RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Gov. Glenn Youngkin is clarifying new state COVID-19 guidance for schools, daycares and camps.
Youngkin said these places can maintain quarantine policies that are stricter than updated state recommendations, which don’t go as far as CDC guidelines.
While some private daycares may still choose to mandate masks, the Virginia Department of Education is making it clear that no child care center will lose their license for not following CDC guidance or instituting a mask-optional policy, easing fears among some providers.
The updated state guidance announced last week says, regardless of vaccination status, those who are exposed to COVID-19 don’t have to quarantine as long as they don’t show any symptoms.
That’s a departure from the CDC, which advises those who aren’t fully vaccinated to quarantine for at least five full days after an exposure.
Asked if there is anything stopping schools and daycares from going further than state recommendations when it comes to quarantine policy, Youngkin said their goal was to set “straight-forward guidance.”
“If they want to do more, they can. But we also wanted to communicate with parents,” Youngkin said. “Particularly, in a lot of the child care facilities, we are seeing them closed on an extended basis and really disrupt family’s lives and our workforce. So we think this is a commonsense, safe way to move forward and keep facilities open.”
The new guidance also strays from the CDC on masking. The state policy specifies that masks are “not routinely recommended in these settings, indoors or outdoors, except during isolation.”
“It’s mask optional and that should be very clear. So that’s a decision that they can make and parents can make,” Youngkin said. “I think one of the big developments over the past six months is empowering parents to make these decisions for themselves.”
Senator Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico) sponsored the bill allowing parents to opt students out of masking in public schools. She said, even after that policy took effect, some private daycares continued to require face coverings because the law didn’t apply to them. She said nothing in the new state guidance stands in the way of that.
“Private sector businesses can pretty much do anything they want to do and answer to their customers,” Dunnavant said. “I hope the state will never intrude in private business in a clearly directed way.”
Dunnavant said some providers previously feared that loosening COVID-19 policies and straying from the CDC would put their licenses in jeopardy. She said clear state guidance helps shield those centers from liability if they choose to adopt less stringent rules.
An FAQ from the Virginia Department of Education further notes that programs receiving federal grant funding are not expected to make masks mandatory.
The document states, “Federal and state COVID-19 guidance are not mandatory. Programs that accepted federal relief funding should follow the updated CDC guidance to the extent practicable and provide parents the right to opt children out of mask mandates.”
Darrell Turner, a preschool teacher in Richmond, wanted to stick to CDC guidelines, especially since children under the age of five are newly eligible for COVID-19 vaccines and many have yet to get their first shot.
“This decision could be very detrimental to my students and staff,” Turner said. “I fully understand the argument about interrupting the learning. However, we have to keep in mind that in order for that learning to take place, we have to make sure that our students are safe and healthy.”
Virginia Child Care Association Executive Director Kim Hulcher said Virginia’s shifting guidance has come slower than other states. She said some of their members are planning to maintain stricter quarantine policies but others are optimistic about the direction Youngkin is going.
“That’s the beauty of this industry. Not every child care center and program is right for each family but it really comes down to parent choice,” Hulcher said.