Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, on Thursday issued a public health emergency order that requires universal masking indoors for the state’s K-12 schools.
“We all share the same goal of keeping our schools open and keeping our students safe,” Mr. Northam said in a statement. “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 order complies with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released last month that recommend face coverings for all students, teachers and staff. Children younger than 12 are not eligible for any COVID-19 vaccines yet, which is partially why the CDC advises masking in all K-12 schools.
Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver called masking an “effective tool” to prevent the spread of COVID-19, especially for children who are not eligible for vaccination.
The vast majority of school districts in Virginia have opted to follow CDC guidance on universal masking, according to State Superintendent James Lane.
Separately, Mr. Northam signed a budget bill on Tuesday to provide $500 million for public schools to improve ventilation and air quality as a way to reduce the risk of airborne illnesses such as COVID-19.
Cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations are rising in Virginia. Over the past two weeks, the rolling average number of daily new cases has increased by about 132%, The Associated Press reported.
The coronavirus has infected more than 715,500 Virginia residents, hospitalized more than 32,000 and killed more than 11,500 as of Thursday, state health data shows.