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Virginia to lift mask mandate; COVID-19 restrictions to end in time for Memorial Day Weekend

Gov. Ralph Northam said the state's universal mask mandate will end, following CDC guidelines. Virginia will lift its coronavirus restrictions May 28.

RICHMOND, Va. — Gov. Ralph Northam said Friday that Virginia's universal mask mandate to fight the spread of COVID-19 was coming to an end.

Effective at 12 a.m. on May 28, the state will follow recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which allow people who are vaccinated fully against the disease to go mask-free in most cases.

Here are some places people still have to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status:

  • Public transit
  • Health care facilities 
  • Congregate settings
  • K-12 public schools

RELATED: Fully vaccinated can drop the masks, skip social distancing

A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the second dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or two weeks after receiving the single-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson.

In general, people who are not vaccinated are encouraged to continue wearing masks. Those who aren't vaccinated and work in certain sectors such as retail, fitness, restaurant, personal care/grooming, and entertainment venues have to continue wearing a mask.

Keenan Smith, a Norfolk resident said he's relieved about the new mask guideline.

"I feel good that they're gonna be taking off the mask. I don’t like wearing it, honestly," said Smith. "I'm ready for everything to be back to normal."

Businesses also can require their customers or employees to continue wearing face coverings.

Christine Redel, co-owner of Kitsch Handmade & Vintage in Norfolk said she's concerned about the mask guideline getting lifted.

"I don’t know how I'm gonna tell if someone's not vaccinated even if they don’t have a mask on," said Redel. 

Dr. Patrick Jackson, an Infectious Diseases Physician at the University of Virginia addressed Redel's concern. 

"I don’t think there is any way to know. Some countries have instituted vaccine passports. I think the cat is out of the bag here that we have vaccinated a lot of people in the U.S.," said Jackson.

In addition to the change in masking requirements, Northam said Friday that he would bump up the end to coronavirus restrictions by two weeks, bringing an end to them in time for the Memorial Day Weekend. 

The time period between Friday and May 28 will allow Virginia to get as many more people vaccinated as possible before reopening the state fully.

Northam said vaccines were responsible for the state's recently lower case numbers, and were what made these changes possible.

"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," he wrote in a 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."

Virginia will still be in a state of emergency until June 30, and Northam's office said the governor would take steps to make sure people have the legal option of wearing masks after that date.

A release from the governor said 64% of Virginia's adult population had gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine so far, and he was hopeful that by the 4th of July, 70% of adults would be partially vaccinated. (Seventy percent is President Joe Biden's stated vaccination goal.)

"I think what the CDC is betting is that this new guidance will lead to two things: some unvaccinated people will decide to get vaccinated. On the other hand, it is clear that some unvaccinated will remain unvaccinated and will take advantage of this and not wear masks in public, and that’s bad," said Jackson.