The Bulletin

Amid mask confusion, Youngkin rolls out new COVID-19 guidance for schools

By: - January 21, 2022 5:49 pm

Gov. Glenn Youngkin delivers his first State of the Commonwealth address. (Photo by Ned Oliver)

Gov. Glenn Youngkin issued new state guidelines late Friday afternoon for how COVID-19 should be handled in Virginia schools, asking parents to “listen to their principal” while his new mask order is pending in court.

On the day of his inauguration, Youngkin signed an executive order meant to allow families to opt out of school mask mandates. The legality of that order was quickly challenged by a group of parents from Chesapeake, and school systems throughout the state are scrambling to decide how to handle mask issues when the order officially takes effect Monday.

In a news release Friday, Youngkin said he’s confident he will prevail in the Supreme Court of Virginia, and asked parents to “trust the legal process.”

“I have said all along that we are going to stand up for parents,” Youngkin said. “Executive Order 2 is not about pro-masks versus anti-mask, it’s about empowering parents.”

The announcement came with new guidance developed by the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Education, according to the governor’s office. The new guidance emphasizes “personal responsibility” instead of across-the-board mask rules.

“There is no medical reason for a vaccinated and/or masked teacher to treat an otherwise healthy unmasked student any differently than a healthy masked student,” the guidance states.

The 14-page document suggests masks can be beneficial when a student is returning to school after having COVID-19 or being exposed to the virus, but otherwise casts doubt on the efficacy of masks in schools.

“During the Omicron outbreak, regions with restrictive masking policies and practices have shown similar rates of transmission as regions with less restrictive mask policies,” the guidance says. “There is presently a lack of consensus among health experts regarding the costs and benefits of mask-wearing for children in school.”

In response to Youngkin’s order, the Virginia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement saying it “strongly recommends” students wear masks, regardless of vaccination status, to slow the spread of the virus.

“Face masks remain safe and reliable, and children have demonstrated their ability to wear them effectively,” the group said.

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Graham Moomaw
Graham Moomaw

A veteran Virginia politics reporter, Graham grew up in Hillsville and Lynchburg, graduating from James Madison University and earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Before joining the Mercury in 2019, he spent six years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, most of that time covering the governor's office, the General Assembly and state politics. He also covered city hall and politics at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville. Contact him at [email protected]