What will change once Virginia’s state of emergency expires?

Published: Jun. 22, 2021 at 9:44 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - When the calendar flips to July in less than 10 days, Virginia will not be under a state of emergency for the first time in over 15 months. That means there will be some changes, and it’s about more than public health.

Because Virginia has already lifted capacity limits, ended the mask mandate, and begun to re-open schools, there’s not much of the original state of emergency that remains. But the parts that are still intact - at least for the next week - are critical to thousands of Virginians.

A change that could impact everyone is that without the state of emergency, mask wearing may be illegal. But some legal minds say Virginia’s anti-mask law doesn’t apply if you’re wearing it for health reasons. Most law enforcement won’t enforce those laws, as Albemarle County’s commonwealth’s attorney Jim Hingeley told NBC29 last week.

“We cannot have a situation where the state government encourages people to wear masks and then turns around and prosecutes them,” Hingeley said.

RELATED: Charlottesville, Albemarle County prosecutors: no penalties for wearing masks

But the other changes could be detrimental for low-income communities. As of July 1, landlords won’t have to give tenants notice of available rent relief or apply for rent relief on behalf of their tenants.

Also gone is the 45-day waiting period after either the tenant or landlord applies for rent relief before the landlord can begin the eviction process.

That sparked a letter from the Legal Aid Justice Center and Virginia Poverty Law Center calling on Gov. Ralph Northam to change that.

“The governor has said that he prioritizes the Virginians when it comes to evictions and so I’m hopeful that he will respond in kind,” Elaine Poon, an attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center, told NBC12.

The authors of the letter say, “Virginia may be characterized by some as ‘emerging from the pandemic but these changes could keep low-income communities and communities of color” struggling.

“Even outside of a pandemic it is a violent act to throw someone out on the street, and anything we can do to prevent that we should do as a state,” Poon said.

The Virginia Rent Relief program will stay in place beyond the expiration of the state of emergency, but the letter’s authors are encouraging the General Assembly to swiftly re-enact some of the ending supports. They say even a quick gap in protections can be disastrous.

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