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Northam: Wearing face masks now mandatory

Mike Still • May 27, 2020 at 8:30 AM

RICHMOND — Starting Friday, wearing protective face masks in Virginia is mandatory.

Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday announced his latest executive action, which requires everyone age 10 and older to wear face coverings inside all brick-and-mortar retail, personal care and grooming businesses; inside restaurants and beverage establishments except when eating and drinking; inside buildings where people congregate; on public transportation; and when accessing state and local government services.

Northam said the new mandate is designed to protect employees in designated businesses as well as business patrons. Besides people eating and drinking in establishments, exceptions will be made for people exercising or with health conditions affected by masks and for children under 10.

Northam also extended his March 12 declaration of a state of emergency under the COVID-19 pandemic. The declaration keeps the state National Guard on active duty as well as direction local governments and state agencies to continue recovery and mitigation efforts related to the pandemic.

“Speaking as a doctor, children 3 and older should wear a face covering where possible,” Northam said. “This is a matter of public health and will be a matter of enforcement by public health officials.”

Northam said that local, county and state law enforcement will not be involved in enforcing the new mandate, but the state Department of Health will have authority to enforce the rule.

Asked for details about that enforcement, Northam later said that customers and employees of businesses where the mandate is not enforced could file complaints with the state Department of Labor and Industry, leading to actions including court or regulatory enforcement.

“This is obviously for grossly negligent actors, not for people who just forgot their mask,” Northam said.

Northam also addressed public comments that he forgot to wear a mask Saturday when visiting Virginia Beach to talk with the city’s mayor and officials about their reopening of the city oceanfront. He said he and some of his staff had left their masks in their vehicles because they were meeting outside and with social distancing practices when members of the public approached him and asked to have their photos taken with him.

“I take responsibility for that,” Northam said, adding that he would have a mask with him at all times.

Northam said the Virginia Beach reopening was a success, with beachgoers maintaining social distancing and following the city’s safety and health guidelines regarding gatherings. He said that Norfolk and Hampton are also finishing plans for their own beach reopenings for the coming weekend, which will be reviewed by state health officials before they are allowed.

Northern Virginia, Richmond and Accomack County on the Eastern Shore have also submitted letters asking consideration for those regions to enter the Phase One reopening that went into effect for the rest of the state more than a week ago, Northam said. Those regions have seen improvements in health metrics, such as lower daily numbers of positive novel coronavirus and COVID-19 tests, lower daily numbers of people hospitalized after positive or pending COVID-19 tests, increased testing capacity and sufficient hospital bed capacity in case of a resurgent pandemic.

The Department of Labor and Industry is also examining new regulations to implement health and safety measure such as Tuesday’s mask mandate, Northam said. Those regulations could go into effect for six months and, upon review by the governor’s and attorney general’s office, for up to 18 months pending legislative approval by the General Assembly.

“We should treat each other the way we want others to treat us,” Northam said of the new mask requirement.

“I wear a mask to protect you,” state Health Commissioner Norman Oliver added. “You wear a mask to protect me. We all wear masks to protect the commonwealth.”

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