youngkin executive order mask vaccine
© AP / Steve Helber
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin prepares to sign executive orders in the governors conference room at the Capitol, Jan. 15, 2022, in Richmond, Va.
The state of Virginia will no longer require school children to wear masks and state employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

Newly sworn-in Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin has pulled mandates requiring children to wear masks and state employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19 as part of his first day in office.

After defeating Democratic candidate and former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe in the November 2021 gubernatorial election, Youngkin - a Republican - stuck by his pledge to lift sweeping coronavirus restrictions imposed by his predecessor.

The mandates had been implemented by former Democratic governor Ralph Northam, who was ineligible to run for re-election in November. McAuliffe, who served as governor before Northam, took his place as the Democratic candidate and lost by 2% to Youngkin.

In his executive order rescinding the school mask mandate, Youngkin stated that "parents, not the government, have the fundamental right to make decisions concerning the care of their children."

"Recent government orders requiring virtually every child in Virginia [to] wear masks virtually every moment they are in school have proven ineffective and impractical," he claimed, arguing that the mandate has inflicted "notable harm" upon children, including impeding "the growth of emotional and social skills."

"Masks have also increased feelings of isolation, exacerbating mental health issues, which in many cases pose a greater health risk to children than Covid-19," the governor wrote.

Though parents will still be able to make their children wear masks to school, the practice will not be mandatory.

In a separate directive, Youngkin ruled that the previous order for state employees to provide proof of vaccination had been "harmful to their individual freedoms and personal privacy."

"My administration will not require that these interests be sacrificed as a condition of employment in the executive branch of our government," he announced.