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Northam on masks indoors: 'This is not requirement, but recommendation'

Governor: 'We know the vaccines work... But we are now seeing a rise in cases due to the Delta variant'
Posted at 3:10 PM, Jul 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-29 16:01:59-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said Thursday that Virginians should consider wearing a mask indoors in localities where there is an increased risk of COVID-19 transmission.

"This is not a requirement, but a recommendation," Northam posted on Twitter. "We know the vaccines work—since January, over 98% of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths have been among unvaccinated Virginians. But we are now seeing a rise in cases due to the Delta variant."

Northam noted that the Commonwealth reported 1,101 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, which is up significantly from the less than 200 daily cases recorded just a month ago.

"Masks are effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19, but getting vaccinated is the surest way we can bring this pandemic to an end. All three vaccines are safe, effective, and free," Northam wrote.

Northam first urged Virginians to wear face coverings in April of 2020, but then later mandated masks be worn in public indoor spaces as of May 29, 2020. However, Virginia lifted its universal indoor mask mandate nearly a year later on May 14, 2021, in accordance with CDC guidance at the time.

Additionally, the governor urged Virginians who have not been vaccinated to do their part and get the shot.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, 64.9% of adults 18 and over have been fully vaccinated in the Commonwealth as of Thursday. And nearly 72% of adults in Virginia have received at least one dose of the shot.

The tweets come after Northam said Wednesday that his administration was still reviewing the new mask guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"We're studying this, we're looking at the CDC guidelines," Northam told reporters at an event in Richmond on Wednesday. "And one of the things that I feel the responsibility for, as you know, we've given accurate and up-to-date information as best we can to keep all Virginians safe."

RELATED: A timeline of the COVID-19 pandemic in Virginia

The CDC announced Tuesday that it was recommending masks be worn by fully-vaccinated people in indoor public settings in communities where transmission of the virus is "substantial" or "high."

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said they made the change after new data showed some people infected with the delta variant even after being vaccinated can spread the virus to others.

Several counties within the Metro Richmond-area would be considered to be in those transmission categories according to CDC data.

The CDC also recommended masks be required for everyone in K-12 schools, regardless of their vaccination status. A reversal from their recommendation earlier this month that masks only be required for everyone in elementary schools and only the unvaccinated in middle and high schools.

Administration officials said Thursday they were still reviewing the recommendation for universal masking in schools.

Northam said Wednesday that he learned of the proposed changes at the same time as everyone else.

"We want Virginians to be safe, we want to get this pandemic behind us. We'll offer guidelines in the next couple of days," added Northam. "But in the meantime, the key to getting this pandemic behind us -- we know that these vaccines work. We have three safe and effective vaccines. Anybody that's 12-and-above that hasn't been vaccinated, I strongly encourage you to go ahead and take advantage of that. That's the way we'll get this pandemic in the rearview mirror."

On the same day that the updated guidance was issued, Powhatan and Henrico Schools said that while they would encourage mask-wearing, they would keep it optional. Henrico parents at a vaccination event on Wednesday had mixed feelings about the decision, with some hoping that masks would be mandatory.

"I would prefer everyone wear masks so that everyone stays safe," one parent said.

"I do hope that they reconsider, but my decision won't change. My grandson will continue to stay at home just for safety reasons," another parent said.

Other parents are excited that the mask decision is an individual choice.

"I think that it should be their choice as well. Like I said, I have a hard time breathing in them all day so wearing them all day long in school is pretty hard, I'm sure," Ashley Martin, a Henrico parent of a rising ninth and seventh-grader, said.

Henrico schools said that as their guidance stated, they would be flexible because of the changing nature of COVID and they will continue to review the new CDC guidance.

Meanwhile, Northam said that whatever new guidance may come, people should continue to get vaccinated in order to put the pandemic behind us.

"Whether it be the Delta variant or the echo or the foxtrot, I mean, you could go right down the alphabet. We are going to continue to have variants. And this virus will continue to smolder."