Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Thursday issued a mandate to state workers -- show proof of a COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 1 or undergo weekly testing.
Northam said he was issuing the executive order due to a continued rise in COVID-19 cases due to the highly-contagious Delta variant.
Virginia’s seven-day average of new cases is 1,373. That’s up 70% in the past week and 175% in the past two weeks and is the highest since April 19. It’s also 36% higher than on this date in 2020. The Northern Virginia case average is trending similarly.
Hospitalizations statewide for treatment of COVID-19 are still 48% below this time last year but have doubled in the past 2½ weeks.
"The only way we can beat this virus is vaccination, and it breaks my heart as your governor and as a doctor to see people getting sick, getting hospitalized and dying from a disease ... they can get vaccinated against," Northam said at a news conference.
Nearly 73 percent of Virginia adults have had a first COVID-19 shot, and 54 percent of all Virginians are fully vaccinated against the virus, which is higher than most states, he said.
The order covers more than 120,000 employees at state universities, state agencies and state mental health hospitals. The order won't apply to state legislators, courts and public school teachers and staff, the Washington Post reported.
Northam also seemed to threaten Virginia's local school boards with legal action if they don't follow two state directives this fall: offer in-person learning five days a week and follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for masking and other COVID-19 prevention requirements.
"A lot of parents are worried about their children going back to school in the next few weeks," Northam said, noting emergency approval for the Pfizer vaccine in children under 12 is expected this month. "I also expect schools to follow the law [requiring] schools to do two things this fall, they will offer in-person five days a week and they will follow CDC guidelines. I expect school divisions to follow this, if they do not follow it they should have a frank discussion with their legal counsel."