LYNCHBURG, Va. – During Governor Ralph Northam’s 32-minute news conference Thursday, not once did he use the phrase “mask mandate” while addressing the policy for grades K through 12 — even when asked about it multiple times.
That has many wondering if it was a political move ahead of November’s election.
“We expect [schools divisions] to follow the law,” said Northam.
That law was put on the books in March, requiring school divisions to offer in-person instruction five days a week and follow CDC mitigation strategies.
“If [divisions] choose not to follow it, they should have a frank discussion with their legal counsel,” said Northam.
Yet the governor’s comments Thursday differ from what the CDC and Virginia’s own Department of Health recommended late last month.
“The intent here is to empower those local decision-makers to make data-driven, locally informed decisions that best suit the situation in their area,” said Dr. Laurie Forlano on July 22. Forlano is with VDH.
The governor avoided the phrase “mask mandate” when referring to grades K through 12.
Dr. David Richards, political science chairman at the University of Lynchburg, says the Virginia governor’s race between Terry McAuliffe and Glenn Youngkin could play a part.
“If you look at the polling, the polling is tight. We’re tighter than perhaps people thought it would be; and so, it is a fair question to ask is this political or not,” said Richards.
Dr. Ed Lynch, WSLS political expert and political science chairman at Hollins University, says the mask policy will play a major role, and while Democrats will push public safety, Republicans will push back on two issues.
“One will be, ‘how many changes do you expect us to put up with?’ and the other will be a preference for local control over a mandate from Richmond,” said Lynch.
It’s a move perhaps forcing Northam to avoid any political pitfall with Virginians.
“[Virginians] want [the pandemic] to be over with and so, politically, to have to go back and say, ‘okay we’re going back to where we were six or seven months ago,’ is politically dicey,” said Richards.