RICHMOND — As soon as Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin took office on Jan. 15, he signed eleven executive orders to go into effect on the first day of his administration.
The orders tackle a wide array of subjects from sweeping changes in public education to pulling Virginia out of environmental initiatives such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
Executive Order Two will give parents the option on whether or not their children wear masks while attending Virginia’s public schools.
The press release from Younkin’s staff reads, “Executive Order Number Two delivers on his Day One promise to empower Virginia parents in their children’s education and upbringing by allowing parents to make decisions on whether their child wears a mask in school.”
The order comes during a month that is seeing record high spikes in COVID-19 cases due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
Since the start of the current school year in August 2021, the mask mandate handed down by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) required that all students, teachers, staff, and visitors ages 2 years and older wear wear face masks indoors in private and public settings, regardless of vaccination status.
The executive order flies in the face of guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), which have maintained since March 2020 (the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic safety protocols in the United States) that masks were essential tools in fighting the spread of the disease.
The CDC says on its website that masking is vital to the fight against COVID-19.
“Because of the highly transmissible nature of SARS-CoV-2, along with mixing of vaccinated and unvaccinated people in schools, CDC recommends universal indoor masking for all* students (ages 2 years and older), teachers, staff, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status.”
Mask mandates have been a divisive subject in school districts across Commonwealth, with the commonwealth’s school boards taking up the issue during meetings last summer.
In early August Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools (WJCC), masks were made mandatory in a decision that aligned with guidance from VDH.
York County School Division’s (YCSD) School Board voted that masks should remain optional. That decision was overturned after former Governor Ralph Northam and State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver issued an executive order requiring that all persons inside the state’s K-12 public and private schools.
As of Jan. 15, WJCC reports 315 active positive cases of COVID-19 while YCSD reports 249 active positive cases.