Blacksburg community reacts as mask mandate returns to schools

New River Valley News

BLACKSBURG, Va. (WFXR)– On Thursday, Gov. Ralph Northam and Dr. Norman Oliver, State Health Commissioner, announced that all students and staff in K-12 schools are required to wear masks indoors, no matter their vaccination status.

After the new health order was issued on Thursday, Aug. 12, some community members in the New River Valley told WFXR News that they don’t like Northam’s decision, but many others expressed relief, saying the mask mandate was the right thing to do.

“I feel good about it. I think it is a great idea, especially because we’re not able to vaccinate these guys yet,” said parent Patrick Malloy, referring to the kids. “So that’s our biggest concern, especially since we hear that the delta variant can get transferred by vaccinated people.”

Teachers in the community shared similar remarks.

Gordan Yee, Associate Professor of Chemistry at Virginia Tech, shared that he is immunocompromised. Yee is vaccinated, but is still fearful of getting sick. Last week, this fear grew after hearing Northam was leaving masking decisions up to each county.

“I had a kidney transplant eight years ago, so even though I’ve gotten my vaccine, I am not necessarily immune… The only way I can stay healthy is making sure everyone around me is vaccinated and also I would really prefer if they wore a mask… For me, it’s a matter of life or death,” explained Yee.

In a press release, Northam said the overall goal is making sure students and staff are safe. Northam added that he wants to keep schools open as students return for the 2021-2022 school year.

However, the mandate comes with exceptions.

Students and staff are allowed to remove masks indoors while eating, drinking, exercising, playing certain instruments, and when necessary for participating in a religious ritual. People with health conditions and disabilities that prevent them from wearing a mask are also exempt from the rule.

The order furthers that any person who declines to wear a mask because of a medical condition or due to a “sincerely held religious objection to wearing masks in school” may request a “reasonable accommodation.”

Even with the exceptions, some community members were upset with the mandate.

One father declined an interview, but says both his children are in school for the science and believes it should be the choice of the child.

Other parents say it’s either a mask or get vaccinated.

“I think that it help keeps our kids safe, and it is the way we stay in in-person schooling the year. I think that all students and all teachers should get vaccinated if they can and wear masks if they can’t,” said Jake Lawrence, a parent.

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