Gov. Northam reviewing possible mask changes in Virginia following CDC reversal

Virginia

VIRGINIA (WRIC/AP) — On Wednesday, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said his team is reviewing possible changes to the state’s mask-wearing guidance after the CDC came out with revised recommendations on Tuesday.

In a reversal, the CDC said all students and staff at PreK-12 schools should be wearing masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. The agency also advised fully vaccinated people to put their masks back on in indoor public settings in areas where coronavirus transmission is substantial or high.

Northam said he was not given advanced notice about the CDC changes.

“I heard about it just like you did,” Northam said.

The announcement comes just days after a new school mask policy in Virginia took effect, giving localities the final say on face coverings. Many districts have already announced plans to make mask-wearing optional, something Northam didn’t directly address on Wednesday.

When asked if the state will update its guidance for schools, Northam said his team is still reviewing the revised CDC guidelines and will have recommendations in the next couple of days.

“The message here though is, while we know masks and social distancing are helpful …. the vaccine is the key to putting this pandemic behind us,” Northam said.

There is a chance, however, that the Northam Administration could restore a statewide universal indoor mask mandate, even outside of schools.

Asked about the possibility, Northam said, “We’re looking at those options. Our team is studying this and we’ve been in communication this morning.”

Northam didn’t directly respond when asked if there is a specific data threshold in terms of cases and positivity rate that would cause the state to restore its mask mandate.

Instead, Northam encouraged all Virginians to get vaccinated.

“As long as there are human beings that are vectors that are walking around unvaccinated, whether it be the delta variant or the echo or the foxtrot, you can go right down the alphabet, we are going to continue to have variants and this virus will continue to smolder unless we all become part of the solution and get vaccinated,” Northam said.

RAND Corporation Senior Mathematician Carter Price has been helping the Virginia Department of Health track and interpret COVID-19 trends for months.

“We aren’t in a particularly bad spot right now as far as cases go but we are definitely headed that way,” Price said. “It’s unlikely that this would be as bad as January and February but it could get worse than May of last year or last summer.” 

In the past, Price’s team of researchers have recommended statewide restrictions based on data projections. 

“We’re not making recommendations along those lines at this point,” Price said.

According to Price, the difference now is that much of the most vulnerable population has already been vaccinated and that seems to be keeping hospitalizations and deaths down even as cases rise. 

“If people don’t change their behavior, if people don’t continue to get vaccinated, there is that risk but we know a lot more now than we did a year and a half ago, Price said.

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