While the new law left the option up to parents, masks were still required on school buses. That’s changing now, too.

Like a snap of the fingers, masks went from mandatory in the majority of Virginia school districts to optional on March 1. That’s when Senate Bill (SB) 739, a new law signed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Feb. 16, went into effect. The law did away with school mask requirements in Virginia.

Compounding Changes

It all started on Friday, Feb. 25. Days prior to mask requirements becoming optional throughout Virginia schools, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its stance on wearing face masks in the current phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. If a person lives in an area considered at low-to-moderate risk of COVID-19 hospitalization, wearing masks indoors is no longer recommended. Approximately 70% of the US population currently falls into that category.

The same day the CDC updated its general masking guidance, the national public health agency also updated its school masking recommendations. The change aligns with the general guidance, and the CDC no longer recommends universal indoor mask wearing in K-12 and early education settings in areas with a low or medium COVID-19 Community Level.

The CDC also announced on Feb. 25 that it would exercise enforcement discretion to not require that people wear masks on buses or vans operated by public or private school systems. That included early care and education or child care programs.

School Districts Respond 

Over the weekend, school divisions across the commonwealth updated their masking policies and guidance. 

Hanover County Public Schools (HCPS) issued a statement to families on Feb. 27 about the changes. In the online letter, the district noted that mitigation strategies beyond masking would remain in place. 

“We recognize that these ongoing changes may be disruptive, and we are working to ensure they are implemented as smoothly as possible,” the HCPS statement read in part. “While masks are no longer required, we continue to encourage mask wearing in our buildings and on our buses as a health mitigation strategy, particularly when community COVID-19 levels are high.”

In the Hampton Roads area, schools in Portsmouth and Virginia Beach also updated their masking guidance. 

Portsmouth Public Schools announced on Feb. 28 that as of March 1, masks would be optional for students at school and on school buses. 

Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) noted that masks are now optional for students and adult chaperones while on school transportation vehicles, for students on VBCPS property, and for visitors. However, all staff members are still required to wear masks in school buildings and while in school vehicles, with the school division citing Virginia Department of Labor and Industry (DOLI) guidelines.

Roanoke County Public Schools announced that as of March 1, masks were optional for students in school buildings and on division school buses, as well as employees. 

Some Masking Still Necessary

Masks are still required for public conveyances like airplanes, ships, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxis, and ride-shares for both passengers and conveyance operators regardless of their vaccination status. 

The CDC also noted that people can still mask at any time, and further recommended that individuals with COVID symptoms, a positive COVID test, or exposure to someone with COVID continue wearing a mask.