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VA Gov. Northam to require masks in all businesses but says police won’t enforce it

Ralph S. Northam (Mark Warner/WikiCommons)
May 26, 2020

On Tuesday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced everyone must wear face masks in public places when the first phase of business reopening begins on Friday, May 29.

“Everyone will need to wear a face covering when you’re inside at a public place starting this Friday,” Northam said at a coronavirus press briefing Tuesday. The new rules go beyond previous guidelines that previously only recommended people wear masks. Northam said public health officials — not law enforcement officers — would enforce the new rules.

Northam displayed a slide of the mask rules during his briefing, which states that everyone 10 years old and older must wear a mask in all indoor places, including all brick and mortar businesses, public transportation lines, and in any state and local government buildings.

There are some exceptions to the mask rule, such as for people who are exercising or who have trouble breathing. Patrons at restaurants, which are only allowing outdoor seating, must wear their masks, except when eating and drinking.

Northam explained that those under 10 do not have to wear a mask, but said everyone over three years “should wear a face covering to the extent possible.”

He said the masks do not need to be medical grade, as those are typically going to healthcare providers, and that homemade masks will suffice. He also said any enforcement of the mask requirements “will be done by our health officials.”

“This is not a criminal matter,” Northam added, indicating law enforcement officers will not be enforcing the mask rules.

Prior to Tuesday’s announcement, Northam had encouraged mask-wearing, but did not require it. When Northam published his initial announcement of the “Phase One” reopening guidelines, businesses were required to provide masks to employees but customers were not required to also wear them.

Earlier in the press briefing, before announcing the mask requirement, Northam responded to criticism he received over the weekend when he was seen standing close to others and not wearing a mask while visiting the Virginia Beach Oceanfront. Pictures circulated of Northam taking selfies with beachgoers.

“On Saturday I visited the Oceanfront with the intention of speaking to the mayor, thanking first responders and ambassadors and seeing how the reopening plan was working. I also planned to take a few questions from the press,” Northam said. “On my way to talk with the reporters, some well-wishers came up to me and asked to take pictures. I was not prepared because my mask was in the car. I take full responsibility for that.”

Northam said he is also working to change his habits with regard to social distancing and mask practices and said he would try to do better.