Council amends mask ordinance to align with state guidelines

Council amends mask ordinance to align with state guidelines
An illustration of the COVID-19 virus. (Image/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

By Olivia Anderson |

Alexandria’s public mask requirements are now aligned with the state’s current executive order, after City Council amended its mask ordinance during Saturday’s public hearing.

Effective immediately, fully vaccinated citizens no longer have to wear masks in most indoor places. Additionally, capacity limits at entertainment venues and recreational sports venues will increase from 30% to 50%, the limit on social gatherings will increase from 50 to 100 indoors and from 100 to 250 outdoors and alcohol sales and restaurant dining will be permitted after midnight.

“Making changes to this ordinance has been a bit like nailing Jell-O to a wall throughout the last week as the rules change very, very quickly,” Mayor Justin Wilson said during the meeting.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines, and in turn the Virginia Department of Health’s guidelines, had been updated as recently as May 14 — one day before the council meeting.

Originally proposed to council on May 11 before the CDC issued its new regulations, the city’s ordinance subsequently received additional proposed changes on May 15.

The ordinance also specifies that while fully vaccinated Alexandrians generally don’t need to wear face masks indoors, certain exceptions include requirements by federal, state, local, tribal or territorial laws and regulations.

Individual businesses can decide to continue mask requirements in their establishments for both employees and customers, and masks are still required on public transit, in health care facilities and in congregate settings. Students, teachers and staff in K-12 education are still required to wear masks on school properties regardless of vaccination status.

Those who are not fully vaccinated are still required to wear face masks in public settings. They’re advised to avoid gatherings with anyone outside their household, practice hand sanitation, maintain proper physical distance from others and stay home whenever possible.

All children under 5 years of age are now exempt from wearing face coverings.

“If you think back to the history of this, we put this in place in a time where we wanted to go farther than the governor,” Wilson said. “He ultimately took our order and basically replicated it around the state so we were all on the same page for much of the time. Now that we’re rolling out, I think we’re rolling out in a way that’s consistent with where the government and the CDC are. In many ways it was so much easier and less chaotic going into all this than it is coming out.”

Staff has added an expiration date of Sept. 30, 2021 so the ordinance may phase out if needed.