About a month into the school year, a clear majority of Virginia voters support coronavirus vaccine mandates in schools, while a smaller majority supports such requirements for in-person workers in the state, according to a Washington Post-Schar School poll.
The findings come after a wave of new coronavirus vaccine requirements have been adopted by school districts and businesses nationwide as the highly contagious delta variant fueled a renewed surge of the virus. Such requirements overlap with President Biden’s announcement this month that the Labor Department will require all companies with at least 100 employees to mandate vaccination or weekly testing of their workers.
The Post-Schar School poll also finds that about 7 in 10 registered voters support Virginia’s statewide mask mandate for teachers, staff and students in school buildings, including at least 6 in 10 voters across different regions of the commonwealth.
Two-thirds support school districts requiring teachers and staff to be vaccinated. Several Northern Virginia counties along with the city of Richmond require public school teachers and staff members to either be vaccinated or submit to regular testing. An additional 6 in 10 support districts requiring high school athletes to be vaccinated.
A 55 percent majority support businesses broadly requiring employees who come into work to be vaccinated. Support is lower for restaurants requiring customers to be vaccinated, a policy adopted in New York City.
Support for a school staff vaccine mandate is higher in Virginia than the country as a whole, with 67 percent support in the state compared to 59 percent nationally, according to a September Post-ABC News poll. The polls find similar support in Virginia and nationwide for businesses requiring employees to get vaccinated and for schools requiring masks.
Gretchen King, a Springfield resident and mother of two teenagers who attend public school, supports vaccine mandates.
“Teachers should be vaccinated because they are exposed to so many children who cannot be vaccinated,” she said. “And they can protect themselves and the children to a certain degree by getting vaccinated.”
Vaccine mandates for school staff members and teachers have higher support in parts of the commonwealth where vaccination or testing requirements have been put in place, such as Fairfax, Arlington and Loudoun counties. Almost 9 in 10 Virginians in the D.C. suburbs support requiring teachers and staff members to be vaccinated, compared with about two-thirds in the Northern Virginia exurbs as well as in the region from Richmond to eastern parts of the state. Six in 10 Virginians support school vaccine mandates in the Tidewater area, as do 56 percent in central and western Virginia.
Opinions differ sharply on vaccine requirements by party, with 95 percent of Democrats and 48 percent of Republicans in support of vaccine mandates for teachers and school staff members. Among those identifying as independents, 61 percent support vaccine mandates for adults working in school buildings.
Partisan divisions of opinion are also wide for mask mandates in schools, with 96 percent of Democrats and 45 percent of Republicans in favor of them, along with 66 percent of independents. A slim 51 percent majority of Republicans oppose the state’s policy.
Mary Sweeney, a registered nurse and mother of twin 4-year-olds who lives in Alexandria, supports Virginia’s school mask mandate.
“The science shows that [mask-wearing] is an easy and efficient way to mitigate the spread of the virus,” she said. “It’s relatively simple and it’s been proven to slow or stop the spread.”
But Bradley Trimble, a retired federal government employee who lives in central Virginia, opposes a mask mandate in schools. “It all comes down to personal choice,” he said. “You do you, I’ll do me, and we’ll get along fine.”
Vaccine mandates for high school athletes — which will go into effect in November in Fairfax and Loudoun counties as well as in Arlington — also have greater support in the D.C. suburbs, with 8 in 10 registered voters there supporting them. Support ranges between 52 percent and 60 percent in other regions of the state. Opinion breaks along partisan lines on this as well, with 90 percent of Democrats statewide supportive of a vaccine mandate for high school athletes while 56 percent of Republicans oppose it.
Support for employer vaccine mandates also varies sharply along partisan lines, with more than 8 in 10 Democrats and just under half of independents supporting businesses requiring employees who come into work to be vaccinated while about 6 in 10 Republicans oppose this. Support for the policy is far higher in the D.C. suburbs than the rest of the state.
King, who works in procurement in the Northern Virginia suburbs, agrees that businesses should be able to mandate vaccination for their employees.
“It’s completely reasonable to protect the employees that are there,” she said. “If they’re not vaccinated it can have an impact on the entire business.”
Of all the vaccine policies tested, Virginia voters are least supportive of the idea of restaurants requiring customers to be vaccinated, with 51 percent opposing and 44 percent supporting such policies. About 7 in 10 Democrats support restaurants instituting vaccine mandates while a similar share of Republicans oppose this. Almost 6 in 10 independents are also in opposition.
A 55 percent majority of D.C.-area Virginia voters support restaurant customer vaccine mandates, while support drops to 43 percent in the Northern Virginia exurbs, including Loudoun County. Voters in the Richmond area and eastern parts of the state are roughly divided on restaurant requirements, while more than half oppose mandates in both the Tidewater and central and western parts of the state.
“If you don’t want to be vaccinated, you shouldn’t go out and eat,” said King, the Springfield resident. “I wish it didn’t come to this point. People should be responsible.” King wasn’t vaccinated against childhood diseases until she was a teenager, and she said that she and her two sisters became seriously ill as a result.
“You should be vaccinated to protect your life,” King said. “This has become a politicized issue, and it’s a medical issue.”
Sweeney, the nurse who lives in Alexandria, agreed. “In our society, if you’re not vaccinated, you can’t play,” she said. “You have to stay home.”
Trimble, the retired federal employee, said he supports businesses setting their own vaccine policies.
“If it’s a privately owned company, it’s up to the company. You have a choice whether you want to work there or not. This isn’t a communist, socialist environment. No one is forcing you to do a job against your will.”
Trimble, who leans libertarian, said he feels the same way about restaurant vaccine mandates for customers. “You’ve got a choice to either abide by their rules or spend your money someplace else,” he said.
The poll was conducted by The Washington Post and the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University over telephone Sept. 7-13 among 907 registered voters in Virginia. It has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points. The sample was drawn from a combination of voter-registration-based sampling and random sampling of Virginia phone numbers.
Scott Clement contributed to this report.
Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled the last name of Mary Sweeney, a registered nurse who lives in Alexandria. The article has been corrected.