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State health order requires masks in schools

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Thursday, Aug. 12, a Public Health Emergency Order requiring universal masking in all indoor settings in Virginia’s K-12 schools.

Ralph Northam

This order reinforces current state law, which requires Virginia schools adhere to mitigation strategies outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

As of July 28, CDC guidelines include universal masking for all students, teachers, and staff. SB 1303 was passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority of the General Assembly earlier this year.

“We all share the same goal of keeping our schools open and keeping our students safe,” said Governor Northam. “That’s why the General Assembly passed this law with overwhelming bipartisan support. 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. I’m grateful to the work of the General Assembly and the Health Department, and I look forward to a safe start to the school year.”

Prince Edward, Buckingham, Cumberland, Lunenburg and Charlotte counties all required students to wear masks indoors even before this order was put in place.

Seventy-three percent of all adults in Virginia have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. As of August 10, 40.3% of 12 to 15 year olds in Virginia and 51.7% of 16 to 17 year olds in Virginia are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Children under 12 are not yet eligible to receive any available vaccination, which is one reason CDC updated its guidance to recommend universal masking in all K-12 schools. Masks are a proven tool to reduce in-school transmission, even in communities with high levels of spread.

“We know that masking is an effective tool to prevent the spread of COVID-19, particularly among children who are not yet eligible for vaccination,”  Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver said. “As cases rise in our communities, universal masking and other mitigation measures will ensure our schools continue to be the safest place for Virginia’s children.”

“The vast majority of school districts have chosen to follow the CDC and keep their school communities safe,”  State Superintendent Dr. James Lane said. “Universal masking has worked in school settings across Virginia for the past year and a half, and it remains a critical part of our safety protocols. I’m grateful to Governor Northam and Dr. Oliver for this order, which will ensure uniformity across all school districts and keep students safely in their classrooms—no matter where they live in Virginia.”

In addition to this Public Health Order, Governor Northam has dedicated significant resources to improve the safety of K-12 schools. On Tuesday, Governor Northam signed House Bill 7001, which provides a total of $500 million to improve ventilation and air quality in public schools. Ventilation systems clean and disperse air, decreasing the risk of various airborne illnesses including COVID-19.