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Health order requires universal masking 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.

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.

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. 

“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.”

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.