In an exclusive video, Republican Virginia gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin said he could eliminate the state's COVID-19 safety measures for state employees if elected.
The Republican candidate for Virginia governor suggested at a recent event that if he wins, he could overturn Virginia's COVID-19 safety requirements for public employees on "Day One."
Glenn Youngkin is running against Democratic former Gov. Terry McAuliffe in Virginia's Nov. 2 gubernatorial election.
On Sept. 23, an anonymous person identifying themselves as a "veteran small business owner" asked Youngkin what he would do as governor about Virginia's new COVID-19 safety measures for public employees.
"Yeah, so, vaccine mandates," the person in the video said. "My employees, my wife's being pressured at work."
"I know. I'm not for them," Youngkin responded. "I think that businesses should be able to make that decision."
Youngkin added: "I don't believe that's a governor's decision. I think that's an individual decision."
The person in the video then pressed Youngkin on whether he would consider overturning mandates for state employees to get vaccinated or tested regularly. As of Sept. 1, all public employees in Virginia must either provide proof that they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or present a negative test each week. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, issued the mandate.
"When you're governor, can you do anything executively?" the person in the video asked.
"As far as?" Youngkin said.
"Well, like, there's all these mandates," the person said.
"Yeah. So what I can do... One thing I can do is, I can remove the mandate from state employees. That's the one thing, legally, I can do on Day One. I can say state employees are no longer mandated to get the vaccine," Youngkin responded.
The footage was captured by the Undercurrent, a political web show founded by Lauren Windsor, executive director of the liberal advocacy group American Family Voices. The Undercurrent has produced a number of secretly recorded videos and "man on the street" interviews confronting elected officials and political candidates. The Undercurrent shared the video exclusively with the American Independent Foundation.
Youngkin's comments appear to be something of a shift from what he said in a Sept. 16 debate. When asked about vaccine mandates for public health workers at that time, Youngkin indicated that "individuals should be allowed to make that decision on their own," but did not suggest getting rid of the existing requirements.
Virginia has seen more than 857,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 12,000 deaths. More than 60% of the state's population is fully inoculated against the virus.
Polling indicates that most Virginians disagree with Youngkin on vaccine mandates. A Washington Post-Schar School Virginia poll released Sept. 23 found registered voters widely supported requiring vaccination for school teachers and staff (67%-31%), high school athletes (60%-37%), and business employees (55%-41%).
Most polls show a close race for the governorship, with McAuliffe leading by a few points.
Reached for comment on Monday, a spokesperson for the Youngkin campaign addressed the comments captured in the Undercurrent video, stating, "Terry McAuliffe's racist mandate will disproportionately hurt people of color. McAuliffe wants Black and Hispanic Virginians fired from their jobs unless they obey his order. Glenn Youngkin encourages everyone to get vaccinated and believes everyone should have the right to make health care decisions about their own bodies."
The spokesperson appeared to be referring to vaccine hesitancy among Black and brown communities, some of which is based on distrust of the medical community over past abuses and racism. As PBS Newshour reported, limited access in some communities has also hampered vaccination efforts, as well as vaccine "indifference" in small, rural communities largely untouched by the pandemic.
Data from states like California have shown that requiring students and workers to get vaccinated or tested both helps curb the spread of the virus and helps persuade hesitant people to get vaccinated.
The McAuliffe campaign responded to Youngkin's comments in the video on Tuesday.
"Terry McAuliffe is the only candidate in this race who has been a leader on getting Virginians vaccinated, maintaining a strong economy, and keeping kids safely in school," campaign spokesperson Renzo Olivari said in an emailed statement.
"Glenn Youngkin has a clear record of spreading dangerous anti-vaccine rhetoric and he opposes commonsense COVID-19 safety measures. Virginians deserve a governor with the courage and plans to keep them safe and our economy strong, and that leader is Terry McAuliffe."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.