What rules exist for masks in Virginia, after the governor’s order? How will they be enforced?

RICHMOND – What are the rules? That was the biggest question after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam revised his executive order Friday. Northam canceled the state’s universal mask mandate, saying that fully vaccinated Virginians didn’t have to wear a mask indoors anymore. But how do you prove that? Do you need a vaccine passport? Should you show your vaccine card or will we just go on the honor system? 

There’s actually not one answer to this question. First off, there’s the state requirements. Simply put, it’s asking people to go on the honor system. Logan Anderson, a public information officer with the Virginia Department of Health, said Northam’s order does not require people to show proof of vaccination. 

Now, here’s where it gets complicated. Private businesses, Anderson said, can determine how they want to handle mask policies. That means if a restaurant still requires masks, it’s allowed under Virginia law. If a shop has someone at the front door checking vaccine cards, that’s allowed too. VDH and the state overall doesn’t enforce those policies, as it’s a private business in each case making their own decisions. 

But let’s also be clear. As Dogwood reported Friday, masks still have to stay on in some circumstances. 

“Masks will still be required in the following settings, regardless of vaccination status: public transit, health care facilities and congregate settings,” said Brookie Crawford, public information officer for the Central Region of the Virginia Department of Health. “Anyone who is not yet fully vaccinated is strongly encouraged to wear a mask in all settings.” 

If you’re on a bus, a train or plane, the mask requirement remains. The driver or others in charge can remove you for not following instructions. The same goes for hospitals and doctors’ offices. 

So What Are The Rules For Companies? 

Virginia is operating on the honor system. What about federal rules? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention started this discussion last week, when they said fully vaccinated people didn’t need to wear a mask or practice social distancing. Again, federal officials aren’t putting any vaccine passport requirements or other restrictions in place. They’re also going on the honor system. 

It’s a bit different with individual companies. Some chain stores jumped at the opportunity to lessen mask restrictions for customers and staff.

Target officials noted in a statement that the company followed the CDC’s recommendations throughout the pandemic. They won’t be asking for a vaccine passport, but they will strongly encourage people to keep wearing masks in some cases. 

“Given the CDC’s updated guidance last week, Target will no longer require fully vaccinated guests and team members to wear face coverings in our stores, except where it’s required by local ordinances,” the statement said. “Face coverings will continue to be strongly recommended for guests and team members who are not fully vaccinated and we’ll continue our increased safety and cleaning measures, including social distancing, throughout our stores.”

Coffee giant Starbucks cited widespread vaccine availability, as well as recent guidance from the CDC, when they announced a lessened mask restriction.

Other businesses, such as Publix and Costco, also gave the option for vaccinated individuals to come into their stores without a mask. 

“We will not require proof of vaccination, but we ask for members’ responsible and respectful cooperation with this revised policy,” said Craig Jelinek, president and CEO of Costco Wholesale. “Face coverings will still be required in healthcare settings, including Pharmacy, Optical, Hearing Aid. Costco continues to recommend that all members and guests, especially those who are at higher risk, wear a mask or shield.”

What If I Lost My Card?

The concern for some people stems from how the vaccine works. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are more than 90% effective. But while that prevents you from getting infected, it doesn’t stop you from becoming a carrier. That’s why some people want proof if the masks are coming off, in the form of a vaccine passport or vaccination cards.

If you lost your COVID-19 vaccination card, it’s not the end of the world. There are multiple solutions to restore your physical proof of vaccination.

Vaccinated individuals may check their email to see if their vaccination site provided documentation. They may also check to see if they have a login for a patient portal with access to the information.

“If you lose your CDC vaccination card, you may return to the original provider to ask about a replacement,” Anderson said. “Many providers, such as Walmart and Walgreens, have electronic medical records systems from which they’re able to pull the information. Additionally, you may also request a record of your vaccination through the Virginia Department of Health.” 

Those interested in a replacement vaccination card may submit a record request. They may also email vaccinerecord@vdh.virginia.gov or call the VIIS Help Desk at (866) 375-9795. The Help Desk operates  from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. VIIS staff can print out and provide people with an official vaccine record.

Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at amie@couriernewsroom.com