Will students wear masks next school year? Virginia updates statewide guidance

Posted at 1:04 PM, Jul 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-21 20:57:59-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Will students wear masks in class when school resumes in Virginia? That answer will depend on where you live.

The Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Education updated masks-in-school guidance for the upcoming school year. That guidance will leave the masking and other COVID-19 safety decisions up to local school districts.

“Virginia has followed the science throughout this pandemic, and that’s what we continue to do,” Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said about the updated guidance. “This guidance takes into consideration recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics, and will provide necessary flexibility for school divisions while ensuring a safe, healthy, and world-class learning environment for Virginia’s students."

Masks will still be required on all public school buses, per a CDC federal order requiring masks on public transportation.

Both the governor and state education leaders said the updated guidance "reinforces the importance of in-person learning" and allows local school districts to do what makes the most sense for their communities. All districts are required to offer in-person school for the upcoming school year.

“Schools occupy a special place in the life of our communities, and we need to do everything we can to keep everyone in them safe," State Health Commissioner Norm Oliver said. "This guidance is aimed at protecting students, educators, and staff while also providing localities with flexibility."

The state will recommend, but not require, school divisions follow these safety precautions:

Elementary schools should implement a requirement that students, teachers, and staff wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, until vaccination is available for children under 12 years old and there has been sufficient time to allow for children younger than 12 years old to be fully vaccinated.

At a minimum, middle and high schools should implement a requirement that students, teachers, and staff who are not fully vaccinated wear masks indoors. While school divisions regularly confirm school-required immunization records of their students, they should consult with their counsel in determining if and how to confirm student and staff COVID-19 vaccinations.

All schools may want to consider universal masking for specific reasons as outlined in certain circumstances by the CDC.

All schools should be prepared to adjust local mask policies as local public health conditions evolve throughout the year.

Physical distancing of at least 3 feet should be maximized to the greatest extent possible but schools should not reduce in-person learning to keep a minimum distance requirement.

State leaders continue to encourage eligible Virginia to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

"Prevention strategies are most effective when layered together, and will continue to be necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools," a spokesperson for the governor wrote in an email. "The guidance recommends that [school] divisions work with local health departments to implement mitigation strategies based on information about the levels of community transmission, local vaccine coverage, the occurrence of cases and outbreaks in schools, and the use of screening testing data to detect cases in schools."

  • Hopewell (44.1% of the population fully vaccinated) goes back on July 26
  • Goochland (60.1% of the population fully vaccinated) and Powhatan (44.4% of the population fully vaccinated) go back on Aug. 23
  • Chesterfield (61% of the population fully vaccinated) goes back on Aug. 23 and 24 (depending on the grade)
  • Hanover (55.2% of the population fully vaccinated) and New Kent (55.7% of the population fully vaccinated) go back on Sept. 7
  • Henrico (64.3% of the population fully vaccinated) and Richmond (49.7% of the population fully vaccinated) go back on Sept. 8

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email to send a tip.

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