Gov. Northam announces statewide mask mandate to begin Friday

Updated: May. 27, 2020 at 7:37 AM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Governor Ralph Northam announced a statewide mask mandate during his press conference Tuesday afternoon that will begin Friday.

The mandate will require anyone in an indoor public space to wear a face mask.

[ FULL TEXT: Read the governor’s phase one guidelines here ]

"Everything we do affects someone else. I'm asking us all to remember the golden rule: that we should treat each other the way that we want people to treat us," said Northam.

The Governor’s statewide requirement for wearing face coverings is grounded in science and data, including recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that individuals should wear face coverings in public settings.

A face covering includes anything that covers your nose and mouth, such as a mask, scarf, or bandana.

Under the Governor’s executive order, any person age ten and older must wear a mask or face covering at all times while entering, exiting, traveling through, and spending time in the following public settings:

  • Personal care and grooming businesses
  • Essential and non-essential brick and mortar retailers including grocery stores and pharmacies
  • Food and beverage establishments
  • Entertainment or public amusement establishments when permitted to open
  • Train stations, bus stations, and on intrastate public transportation, including in waiting or congregating areas
  • State and local government buildings and areas where the public accesses services
  • Any indoor space shared by groups of people who may congregate within six feet of one another or who are in close proximity to each other for more than ten minutes

Medical-grade masks and personal protective equipment should be reserved for health care professionals.

"It's very important and it's about protecting each other. I wear a mask to protect you. You wear a mask to protect me," said Dr. Norm Oliver, Virginia Health Commissioner.

The state's labor department is working on how the rules would apply to offices and other businesses where employees aren't often interacting with the public.

Enforcement comes down to business owners whose permit or licenses to operate could be on the line.

“The criminal code is not the place you want this enforced. There are tremendous equity issues with enforcing this that we’re cognitive of and there are very practical issues of our police and sheriffs had to enforce this. So we’ve taken that off the table,” said Clark Mercer, Northam’s Chief of Staff.

VDH has the power to enforce violations through a court order but hopes it doesn’t need to.

“We hope and expect Virginians will work together to comply with these important guidelines — and we have an enforcement mechanism in place should egregious violations occur,” said a VDH official in a statement.

Governor Northam also directed the Department of Labor and Industry to develop emergency temporary standards to prevent workplace exposure to COVID-19.

These occupational safety standards will require the approval by a vote of the Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board and must address:

  • Personal protective equipment
  • Sanitation
  • Record-keeping of incidents
  • Hazard communication

If approved, the Department of Labor and Industry will be able to enforce the standards through civil penalties and business closures.

The governor addressed the fallout over his failure to wear a mask on the Virginia Beach oceanfront this weekend.

The governor took ownership of the mistake saying he left his mask in the car before meeting with public officials and taking pictures with the public.

He's also not been tested for coronavirus.

"I was unprepared when I encountered the public and the next time I'm out in the public I will be better prepared. And again I take that as my responsibility," said Northam.

Meanwhile, House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, House Republican Caucus Chair Kathy Byron, R-Bedford, and House Republican Whip Jay Leftwich, R-Chesapeake issued the following statement:

"We are deeply concerned about Governor Northam's actions today. It is unconscionable to require businesses to enforce a government mandate under threat of sanction from government agencies. This puts yet another burden on businesses already reeling from months of being shut down or severely limited.

“Throughout this episode, the Governor has acted inconsistently. Through his own actions the Governor has squandered his capital as a physician whose advice people would be willing to follow. Virginians would be much more likely to follow the suggestions of a leader who instills confidence and leads with consistency.”

REWATCH Northam’s face mask mandate announcement here:

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