In one of the most significant shifts of the pandemic, federal officials announced Thursday that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or social distance in most situations. Exceptions include traveling on buses, trains, planes or other forms of transportation and when in prisons or homeless shelters.
But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's announcement does not mean Virginia's mask mandate is lifted just yet.
While state leaders plan to follow CDC guidelines, changing documents for the entire state is "not quite as simple as flipping a switch," said Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky.
The Northam administration — which has been quick to align its guidance to the CDC in the past — was still reviewing the guidelines as of Thursday evening. An official update to Virginia's executive order requiring the wearing of masks is likely imminent.
"Ultimately this reinforces the importance of getting vaccinated. Vaccines are our pathway out of this pandemic, and they are how we can all get back to doing what we love," Yarmosky said. "With the expansion of eligibility to everyone 12 and older, more Virginians can get vaccinated than ever before. If you haven't already, now is the time to get your shot."
It's unclear how the new guidance will impact Virginia's state of emergency due to the coronavirus. Last week, Northam said the administration would not sustain the emergency order longer than needed. The order allows Virginians to wear masks in public, given that the Virginia code technically bans face coverings.
And the majority of the state is not fully vaccinated, which is considered to be two weeks after receiving the the last required shot. On Thursday, Virginia Department of Health data showed 3.1 million people, or 36.3%, have reached full vaccination.
Less than half of Virginia's population has received at least one dose. That number jumps to 63% when accounting for only the 18-plus population, an optimistic indicator that Virginia could reach President Joe Biden's goal of having 70% of U.S. adults vaccinated with at least one dose by Fourth of July.
In a media briefing Thursday, Biden emphasized that if "you've not been vaccinated, please wear the mask" and urged viewers to be patient with those who might feel more comfortable wearing a face covering. There's currently no enforcement on the CDC update.
A New York Times tracker of reopening plans showed 25 states had already dropped mask requirements before the announcement. Virginia is one of 25 where masks are still required indoors.
Staff writer Mel Leonor contributed to this report