RICHMOND, Va. (WJHL) – It could be the Commonwealth’s biggest step to returning to normal in more than a year.
Governor Northam announced Thursday that if COVID-19 numbers keep trending down and vaccination rates keep going up, he plans to lift all pandemic mitigation measures on June 15. This would include capacity restrictions and social distancing requirements in Virginia, and possibly even the statewide mask mandate.
You can watch News Channel 11’s live stream of the briefing below:
“Today the data give us a very clear message. The vaccines are working,” said Governor Northam.
In Thursday’s press conference, Governor Northam gave good news: the commonwealth is seeing the lowest number of people hospitalized with COVID in seven months. There has also been a dramatic drop in deaths related to the virus in recent weeks.
“We still have a lot of work ahead to meet President Biden’s new goal of 70 percent of American adults getting a first shot by the fourth of July. I feel confident that Virginia can do our part to reach that goal, and we will,” said Northam.
For Virginia schools, Northam said he does not anticipate requiring the shot for students on a federal level. He does, however, encourage school districts to keep mask mandates in place, following CDC guidelines.
“The first thing we have to remember is children have not been vaccinated. Especially those less than 16. Anytime children are gathered, indoors or outdoors, where there are numbers and they are in close proximity, they are at risk,” said Northam.
Northam’s pandemic emergency declaration is set to end on June 30. The governor announced Thursday he plans to lift all pandemic capacity limits and social distancing requirements on June 15. But, he said it is unclear yet if that includes the statewide mask mandate.
“I hope to have COVID-19 in the rearview mirror but for the mask mandate, again, not all children especially will have been vaccinated by June 30. So we have got to work through the details of how we deal with masks, especially if the CDC is still recommending that,” said Northam.
If the governor plans to extend Virginia’s mask mandate, the pandemic state of emergency will also have to be extended, according to Virginia law.
“One of the things the code requires for people to wear masks legally in public is a state of emergency declaration,” said the governor’s chief counsel, Rita Davis.
Northam emphasized he does hope he can end the emergency declaration on June 30.
“We certainly don’t want our state of emergency to go any longer than it needs to be. We want to put COVID-19 behind us, but there are some details we need to work through.”
For the Governor to lift all pandemic restrictions on June 15, he said vaccination numbers will need to continue to increase coupled with low COVID cases.
To help, the Virginia Department of Health is rolling out mobile vaccine clinics the week of May 17 to reach under-served, rural communities statewide.
“These mobile efforts are absolutely gonna help get to folks who wouldn’t come to something otherwise, but it is going to be slower and harder work,” said Dr. Danny Avula, Director of Richmond City and Henrico County Health Departments.
On May 15, the Governor is relaxing some restrictions in Virginia.
On that date, 100 people will be allowed at social gatherings indoors, 250 for outdoors. They are increasing capacity limits for indoor venues to 50 percent up to 1,000 people. Outdoor venues can operate at 50 percent capacity with no cap. Restaurants can begin selling alcohol after midnight.