Virginia Mask Clash: Youngkin, McAuliffe disagree on state's K-12 mask mandate

Disagreement came after State Health Commissioner Norm Oliver reversed course from previous state guidelines, and signed an order requiring masks indoors at schools.
Glenn Youngkin tals at a pannel in 2017

August 13, 2021 4:33pm

Updated: August 13, 2021 4:44pm

The Republican and Democratic nominees to be the next governor of Virginia have taken contrasting views about Virginia’s mask mandate for K-12 students, staff and teachers.

After reversing course from previous state guidelines, State Health Commissioner Norm Oliver signed a Public Health Order, which required universal masking for students, staff and teachers while indoors at K-12 public school facilities. The order applies equally to vaccinated and unvaccinated people, but does not require masking outdoors.

The order received support from Democrats, but opposite from Republicans. The partisan divide on the issue also carried over to the gubernatorial race set for November.

"With [the] student mask mandate announcement, Ralph Northam, Terry McAuliffe and Richmond liberals have made clear that they will stop at nothing to impose their will and take away parents' ability to decide what's best for our kids,” Glenn Youngkin, a businessman and the Republican nominee for governor, said in a statement.

“Make no mistake about it, this mask mandate is the first step towards returning to a full shutdown of our economy. We must respect parents’ right to decide what is best for their own children. If parents, teachers, and children want to wear a mask, they absolutely should do that, but there should not be a statewide school mask mandate."

Youngkin has expressed his opposition with mask mandates, vaccine passports and vaccine mandates. He has encouraged people to get vaccinated, but does not require his campaign to get the vaccine.

In contrast to Youngkin, the Democratic nominee for governor, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, applauded Northam’s decision and said the commonwealth should follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Terry believes we have to do everything we can to keep our children safe while they return to schools in-person this fall, and he believes everyone should follow CDC guidelines in wearing masks and getting vaccinated,” McAuliffe spokesperson Renzo Olivari, said in a statement.

“He knows the only way we’re going to end this pandemic and keep our economy strong is by getting every eligible Virginian vaccinated as quickly as possible,” Olivari said. “While Glenn Youngkin is taking leadership cues from Ron DeSantis’ disastrous handling of the pandemic in Florida and even opposed funding for vaccine distribution, Terry is strongly encouraging every eligible Virginian to get the COVID-19 vaccine and has required his campaign staff do so.”

Along with requiring his campaign to get vaccinated, McAuliffe supports Gov. Ralph Northam’s requirement that state workers either get vaccinated or get weekly COVID-19 tests. He also encouraged healthcare providers to require their workers to get the vaccine.

The election will be Nov. 2. McAuliffe currently has a narrow lead in the polls.