Virginia and Maryland lifted indoor mask mandates at midnight, consistent with new CDC guidance.
Virginia residents who are fully vaccinated will no longer need to wear masks indoors except on public transit, in health care and "in congregate settings," a release from Gov. Ralph Northam's office says.
Exceptions in Maryland include public transportation, health care and child care settings, and schools.
“Today is the day that so many of us have been waiting for and working toward,” said Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. “We finally do clearly see the light at the end of that tunnel. Our long, hard-fought battle against the worst global pandemic in more than a century is finally nearing an end. As we reflect on the hard work and the many sacrifices that it has taken to finally reach this point, we say thank you to the countless Marylanders who helped us get here.”
Northam also is moving up the date he had planned to lift all capacity and social distancing restrictions. He had previously expected to lift those restrictions June 15, but has moved up the date to May 28 due to rising vaccination numbers and improving public health metrics.
“Virginians have been working hard, and we are seeing the results in our strong vaccine numbers and dramatically lowered case counts,” said Northam in the release Friday afternoon. “That’s why we can safely move up the timeline for lifting mitigation measures in Virginia."
Here are the specifics of the new mask guidance in Virginia:
- Anyone not vaccinated is strongly encouraged to wear masks in all settings, as recommended by the CDC.
- Employees in regulated business, retail, restaurants, fitness, personal care and entertainment are required to continue wear masks until fully vaccinated.
- Businesses may require masks, if they wish, for employees and patrons.
- Masks continue to be required in K-12 school settings, regardless of vaccination status.
Some previously announced changes to mitigation efforts will also go into effect at midnight Friday:
- The maximum number of people permitted at a social gathering will increase to 100 for indoor settings and 250 for outdoor settings.
- Indoor entertainment and public amusement venues will be able to operate at 50% capacity or 1,000 people. Outdoor venues will be able to operate at 50% capacity, with no specific cap on the number of attendees.
- At indoor recreational sporting events, the number of spectators allowed will increase from 100 to 250 people, or 50% capacity, whichever is less. Outdoor recreational sporting events may increase from 500 to 1,000 spectators or 50% capacity, whichever is less.
- Restaurants may return to selling alcohol after midnight, and dining room closures will no longer be required between midnight and 5 a.m.
The Maryland Department of Health issued a public health advisory strongly recommending that all non-vaccinated individuals over the age of 2 continue to wear face coverings in all indoor settings and in outdoor settings where physical distancing cannot be maintained.
Private businesses and workplaces can put in place their own policies. Local jurisdictions may continue to use their own emergency powers on these matters. Montgomery and Prince George's counties still require masks indoors.
Earlier this week, the governor announced the lifting of restrictions on indoor and outdoor venues, including restaurants, that also will take effect on Saturday.
All remaining capacity and distancing restrictions that have been in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic will be lifted on indoor and outdoor dining on Saturday, the governor added.
Indoor and outdoor venues will be able to resume normal operations, Hogan said. Remaining capacity restrictions will be lifted on indoor entertainment venues and conventions, and all outdoor entertainment, art and sports venues, with masking protocols in place.
Maryland added 512 new cases and the weekly case average fell to 460. More than 65% of adults have gotten at least one vaccine dose.
In D.C., all bars and nightclubs will be able to open at 50% capacity and restrictions on other public and commercial activities including capacity limits will be lifted May 21. All restrictions, including for bars, nightclubs, and large sports and entertainment venues will be lifted. A full timeline can be found below. Mask wearing is still required indoors until that guideline changes.
Virginia reported just 248 new COVID-19 cases on Friday — the smallest one-day jump in new cases in more than a year.
While the record-low number is a promising sign, the seven-day average of new cases is a better figure to show trends rather than day-to-day reporting fluctuations. The seven-day average is headed in an encouraging direction, too: Virginia’s case average fell to its lowest level since July 1 of last year.
Hospitalizations are also down to their lowest levels since July.
Virginia's current positivity rate of 3.5 percent is lower than at any time since the start of the pandemic, officials said.
More than 3.1 million Virginians are fully vaccinated, and 47.8% of residents have gotten at least one dose.
The commonwealth is also going to launch a big vaccination push beginning next week. Virginia residents will be asked to participate in the It’s Our Shot, Virginia: Statewide Day of Action.
People can participate by signing up to be a COVID Community Ambassador or sharing their vaccination story on social media with the hashtag #VaccinateVirginia.
"I strongly urge any Virginian who is not yet vaccinated to do so—the vaccines are the best way to protect yourself and your community from COVID-19," Northam said in Friday's release. "The message is clear: vaccinations are how we put this pandemic in the rearview mirror and get back to being with the people we love and doing the things we have missed.”
The state of emergency in Virginia will remain effective at least through June 30.