDA expanded the emergency use authorization to include the age group.

Northam said businesses will still retain the right to require a mask on customers and employees.

There are some who welcome that.

“I like to err on the side of caution...I don’t mind wearing the mask. I don’t mind,” David Fuller said.

“People don’t know how to cover their mouth. They cough right in your place,” Hope Daniel added. “I have an 88-year-old mother at home, so I don’t want to take anything home to her.”

The state of emergency will remain in place through at least June 30 to give local government flexibility and support during vaccination efforts. Northam said he will also take executive action to ensure individuals have the option to wear masks up to and after that date.

Virginia has administered nearly 7 million doses of the COVID vaccines. Hospitalizations, cases and the percent positivity rate continue to fall.

“Virginia is currently reporting a positivity rate of 3.5 percent, which is lower than at any time since the start of the pandemic. 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,” a release said.

As of May 14, 64 percent of Virginia adults have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Copyright 2021 WWBT. All rights reserved.

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