Northam requires COVID-19 vaccination or routine testing for state workers

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Thursday announced that all Virginia state workers will have to show they are vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing.

The order will take effect on Sept. 1 and will apply to more than 120,000 state employees.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan made a similar announcement Thursday afternoon.

A spokeswoman for D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Thursday that Bowser continues to engage labor partners, but hasn’t mandated vaccination for city government employees at this point.

Northam’s move comes as cases are rebounding in the commonwealth. He began by noting that Virginia had reached President Joe Biden’s goal of 70% of adults with at least one dose of the vaccine in mid-June — two weeks before the nationwide goal, which the United States didn’t reach.

With the rise of the highly contagious delta variant, however, “cases are rising again, and so are hospitalizations,” Northam said, adding that “This is playing out across the country.”

The delta variant “can make people sicker, and faster,” the governor said. “The only way we can beat this virus is with vaccination.”

Northam, a doctor, recounted his experience watching people on ventilators, where many severe COVID-19 patients end up.

“I have watched individuals fight for every breath, and I have watched individuals take their last breath,” Northam said. “As your governor, I will fight to keep you from that scenario.”

About 99% of Virginians diagnosed with COVID-19 since January, and 98% of the people who have been hospitalized or have died, were unvaccinated, Northam said.


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Secretary of Administration Grindly Johnson said the percentage of state workers who have been vaccinated roughly mirrored the proportion of the state as a whole: A little more than 70% with at least one shot, a bit more than 60% fully vaccinated.

Northam wasn’t clear about the enforcement of the requirement. “I expect our employees of the Commonwealth of Virginia to follow the mandate,” he said. “If they choose not to, if they choose not to get tested, then obviously, we will take the next measure, but that’s something that I’ll discuss with the employees.”

Northam cited social-media posts from people who have contracted COVID-19 and wish they had gotten vaccinated. To those still hesitant about getting vaccinated, he said, “The time for waiting is over. Millions of people around the world have been vaccinated, and we are fine.”

He added that he hoped private businesses would take measures to make sure people get vaccinated.

“Whether it’s vaccinations, or whether it’s requiring individuals that come into your place of business to show proof that they’ve been vaccinated or have a negative test — you know, all of these things are options. And I would say overall that the business community has been on board and has been very cooperative with our initiatives.”

To find out where to get vaccinated, go to vaccinate.virginia.gov, or call 877 VAX-IN-VA.

Masks in schools

Northam also said students and staff at Virginia schools are required to wear masks, regardless of their vaccination status, citing legislation passed this year that requires school districts to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Schools and districts who don’t institute the requirement “should have a frank discussion with their legal counsel,” Northam said.


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Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2012 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He went to George Washington University as an undergraduate and is regularly surprised at the changes to the city since that faraway time.

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