RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Gov. Ralph Northam sent a clear message to businesses at his COVID-19 update on Thursday: Plan to be able to lift capacity restrictions and social distancing requirements on June 15.
Northam said, to move forward with that plan, the state’s coronavirus data has to continue trending in the right direction and more people have to get vaccinated. While Northam isn’t setting specific metrics that need to be met, he said the state is on track.
Currently, Virginia’s seven-day average is at its lowest since October 2020. Plus, hospitalizations and deaths have fallen dramatically, according to Northam.
“The data gives us a clear message: The vaccines are working,” Northam said.
Northam is still not setting a firm date for ending the mask mandate. Instead, he plans to follow the CDC’s lead. Last week, he adjusted his executive order in response to updated federal guidelines saying fully vaccinated people don’t have to wear a mask outdoors unless they’re in a crowd.
“We still need to take the precautions that we all know work but we’re approaching a time where we can think differently about how we interact, especially people who are vaccinated,” Northam said.
Northam is also considering ending the State of Emergency declaration in Virginia after it expires on June 30.
“Absolutely because I hope to have COVID-19 in the rear view mirror,” Northam said.
However, Northam said there are some thorny details that his administration needs to work out first.
For example, Northam’s Chief Counsel Rita Davis said, under Virginia Code, it is usually illegal to intentionally cover your face in public.
Davis said the State of Emergency declaration provided the flexibility needed to impose a mask mandate in the Commonwealth. She said they need to make sure, if the order expires, it will still be legal to wear a mask voluntarily.
Furthermore, the state’s eviction protections are tied to the State of Emergency declaration so allowing the order to expire could have implications for tenants who’re behind on rent.
“We want people to have a roof over their head, especially with COVID-19,” Northam said. “We’ll continue to work on that.”
The announcement comes as more incremental changes to the state’s COVID-19 restrictions are set to take effect on May 15. Those include allowing more people at social gatherings and entertainment venues. The midnight cut-off on alcohol sales and dining will also end.
As vaccine demand slows, Northam is encouraging everyone to get a shot to help the state reach herd immunity. He said it has never been easier to do so.
Northam said certified Community Vaccination Centers are all accepting walk ins.
Furthermore, the state is getting ready to deploy additional mobile vaccination units starting the week of May 17th. Virginia’s Vaccine Coordinator Dr. Danny Avula said that effort will target rural areas where hesitancy appears to be higher.
“These mobile efforts are absolutely going to help us get to folks who wouldn’t come to something otherwise but it is going to be slower and harder work,” Avula said.
With the FDA on the brink of approving Pfizer’s vaccine for emergency use among 12-15 year olds, a recent survey conducted by Virginia Commonwealth University shows 66 percent of parents plan to get their adolescents vaccinated and 63 percent will vaccinate their younger children once its available.