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Virginia ends universal mask mandate, other restrictions end in two weeks

Effective at midnight Saturday, Virginia’s universal mask mandate was repealed, but some mask requirements will remain in place – all social distancing and capacity restrictions will end in two weeks.

Virginians will no longer need to wear a face covering when going to restaurants, bars, stores or most public and private locations. The repeal applies to Virginians who are vaccinated and those who are not. However, Gov. Ralph Northam’s office strongly encourages those who are not vaccinated to wear face coverings in all settings.

“The legal penalty for patrons not wearing a mask has been removed, but anyone who is not yet vaccinated is strongly encouraged to wear masks in indoor settings as recommended by the CDC,” Alena Yarmosky, a spokesperson for the governor’s office, told The Center Square.

People will still be allowed to wear masks and businesses are allowed to require masks and ask for proof of vaccination. 

Face coverings will still be required on public transit, in health care facilities and in congregate settings. Congregate settings include schools, homeless shelters, prisons and detention centers. Employees (but not patrons) in the following industries will still need to wear masks unless they are fully vaccinated: restaurants, retail, fitness, personal care and entertainment.

The governor also announced he is speeding up the elimination of other COVID-19 mitigation measures. All social distancing and capacity restrictions will end in two weeks on Friday, May 28.

“Virginians have been working hard, and we are seeing the results in our strong vaccine numbers and dramatically lowered case counts,” Northam said in a news release.

“That’s why we can safely move up the timeline for lifting mitigation measures in Virginia,” Northam said. “I strongly urge any Virginian who is not yet vaccinated to do so—the vaccines are the best way to protect yourself and your community from COVID-19. The message is clear: vaccinations are how we put this pandemic in the rearview mirror and get back to being with the people we love and doing the things we have missed.”

The face mask change comes when other pandemic restrictions are being alleviated that have already been announced. Tomorrow, May 15, bars and restaurants will be able to return to normal hours and the state will end its midnight curfew on alcohol sales.

Also, indoor social gathering limits increases from 50 to 100 people and outdoor social gathering limits will increase from 100 to 250 people. Entertainment venues are permitted up to 50% capacity with a 1,000-person cap indoors and no cap outdoors. Recreational sporting events will be allowed up to 50% capacity with a 250-person cap indoors and a 1,000-person cap outdoors.

Members of the business community breathed a sigh of relief after the announcement, as many have been as a result of pandemic restrictions. Nicole Riley, the Virginia director of the National Federation of Independent Business, applauded the governor’s decision, but expressed uncertainty about whether businesses will still be forced to comply with pandemic workplace safety regulations.

“Small businesses are excited to know Virginia will be opening up fully sooner rather than later,” Riley said in a statement. “However, what isn’t clear to businesses is will they still be held liable to the permanent workplace safety regulations the State imposed on them to combat the exposure and spread of the coronavirus now that the Executive Order 72 will be rescinded on May 28? The last thing government should be doing when small businesses are trying to reopen is continuing to impose irrelevant regulations.”

Before the governor’s announcement, Senate Republicans urged the governor to enact a full repeal of the state’s mask requirements, rather than only a partial repeal.

“We call on Governor Northam to conform the Commonwealth’s guidance to that of the CDC’s by immediately rescinding his mask mandate,” Senate Republican leaders said in a joint statement.

A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after they have received both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the only dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

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