Virginia’s face coverings requirement for indoor public spaces starts Friday


RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Gov. Ralph Northam says Virginians ages 10 and up will be required to wear face coverings inside all brick and mortar stores, salons and barbershops, on public transportation and more starting this Friday, May 29.

Northam made the announcement during Tuesday’s press conference in Richmond, after hinting at the requirement at last Friday’s presser.

“I am taking this step because science increasingly shows us that the virus spreads less easily when everyone is wearing face coverings,” Northam said.

Face coverings will also be required inside restaurants, except when eating or drinking, Northam says. Those exercising outdoors (gyms and fitness centers are still closed for indoor exercise) will not be required to wear coverings, as well as those with medical conditions that prohibit face coverings.

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He’s also encouraging face protection for children ages 3 and older. 

Face coverings do not take the place of public health guidelines to maintain six feet of physical distancing, increase cleaning and sanitation, and wash hands regularly.

A face covering includes anything that covers your nose and mouth, such as a mask, scarf, or bandana. Medical-grade masks and personal protective equipment should be reserved for health care professionals.

After the announcement, a reporter pointed out that some are saying Northam doesn’t have the “moral authority” to announce the ban after not wearing a mask near groups of people at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront this past weekend. Northam claimed he left his mask in the car.

“I was not prepared because my mask was in the car. I take full responsibility for that. People held me accountable and I appreciate that. In the future, when I’m out in the public, I will be better prepared,” said Northam. “But this is not just about me – this is about all Virginians and their public safety.”

Northam said he was impressed by how people were social distancing during his visit to Virginia Beach and how they were following the rules.

Virginia Beach Police say they did not issue any citations for violations of Northam’s orders over the holiday weekend, although they did perform traffic flushes Saturday night which is “not unusual for a holiday weekend.”

“I’m convinced Virginia Beach can be a model for the rest of our country. We are working with other beach cities, such as Norfolk and Hampton as they make preparations to open their beaches this weekend,” Northam said.

Northam also said if these cities show the governor a plan that will work similar to Virginia Beach’s plan, they may be able to move forward.

The Virginia Senate Republican Caucus released a response to Northam’s mask order Tuesday afternoon, saying it came during a “period of unprecedented overreach.”

“While this governor behaving hypocritically is nothing new, this latest ‘do as I say not as I do’ edict takes his disingenuousness to an entirely new level,” the Virginia Senate GOP wrote.

The Senate GOP also called on the governor to “immediately rescind” the order, or make it voluntary.

As for enforcing the requirement, counsel Rita Davis emphasized that police will not issuing misdemeanors. The Virginia Department of Health is in charge of enforcement, which will be based on “egregious and repeated” violations of the face coverings requirement. VDH will handle enforcement just the same as any other public health order. “The first is a civil process by which an injunction is obtained to enforce the public health order. The second is a warrant issued by a magistrate,” said Davis.

The Virginia Department of Health told the Virginia Mercury on Thursday that VDH will not be inspecting or monitoring businesses regularly for compliance, but will instead establish a call center to process “inquiries on alleged violations in the community.” So the requirement will mostly be voluntary, but police or security could become involved if a customer gets confrontational after the business owner asks the person to wear a mask. “We certainly don’t want confrontations to occur,” Northam said.

Northam says the critical to help protect workers and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“I’m not looking for people to get in trouble but I’m asking for people to do the right thing … respect one another.”

The governor said his administration is working to collect masks for at-risk residents.

Northam says he doesn’t have a timeline for how long the mask requirement will be in place. “As soon as it’s safe to lift this guideline, we will.”

During Tuesday’s briefing, the governor also admitted he’s not being tested regularly, with both PCR nasal swab tests and antibody tests.

“To date I haven’t been [regularly tested],” Northam said, though he didn’t clarify if that meant he hasn’t been tested at all.

He then shifted the discussion to community testing sites. “I look forward to going to one of those sites in the near future, being tested, and also demonstrating to the rest of Virginians how easy this test is to do.”

Watch the full press conference fromTuesday below:

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