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Northam Mandates Masks Across All Virginia K-12 Schools

Students sit in wheeled chairs at desks
Students wear masks during the first day of class at Hopewell High School. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Gov. Ralph Northam issued a public health order Thursday that will require all K-12 schools in Virginia to mandate mask-wearing indoors. The announcement comes after some districts hesitated to put mandates in place.

In a press release, Northam cites recent guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that call on everyone — even those who are vaccinated — to mask-up if the risk of transmission in the area is high.

He also points to a law passed earlier this year that requires schools to adhere to CDC mitigation guidelines to ensure in-person learning.

“We all share the same goal of keeping our schools open and keeping our students safe,” Northam said. “That’s why the General Assembly passed this law with overwhelming bipartisan support. This Public Health Order makes it very clear that masks are required in all indoor K-12 settings, and Virginia expects all schools to comply.”

The public health order overrules some local districts that had made mask wearing optional, like Hanover and Chesapeake. Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield schools had already put mask requirements in place, and Richmond’s superintendent said he’ll go a step further and recommend a vaccine mandate for staff at the upcoming Aug. 16 school board meeting.

In his statement, Northam’s office said this order is meant to send a clear message across the state. Some districts had interpreted the recent law to mean they had flexibility over whether to require masks.

As of Aug. 10, about 66% of Virginia adults are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. About 40% of 12-15 year-olds and 52% of 16-17 year-olds in Virginia are fully vaccinated. Children under 12 are still not eligible to receive the shot.

Editor's Note: We've clarified language in the third to last paragraph around mandates to make it clear that Richmond already had a mask mandate.