Despite Gov. Ralph Northam’s announcement that lifts mask requirements in indoor spaces, some Charlottesville-area businesses say it still might be a while before they allow people to enter without face coverings.
The announcement comes on the heels of new guidelines from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating that vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks. It’s also ahead of a planned May 28 ending to COVID-19 mitigation measures that have entailed capacity limits for gatherings and social distancing protocols. With the ending of the mask mandate, requirements to wear them are now a case-by-case basis for businesses.
For Mr. Fix Cell Phone and Computer Repair, that means any customer wishing to enter the store without a face mask must show proof of vaccination to do so.
“We’re still mandating that all staff wear masks as well just to make sure all of our customers are comfortable,” said Patrick Weeks, a technician.
According to Weeks, most of the staff has been vaccinated already, and at least for the time being, the business plans to keep its mask requirements in place.
The general manager of Reid’s Super-Save Market, Christopher Kidd, also says the store will continue to require masks.
“We come across so many types of people, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, so I think we’re going to have that stay our policy for a while,” Kidd said.
Having been vaccinated himself since late February, he still wears his mask when in public spaces and he says he thinks many people will still choose to don theirs as well for the foreseeable future.
“I feel sort of naked without it,” Kidd said. “I think it’s going to be a normal thing for a lot of people at least for a while.”
However, Kidd says over the weekend he did encounter three customers who weren’t wearing masks and did so once he spoke with them.
“I said, ‘This is not the state’s policy but it’s our policy.’ They said OK and put their masks on,” Kidd explained.
To date, Virginia has administered 7 million vaccines and 63% of Virginians have at least had one dose. Locally, the Blue Ridge Health District has its lowest COVID levels since last June and the current seven-day moving average is about 5 cases per day. In February, the average for the district — which includes the city and Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa and Nelson counties — peaked at about 150 cases a day.
Northam and health officials continue to urge Virginians to get vaccinated. The Northam administration is also spearheading a day of action, titled “It’s Our Shot, Virginia,” on May 18 where people can sign up to be COVID Community Ambassadors and people are encouraged to use the #VaccinateVirginia hashtag on social media.
“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,” Northam said in a press release.
Weeks says that given the lower numbers, he believes many people will continue to take precautions — vaccinated or not — to keep the numbers low.
Meanwhile, Paw Prints Boutique has posted a sign at its door reminding people of the lifted mandate and is not requiring customers to wear masks when they enter.
“I feel like people can make their own decisions, and I don’t want to make it for them,” said owner Carrie Pledger while sitting maskless on a bench outside of her business Monday afternoon.
She pointed to national companies like CVS, Starbucks, Target, Walmart and Trader Joe’s lifting mask mandates for vaccinated people unless subject to local ordinances and recounted going to Trader Joe’s over the weekend for the first time without a mask on.
“People will follow along with what is happening,” she said, adding that she’s not surprised if many other local businesses will keep requiring masks for a bit longer.
The University of Virginia also plans to follow the new guidelines from the CDC and governor. In an email from President Jim Ryan last week, the university announced that vaccinated staff and students do not need to wear masks or any other face coverings but that the new guidelines would not apply to UVA Health.
The email also reiterated that some people would prefer to continue taking safety precautions.
“It is important to remember that many people will continue to wear masks in various settings for the foreseeable future,” the email read. “Some have yet to get vaccinated, and others may simply feel more comfortable wearing a mask even after they’ve been fully vaccinated.”
Last month, the city of Charlottesville repealed its emergency ordinance in order to defer to state COVID guidance and this week, the Albemarle Board of Supervisors plans to vote on an emergency ordinance to repeal the COVID emergency ordinance it adopted last summer.
Although other COVID restrictions at the state level will be lifted on May 28, the official state of emergency will remain in place until June 30.