If COVID-19 case numbers keep dropping, everything except the mask mandate could be lifted next month .
RICHMOND – Virginia’s main COVID-19 restrictions could be lifted in just over a month, Gov. Ralph Northam said Thursday. But that depends on two factors.
“If our COVID numbers keep trending down and our vaccination numbers keep going up, we plan to lift our mitigation measures, capacity restrictions and social distancing requirements on June 15,” Northam said. “We’ll continue to evaluate our mask guidance.”
These possible changes in June are in addition to the upcoming May 15 adjustments to COVID-19 restrictions in Virginia. In less than two weeks, indoor social events can include up to 100 people, and up to 250 people will be allowed to gather outdoors.
Also as of May 15, indoor entertainment venues will be able to operate at either 50% capacity or serve a maximum of 1,000 people, whichever is less. Outdoor entertainment spaces will be able to operate at 50% capacity, with no cap on the number of people who can gather there.
Northam Says More Vaccinations Mean Less Restrictions
The changes are happening due to several positive developments in the Commonwealth.
First, the vaccination rate in Virginia rose again. As of Thursday morning, 45.9% of Virginians had already received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Northam also noted that nearly 60% of those eligible for the vaccine, meaning people aged 16 and older, have already gotten the shot. Of those 65 and older, nearly 80% have already received one dost of the vaccine, and more than half are fully vaccinated.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 80% of pre-K-12 teachers, school staff and childcare workers received at least their first shot of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of March. Three-fourths of Virginia’s school personnel already have at least one dose of the vaccine, and two-thirds are fully vaccinated, according to the governor.
Northam also said approximately 66% of inmates in correctional facilities across Virginia have received a COVID-19 vaccine. As of Thursday, the Department of Corrections reported only seven active COVID-19 cases.
With vaccination rates rising and COVID-19 percent positivity rates dropping, Virginia’s on the right track for lessened restrictions next month. The number of positive cases reached a state high on Jan. 4, with 2,156 probable cases and 5,989 confirmed. On Wednesday, there were 60 probable cases and 143 confirmed the day before.
“This is good news,” Northam said. “And it’s thanks to the millions of Virginians who have done the right thing. And I say, thank you.”
Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine
Virginia is not the only place lifting some COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recently issued updated guidance on mitigation strategies to limit the spread of the virus in the US.
That new guidance says fully vaccinated people may gather indoors with both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals without wearing a mask or staying six feet apart. They may also gather or conduct activities outdoors without wearing a mask, except in crowded settings or venues.
The governor hit some of the highlights in which vaccinated people could safely participate.
“Vaccinated people can safely do more things,” Northam said. “They can socialize in small groups without masks or social distancing, for example. They don’t have to get COVID tests before they travel.”
Despite this new guidance, the mask requirement is still in effect in public spaces in Virginia.
But, Northam said for people with the vaccine, life is steadily returning to normal already.
“More people are now spending time together. More people are hugging the people that they love. [And] more people are getting to do the things that they enjoy once again,” Northam said. “Vaccines make all of this possible. That’s why so many Virginians are choosing to get a shot.”
Vaccines Widely and Easily Available
Northam also noted that the COVID-19 vaccines are widely and easily available in Virginia. Walk-in appointments are now available at many locations across the Commonwealth.
“[Vaccines are] in grocery stores, in doctors’ offices, in pharmacies, the places where you’re used to getting your healthcare,” Northam said. “And of course, they will continue to be available at your local health department and in hospitals across Virginia.”
However, the former pediatrician also noted the hesitancy some people felt toward the vaccine. He encouraged people with questions to confide with a trusted professional.
“If you’re on the fence, talk to your doctor,” Northam said. “The vaccine is free. It’s easy. And it could save your life. It’s the best way for us all to get back to doing the things that we love to do.”
Northam Cautions About Remaining Vigilant
There’s more help on the horizon in the fight against COVID-19. As early as next week, the federal government could approve the use of the Pfizer vaccine for those ages 12 and older, Northam said.
“You don’t have to be a pediatrician to know that that’s good news,” Northam said. “Parents are eager for their children to be able to get this shot. Preliminary results from a [Virginia Commonwealth University] survey tell us that a large majority of parents, 66 percent, plan to get their adolescents vaccinated [and] 63% will vaccinate their younger children when it’s available. This is great news for getting back to normal, and we’re ready for it.”
The governor encouraged Virginians to remain vigilant against the virus, even as pandemic-related restrictions lessen.
“We still have work to do. We are not at the finish line yet. And we still need to take the precautions that we all know work,” Northam said. “But we’re approaching a time when we can think differently about how we interact, especially people who are vaccinated.”