Public wreath laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery resumed this week as officials loosened pandemic restrictions ahead of the upcoming Memorial Day weekend.

Officials also lifted all restrictions on the number of funeral attendees at graveside services at the historic site, and will no longer require any guests visiting outdoor areas of the cemetery to wear masks.

“Arlington National Cemetery is a safe environment and we are pleased COVID conditions have improved enough that we may fully reopen to the public,” Cemetery Superintendent Charles “Ray” Alexander Jr. said in a statement. “We greatly missed everyone and our staff and the Tomb Sentinels miss sharing the cemetery’s rich history to our visitors.”

The moves come the same week that Veterans Affairs officials lifted restrictions on mask wearing, social distancing and crowd sizes at all 155 national veterans cemeteries, following increased coronavirus vaccination rates across the country.

For the first time in more than a year, VA officials are allowing mass flag placements at veterans ceremonies, coordinating with local volunteers to ensure that those events are done in line with proper health protocols.

Arlington National Cemetery is arguably the best known veterans cemetery in America, but actually operated by the Army, following separate rules and protocols. Before the pandemic, more than 130,000 visitors toured the Virginia site on a typical Memorial Day weekend.

The new guidelines, which went into effect on Monday, still require all visitors to wear a face covering at any inside facility at the cemetery, including restrooms.

But for the first time in more than a year, some of the site’s most trafficked areas — including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, President John F. Kennedy’s gravesite and the cemetery’s welcome center — are now fully open.

Site officials are continuing to offer “virtual visitation” options through the new cemetery education program, accessible through their web site.

Similarly, VA officials this week are expanding their Veterans Legacy Memorial site, allowing families to submit photos and biographical information for each of the nearly 4 million veterans interred at cemeteries across the country.

More than 587,000 Americans — including about 12,000 VA patients — have died from coronavirus complications in the last 16 months.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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