NORFOLK, Va. — The City of Norfolk will require staff and visitors to wear masks in all facilities, effective immediately.
The decision comes as COVID-19 cases and concerns over the Delta variant rise in Hampton Roads and across the country.
The mask mandate applies to vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
In a release Saturday, a city spokesperson cited the latest C.D.C data listing Norfolk as an area with a "substantial" COVID-19 transmission rate.
According to the city, virtual and phone meetings are preferred for meetings with residents, and "in-person appointments are reserved for requests that cannot be handled over the phone, email or virtually."
City employees will continue to wear face coverings inside city buildings, and visitors are asked to maintain six feet of social distance while indoors.
The new policies are impacting city workers and visitors. Businesses hoping to bounce back from the pandemic, are facing yet another roadblock.
City Cruises Norfolk general manager, Jolene Price-Thompson said, “The brakes have been put on just a little bit with the Delta variant and all that stuff going on.”
Price-Thompson said they are almost fully booked every weekend, and mask requirements on their cruises have not changed since before the pandemic. However, City Cruises Norfolk is seeing some cancellations because of that new variant.
“We have some groups that said you know what we are just going to put this off until 2022,” Price-Thompson said.
City leaders said the Delta variant is the reason they are requiring staff and visitors to mask up again in all city buildings.
“Our case counts are back up about as high on a 7-day average as we were seeing in say late April or early May. That's concerning,” said Norfolk City Manager Chip Filer.
People are required to wear a mask, regardless if they're fully vaccinated or not.
“The CDC is recommending it and so we are just enforcing it,” Filer said.
Filer also said city buildings also include Norfolk Recreation Centers. For now, indoor group sports are on hold and if you plan to exercise there, you must wear a mask. Pool use will be limited to one swimmer per lane.
He said, “The safety and health of the staff is absolute number one priority. We are not going to dictate what other folks do in the city at this point. CDC and the governor can handle that. When it comes to our facility we think this is the most prudent measure right now.”
Filer said once Norfolk has a decline in COVID-19 cases, he's hopeful city leaders will lift the mask mandate. He doesn't know when that will happen.
Norfolk city leaders said a face mask is also required inside the Norfolk Courthouse. Visitors are encouraged to maintain six feet of social distancing.
These changes came a few days after it was reported by the CDC that individuals who have been vaccinated could both transmit the Delta variant more easily, but also that a few hundred people who had previously been vaccinated had contracted COVID-19 while attending an event in Barnstable County, Massachusetts.
The findings confirm claims from CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky this week, saying vaccinated and unvaccinated patients can still carry similar levels of the virus in their bodies.
“When we look at the amount of virus in those people, it’s similar to that in unvaccinated people," Dr. Walensky said.
On a media teleconference Tuesday, she also said that vaccines are needed now to stop the virus from mutating again beyond the protections of the vaccines.
“The big concern that the next variant that might emerge, just a few mutations potentially away, could evade our vaccines," she said.
Virginia has recorded more than 1,500 breakthrough cases since January, but that is still less than one percent of the vaccinated population.