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Gov. Northam announces mask mandate for all K-12 schools

Published: Aug. 12, 2021 at 1:51 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Gov. Ralph Northam announced a public health emergency order on Thursday to require universal masking in all Virginia K-12 schools.

“That requires all students, teachers, staff, visitors in our public and private K-12 schools in Virginia to wear a mask indoors and that’s regardless of their vaccination status,” said Dr. Laurie Forlano, VDH Deputy Commissioner for Population Health.

A release from Northam’s office states the order reinforces state law that requires schools to adhere to mitigation strategies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The decision comes after some school districts, such as Hanover County, decided to make masks optional. The county has since reversed its decision to comply with the mandate.

“We fully expected school divisions to do the right thing, and glad to see it happening,” Northam said.

“We want to put every layer of protection in place that we can hopefully as we continue to see vaccination coverage climb go in the right direction, that will bring down transmission and then we will be able to peal back some of these mitigation measures,” said Dr. Forlano.

On July 28, the CDC changed their guidelines to require masks for all teachers, students and staff.

“SB 1303 was passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support. This isn’t about politics—students learn best when they are in the classroom, and masks help to protect everyone, especially kids who aren’t yet vaccinated,” Northam said in a statement. “This law will help to keep schools open and ensure the safety of staff, teachers, and students.”

The order, signed by State Health Commissioner Norman Oliver, includes all schools in Virginia, including private schools. The governor’s office clarified the order does not apply to daycares.

“This Public Health Order makes it very clear that masks are required in all indoor K-12 settings, and Virginia expects all schools to comply,” Northam said in the release.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin issued a statement against the mandate.

“Richmond liberals have made clear that they will stop at nothing to impose their will and take away parents’ ability to decide what’s best for our kids. Make no mistake about it, this mask mandate is the first step towards returning to a full shutdown of our economy,” Youngkin said. “... If parents, teachers, and children want to wear a mask, they absolutely should do that, but there should not be a statewide school mask mandate.”

House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert urged Northam to “change course” in a Thursday release.

“Further, local school divisions are best equipped to make their own decisions on whether or not to require masks in schools. Virginia has only begun to recover from the last round of overly broad restrictions. We can keep Virginians safe without destroying their livelihoods,” Gilbert said.

Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate, supported schools following CDC guidelines.

“Terry believes we have to do everything we can to keep our children safe while they return to schools in-person this fall, and he believes everyone should follow CDC guidelines in wearing masks and getting vaccinated. He knows the only way we’re going to end this pandemic and keep our economy strong is by getting every eligible Virginian vaccinated as quickly as possible,” said McAuliffe spokesperson Renzo Olivari.

The Virginia Education Association applauded the effort, saying the precaution will “save lives.”

“VEA places the highest priority on the health and safety of students, their families and communities, and school staffs,” the release states. “We called in July for universal masking as back-to-school season was starting, and we demand that school divisions across the Commonwealth follow the Governor’s call.”

Children under 12 are not eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, which is one reason CDC updated its guidance. Masks can reduce in-school transmission, even in communities with high transmission levels.

Read the full release here.

This is a developing story. Stay with NBC12 for updates

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