Northam Lifts Mask Mandate, Speeds Up End For COVID-19 Restrictions

By Brian Carlton

May 14, 2021

No more mask mandate, no more social distancing. Virginia will under no COVID-19 restrictions by the end of May.

RICHMOND-By the end of this month, Virginia will lift all COVID-19 restrictions. Gov. Ralph Northam announced that Friday, while also lifting the state’s universal mask mandate. 

“Now we are able to move up the timeline to end [all restrictions] thanks to the new CDC guidelines,” Northam said. “The vaccines are working. Our case counts are dropping to levels not seen since last summer.” 

The state has seen case numbers drop over the past month, with a positive test rate of 3.5%. That’s lower than any point since the pandemic started in March 2020. Also, Virginia’s seven-day average of new cases is at 555, the lowest it’s been in 10 months. On Friday, state officials reported 493 new COVID-19 cases. Also, 35 cities and counties reported no new cases, while eight saw decreases as people fully recovered. 

“Virginians have been doing the right thing and we’re seeing results,” Northam said. He touted the fact Virginia’s administered 7 million shots, while pointing out 63% of Virginia adults received at least one. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine only requires one shot,while Pfizer and Moderna’s versions require two.  

The changing numbers, plus the CDC’s new mask guidelines, made it the right time to end Virginia’s restrictions, Northam said. As of May 28, all of Virginia’s distancing and capacity restrictions will be lifted. That means all restaurants, sporting events, concert venues and other facilities will be allowed to operate at full capacity. It also means people won’t have to practice social distancing at graduations or other social events. 

Effective as of midnight on May 15, the governor also lifted Virginia’s universal mask mandate. This part comes with a qualifier. There is no more mask requirement, but state officials “strongly recommend” you wear one inside if you’ve not been fully vaccinated. 

“It’s very simple,” Northam said. “Either a shot or a mask. It’s up to you.” 

Some Exceptions

Now there are some exceptions to the mask rules. For example, because the state just started vaccinating kids, masks will still be required in all public schools. Everyone is still required to wear one while riding a bus, train, airplane or any other public transportation. Masks are also required in doctors’ offices, clinics and hospitals. Also, if a business wants to require masks, owners have the right to do that under the revised executive order. 

Kroger is one example of a business that’s continuing to require masks. The company put out a statement Friday, explaining their position.

“At this time, the Kroger Family of Companies continues to require everyone in our stores to wear masks,” the group said in a statement. “We are encouraging and incentivizing associate vaccinations by offering a $100 one-time payment to associates who receive the recommended doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.”

All employees in entertainment venues, gyms, restaurants and retail still have to wear masks at work, unless they’re fully vaccinated. Previously, the governor’s order required anyone five years old and up to cover their mouth and nose with a mask indoors. 

One Set Of Restrictions Lifts May 15

While most restrictions end in two weeks, things start easing up Saturday. 

First, social gatherings can get a bit larger. If you want to celebrate your son or daughter’s graduation, that’ll be a bit easier. As of May 15, indoor social events can have up to 100 people, with 250 allowed for outdoor gatherings. That’s nearly double what’s currently allowed. 

And what about festivals, concerts or theater productions? The capacity for those also goes up on May 15. All indoor entertainment venues will be able to operate at either 50% capacity or 1,000 people, whichever is lower. Right now, the cap is set at 500 people. Outdoor entertainment spaces, including festivals and concert venues, will be able to simply operate at 50% capacity. There will be no cap in place. That’s because at an outdoor festival, you have more space to move around and stay distant from other groups. When you’re indoors, it’s not as easy. 

Now we get to sporting events. Indoor games will be limited to no more than 250 fans. The cap for outdoor games will be a bit higher, coming in at 1,000 people. Why 1,000 people for sports when outdoor festivals don’t have a specific cap? It’s because you have to sit in seats at a sporting event. If you go to watch the Richmond Squirrels or Danville Otterbots play, you’re buying a ticket to sit in a seat. That makes it harder to stay socially distant from other groups. And again, even these lightened restrictions are just temporary, in place for less than two weeks.

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