The emergency order is effective immediately.

Virginia is requiring masks to be worn in all schools for the upcoming school year. In an announcement on Thursday from Governor Ralph Northam, K-12 schools must wear masks indoors to curb the transmission of COVID-19. Northam's decision is in line with recent legislation passed to enforce public health protocols as directed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as a firm directive in the wake of inconsistent policies among individual school districts.

In July, the CDC updated its safety guidelines urging schools to enforce masks, "regardless of vaccination status."

"This Public Health Order makes it very clear that masks are required in all indoor K-12 settings, and Virginia expects all schools to comply," Governor Northam said in a public statement. "I’m grateful to the work of the General Assembly and the Health Department, and I look forward to a safe start to the school year.”

COVID-19 cases are rising through the state and country at large due to factors like the Delta variant and lagging vaccination rates. Many Virginians have received a single dose of the vaccine, including 73% of adults and half of 16–17-year-olds. Yet, children under 12 are still unable to get the vaccine, which renders safety measures crucial to limiting the exposure of the virus, particularly in public spaces like classrooms that enable transmission.

Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver emphasizes the use of masks as "an effective tool" in preventing the spread of the virus, particularly among the population's most vulnerable. "As cases rise in our communities, universal masking and other mitigation measures will ensure our schools continue to be the safest place for Virginia’s children," he said.

State Superintendent Dr. James Lane echoed these statements, calling masks "critical" in protecting students and staff from infection.

Governor Northam has enacted a number of public health policies throughout the pandemic, and many have been aimed at assisting schools. This week, he allocated $500 million to improving air ventilation quality in schools and has bolstered schoolwide preparedness with federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

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