The Virginia Department of Education, alongside the Virginia Department of Health, is urging all Virginia elementary schools to enforce mask mandates for teachers and students, regardless of vaccination status until vaccines are available to children under 12.
The updated guidance was shared Wednesday afternoon. While this is simply guidance, the state is declining to mandate masks in public schools as it has in the past. A public health order from State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver, which requires students and staff in all K-12 schools to wear masks indoors, expires on July 25. It will not be extended, the two departments said in a news release Wednesday.
On Monday, the two state departments updated guidance that still prioritizes in-person instruction amid the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. It comes days after the American Academy of Pediatrics released its own guidance urging everyone to wear masks in schools regardless of vaccination status amid the spread of the Delta variant of the novel coronavirus.
The guidance urges the universal use of masks in elementary schools, but is more lenient with middle and high schoolers, where the two departments said that school districts should require masks at a minimum for those unvaccinated. Schools should consider universal mask wearing if spread in school becomes severe, or if community transmission of a certain COVID-19 variant, such as Delta, that spreads more easily among children begins to increase substantially.
“Virginia has followed the science throughout this pandemic, and that’s what we continue to do,” said Gov. Ralph Northam in a release. “This guidance takes into consideration recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics, and will provide necessary flexibility for school divisions while ensuring a safe, healthy, and world class learning environment for Virginia’s students.”
Evidence has largely shown that children are less likely to get sick or die from COVID-19. However, some local schools are still shutting down due to COVID spread. Last week, Broad Rock Elementary School in South Richmond shut down because of a student testing positive for COVID-19, Superintendent Jason Kamras said in his weekly newsletter .
Richmond Public Schools is still opting to continue universal mask wearing, even when they are playing outside . Henrico Public Schools has relaxed its guidance for the upcoming fall semester, urging all who are not vaccinated to continue to wear masks, but not requiring them for those who are vaccinated. Henrico also will not require students and staff to provide proof of vaccination.
This is a breaking news story and will be updated.