Mask mandate will still follow, as per CDC guidelines.

Virginia will lift capacity and social distancing restrictions by June 15 if it continues to see a decline in COVID cases and a rise in vaccinations, said Gov. Ralph Northam on Thursday morning. In a press conference in Richmond, the governor communicated that to plan an entire end on restrictions, the state must continue to have lesser infections and more vaccinations in the coming days.

For the last two weeks, Virginia sees a daily count of less than 1,000 COVID-19 cases, lesser hospitalizations, and deaths for the first time since last October. The average test positive rate has also come down to 4.4%, the lowest recorded till the start of the pandemic.

“We’re not at the finish line yet, and we still need to take the precautions that we all know work. But we’re approaching a time when we can think differently about how we interact, especially people who are vaccinated,” Northam said.

Northam also hinted at lifting the "state of emergency" by June 30, which was issued almost 15 months ago when the nation was hit hardest.

Virginia will still have the mask mandate in place till the state of emergency is lifted. "There's also a law on the books that does not allow you, even voluntarily, to wear a mask in public, so there are some issues we need to work through between now and the end of June," said Northam's Chief of Staff Clark Mercer.

However, following CDC guidelines, fully vaccinated people can now go out without masks when alone or in a small crowd.

The governor had earlier announced plans of relaxing capacity restrictions in indoor and outdoor venues, including restaurants, movies, social gatherings starting May 15. From May 15 onwards, the maximum number of people allowed indoors will increase to 100 and 250 people for outdoor events. The midnight cut-off on the sale of alcohol and dining will also be lifted.

Northam urged Virginians to get the shot, emphasizing President Biden's target of vaccinating at least 70% of the country's population by July 4 to achieve herd immunity against the novel virus. "The bottom line is when you get vaccinated you protect yourself, you protect your family and everyone around you," he said. 

The governor also mentioned that children as young as 12 might also be eligible to get the Pfizer vaccine in the coming weeks.

Starting from the week of May 17, Virginia will also initiate mobile vaccination units to serve rural and underserved communities. Dr. Danny Avula, the state's vaccine coordinator, said the mobile units would administer anywhere between 50-250 doses each day and will be on road for 14 days.

Almost 46% of Virginians have received at least one dose, and a third are fully vaccinated. Nearly 80% of Virginians aged 65 and above have received one dose, added Northam.

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