• 75°

Northam: wear masks

Governor makes face coverings mandatory

RICHMOND

Starting Friday, May 29, face masks will become mandatory for anyone who goes inside a public place or boards public transportation.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced this latest COVID-19 precaution during a press conference on Tuesday, stating that science has shown the virus to spread less easily if people are wearing masks.

He added that this latest requirement is intended primarily to protect workers as businesses continue to reopen in accordance with his Forward Virginia plan, Phase 1 of which began May 15.

“Protecting workers is critical as Virginia moves forward,” Northam said.

The requirement applies to everyone age 10 and up who enters a brick-and-mortar retail establishment, personal care or grooming establishment, state or local government building, or any other indoor facility where people congregate. It also applies to anyone who boards public transportation and anyone who enters a restaurant for takeout or sit-down outdoor dining, except when actually eating or drinking.

Those with health conditions that cause difficulty breathing or would otherwise prohibit wearing a mask are exempt from this requirement.

The Virginia Department of Health — not local law enforcement — will be tasked with enforcing this rule, and will do so much in the same way it currently inspects and regulates restaurants for food safety.

“It’s not about locking people up,” Northam said.

Enforcement, according to Northam’s chief of staff, Clark Mercer, would be targeted to businesses that are “grossly negligent” in their adoption of this policy.

Northam himself took heat this past weekend for not wearing a mask during a visit to Virginia Beach, where he was photographed posing with groups of spectators. When asked about the incident following Tuesday’s press conference, Northam defended his actions, stating he has always tried to accommodate people who want to take pictures at his public appearances but had not intended to interact with a crowd that day.

“The next time I am out in public, I will be better prepared,” he said.

As for when most of Virginia can expect to enter Phase 2 of Northam’s reopening plan, the governor advised everyone to anticipate remaining in Phase 1 at least through this Friday.