RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Mayor Levar Stoney updated the Richmond area on the City’s response to COVID-19 and economic development Tuesday afternoon.

The briefing started around 1 p.m. in City Hall. In addition to COVID response, the mayor gave an update on the City’s economic development.

Mayor Stoney was joined in the briefing by CEO of the VCU Health System Arthur Kellermann and Richmond Public School’s Superintendent Jason Kamras.

Dr. Danny Avula of the Richmond City Health District was absent from the meeting.

The COVID response update comes just days after newly-elected Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin completed one of his first acts as governor by signing an executive order allowing parents to opt their child out of school mask mandates.

Several local school districts, like Richmond Public Schools, have doubled down on their mandates, saying they will remain in place.

Kamras said that they will be maintaining a 100% mask mandate at Richmond Public Schools for students, staff and visitors. And cited a Senate Bill and the CDC for the guidelines they are following, “to the maximum extent practicable.”

Currently, Centers for Disease Control guidance recommends universal mask wearing in schools for everyone 2-years-old and up, regardless of vaccination status.

“Masks are safe and effective, and are one of the best ways to prevent COVID-19,” Kamras stated. “Masks not only keep people healthy, they keep our doors open.”

Gov. Youngkin signed 11 executive orders in his first official hours as governor including banning critical race theory, appointing a new parole board and ending COVID-19 vaccine mandates for state employees.

When questioned about the new governor’s executive order, Stoney replied, “I stand with Mr. Kamras and Richmond Public Schools for maintaining the requirement of masks in their facilities.”

“This is not only the right thing to do, but we know it is effective in slowing the transmission of COVID-19, particularly the Omicron variant” he stated.

Newly-elected Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears recently fired back at questions of what Gov. Youngkin could do if schools don’t follow his executive order, and still require masks.

“There are certain combinations of monies that we send to the local school boards and he could withhold some of that,” Earle-Sears said.  

During the press briefing today, Stoney said that the threats of withholding funds from schools didn’t sound like the, “pro-schools message in which he echoed not only in the chamber yesterday, but also Saturday at his inaugural address.”

“Threats of defunding schools when our kids are just back in schools after the pandemic didn’t allow for such, is a conflicting message to me,” Stoney said.

Superintendent Kamras added in that withholding funds from public schools would hugely impact not only the students, but the entire staff.

“Defunding RPS, cutting state funds, would be devastating to their physical health, their mental health, and their academic health, I can’t possibly see how that is a good remedy to this situation,” Kamras said. “Every million dollars that is cut from RPS, is about a dozen teachers, a dozen social workers, or a dozen counselors. These are real people that affect hundreds of students everyday”