RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Wednesday that he plans to expand capacity limits so schools, colleges and universities can "safely hold" in-person graduation and commencement events this spring.
"Graduation events held outdoors will be capped at 5,000 people or 30 percent of the venue capacity, whichever is less," Northam administration officials said. "Graduation events held indoors may have up to 500 people, or 30 percent of the venue capacity, whichever is less."
Folks attending must wear masks and follow guidelines and safety protocols for social distancing, according to the preliminary safety guidance released for graduation and commencement events.
"These tentative plans have been reviewed with education officials and are expected to be included in an April 1 update to Third Amended Executive Order Seventy-Two," Northam administration officials said.
Northam said the guidance was released to allow schools to begin planning for the milestone events.
"While graduation and commencement ceremonies will still be different than they were in the past, this is a tremendous step forward for all of our schools, our graduates, and their families," Northam said.
JUST IN! CLASS OF 2021 GRADUATION UPDATE: Today, @GovernorVA Ralph Northam announced preliminary guidance that permits in-person high school graduation ceremonies to take place safely, with increased allowances for crowd sizes... pic.twitter.com/rZZu00DAiS— Henrico Schools (@HenricoSchools) March 17, 2021
Henrico 'actively planning' graduation for Class of 2021
Henrico County Public Schools officials called the preliminary guidance "great news" and said the district was "already actively planning" outdoor, in-person graduation ceremonies for the spring.
"While we’re not yet ready to announce a location or details of those plans, our high school seniors andbtheir families should expect full information in the coming weeks," officials said.
The district noted that there will likely still be some differences from "the traditional in-person experience" because of the pandemic.
The news comes as some parents pressed the state to allow some form of in-person, outdoor graduation ceremonies.
Since last year, most colleges, universities, and high schools have opted to host virtual or drive-thru ceremonies to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Northam and state health officials announced in late February that outdoor sports and recreation venues could begin hosting up to 1,000 people while simultaneously ensuring mitigation protocols.
But several Virginia colleges and universities had reported commencement ceremonies did not qualify under the previous guidelines.
The state also continues to make progress with vaccinations.
More than 21.3 percent of Virginia's population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while more than one million people are fully vaccinated. The statewide COVID-19 positivity rate is 5.4 percent, according to police.
Officials said Virginia is administering about 50,000 shots per day, so the state is on track to make the vaccine available to everyone who wants to get vaccinated by the beginning of May.
"The acceleration of the vaccine program and the decrease in new COVID-19 cases make it safer to ease restrictions on activities like in-person graduations," administration officials said.
Here's the update from @GovernorVA on expanded capacity for graduation/commencement ceremonies, both K12 and colleges:— Jake Burns (@JakeBurnsCBS6) March 17, 2021
-OUTDOOR: 5k people or 30% venue capacity
-INDOOR: 500 people or 30% capacity
-All must wear masks and follow safety protocols@CBS6 #graduation #COVID19 pic.twitter.com/4oT3QZ395W