FILE - Ralph Northam mask

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam removes his mask to answer a question during a COVID-19 briefing at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020.

(The Center Square) – Following updated guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Gov. Ralph Northam encouraged all Virginians to wear masks while indoors in public places, but stopped short of imposing any new mandates.

“All Virginians should consider wearing a mask in public indoor settings where there is increased risk of #COVID19 transmission, as the new @CDCgov guidance recommends,” Northam said in a Tweet. “This is not a requirement, but a recommendation.”

Northam cited the rise of the COVID-19 delta variant as the reason all people should consider masks, regardless of vaccination status. The Virginia Department of Health reported more than 1,100 cases of people contracting the variant on Thursday, which is up from 200 cases about a month ago.

Previously, the governor only recommended Virginians without the vaccine to wear masks in public.

“Masks are effective at preventing the spread of #COVID19, but getting vaccinated is the surest way we can bring this pandemic to an end,” Northam said. “All three vaccines are safe, effective, and free. Let's keep Virginia moving forward—do your part and get your shot.”

Although the governor did not make any changes to policy, he has said his team is reviewing the rules.

Republican spokespersons for the House of Delegates and the Senate were not available for comment by the time of publication. Republican leaders in both chambers have supported ending all mask requirements.

The CDC’s updated guidance did not recommend that people in all localities return to wearing masks, but rather that those in areas with high or substantial COVID-19 rates should wear masks, regardless of whether they have received a COVID-19 vaccine. More than half of Virginia localities fall under the “high” or “substantial” categories for COVID-19 infection rates.

Current Virginia rules do not require masks in most settings. Workers who interact with customers must wear masks if they have not received a vaccine and all people must wear them in healthcare settings and on public transportation. The governor encouraged school divisions to impose mask mandates, but removed the statewide requirement. 

More than 60% of Virginians have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and nearly 54% have been fully vaccinated. More than 72% of the adult population has received at least one vaccine and 65% have been fully vaccinated. Currently, only people 12 years of age or older can receive a vaccine. 

Staff Reporter

Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and West Virginia for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon.