Northam Mask Mandate Moves COVID Front and Center in Campaign
Virginia’s election campaign became the latest entry into the Fall-Plans-Delta-Variant meme collage last week, courtesy of Governor Ralph Northam, who imposed a statewide mask mandate for all K-12 schools (NBC12).
Gov. Ralph Northam announced a public health emergency order on Thursday to require universal masking in all Virginia K-12 schools.
“That requires all students, teachers, staff, visitors in our public and private K-12 schools in Virginia to wear a mask indoors and that’s regardless of their vaccination status,” said Dr. Laurie Forlano, VDH Deputy Commissioner for Population Health.
A release from Northam’s office states the order reinforces state law that requires schools to adhere to mitigation strategies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The decision comes after some school districts, such as Hanover County, decided to make masks optional. The county has since reversed its decision to comply with the mandate.
It didn’t take long for the two nominees vying to replace Northam to weigh in, in the expected manner. Here’s Youngkin.
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.
Naturally, T-Mac had a different reaction.
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.
Of course, the two also had nasty comments toward their counterpart’s view. I’m sure you’re as shocked as I am.
For the most part, the two parties fell into line; the lone exception that I’ve found being State Senator Chad Petersen, still role-playing as Northern Virginia’s Virgil Goode (the 1990s version). The fact that Petersen’s home county already imposed a mask mandate for its schools certainly made it easier for him to wander off the reservation (Fox5).
As much as McAuliffe would like to talk about Donald Trump, and Youngkin about, well, nothing in particular, COVID has made sure the campaign will be about it. The impact on the electorate is tougher to gauge.
The last poll before Northam’s mandate put T-Mac with a lead just outside the margin of error (WashEx via Yahoo). Both bases are all but certain their view on COVID mandates are the popular one, but the only test for that (last year’s election) was very indirect. Meanwhile, the localities most supportive of mask mandates for schools are likely to be the ones without the highest vaccination levels.
If the rest of the country is any indication, voters haven’t had their political preferences affected by the “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” That should be helpful for McAuliffe. On the other hand, the suburbs of Central Virginia, a critical new piece of the ascendant Democratic coalition (as Norm Leahy noted), will also be ground zero for the mandate culture war (as Chris Saxman noted).
For now, both candidates are melding their pre-mandate messages into the issue. T-Mac likened Youngkin’s reaction to Trump’s favorite governor (Ron DeSantis), while Youngkin tried to spark a lockdown scare (see their links above).
Early voting starts in five weeks.