Virginia will require everyone inside K-12 schools to wear a mask as COVID-19 cases surge just as back-to-school season ramps up.
A public health emergency order announced by Gov. Ralph Northam on Thursday applies to everyone 2 and older who is indoors at a public or private school.
"We know that masking is an effective tool to prevent the spread of COVID-19, particularly among children who are not yet eligible for vaccination,” Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Norm Oliver said in a statement. “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."
The policy represents a major shift since July 21, when Northam announced that masks were strongly recommended inside schools but gave them the flexibility to make their own rules.
The order means that school districts that said masking is optional, including Fauquier County, will be compelled to comply.
Almost all Virginia counties have high or substantial spread of COVID-19 within communities, which means the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends masks for everyone over 2 in indoor, public settings.
More and more Virginians are getting diagnosed with COVID-19 every day; the seven-day average of new cases has increased more than sixfold in the past month, from 237 to 1,820.
Hospitalizations have more than doubled since July 11.
The change comes after some school districts in Northern Virginia already started for the year.
Spotsylvania County students headed back to class Thursday, hours after the school board voted to stop allowing families to opt-out of masking for religious reasons.
"We want to work with folks," Superintendent Scott Baker said. "We know this constant shifting back and forth can be difficult."
School Mask Policies in the D.C. Area
Washington, D.C. School Mask Requirements
Masks will be required this fall in D.C. public schools.
Maryland School Mask Requirements
Charles County: Charles County Public Schools will require masks at all schools, centers, buildings and facilities regardless of vaccination status. Masks are also required on CCPS transportation.
Frederick County: Masks will be required inside schools this fall. They will not be required outdoors but people who are not vaccinated are encouraged to wear them.
Montgomery County: Face masks will be required for students and staff inside Montgomery County Public Schools this fall regardless of vaccination status. The school board said they endorsed the interim superintendent’s decision in order to protect students and staff.
Prince George’s County: Masks will be required for students, teachers and staff inside Prince George’s County Public Schools this fall. Schools CEO Monica Goldson said the vaccination rate among eligible students is still too low, at 50%.
Virginia School Mask Requirements
Virginia will require everyone inside K-12 schools to wear a mask as COVID-19 cases surge just as back-to-school season ramps up. Go here for more information.
Alexandria: Alexandria City Public Schools said that masks will be required for everyone inside facilities and in ACPS vehicles, regardless of whether they are vaccinated.
Arlington: Arlington Public Schools will require all students and staff to wear masks when they return to the classroom this fall — regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status. Students and teachers don't have to wear masks while eating lunch or outside.
Culpeper County: Masks are required in schools as of Aug. 13 after the state implemented a mandate for schools.
Falls Church City: Falls Church City Public Schools have not yet announced a mask policy.
Fairfax County: Fairfax County Public Schools will require masks for everyone inside schools whenever students are present, regardless of vaccination status. Masks will not be required outdoors.
Fauquier County: Masks are optional, but strongly recommended for students under 12 and encouraged for anyone else in school buildings or on buses.
Loudoun County: Masks will be required in Loudoun County Public Schools, the superintendent announced on Aug. 2. They will be required regardless of vaccination status and not required while outdoors, eating or participating in physical education.
Manassas: Masks will be required for students, staff and visitors at Manassas City Public Schools inside buildings and on buses, but not outside.
Manassas Park: The masking plan has not yet been announced.
Spotsylvania County: Masks are required indoors at schools for students and staff.
Stafford County: Students, staff, parents, families, visitors and guests will be required to wear a face mask when indoors on school property and when riding school buses at least through Sept. 21. There are exceptions for eating, mask breaks and physical education.
Prince William County: Masks will be required in schools regardless of vaccination status, the school district announced Aug. 2. There are a few exceptions, which you can see here.