The state of Virginia will enter a new society today — one in which everyone in public will be expected to wear face coverings.
Gov. Ralph Northam signed a new executive order this week making it mandatory that anyone age 10 and up wear face coverings in public settings.
According to a press release on the state’s website, the mandate is an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19 and to ensure the safety of consumers and essential workers while the state eases public health restrictions.
“We are making progress to contain the spread of COVID-19 and now is not the time for Virginians to get complacent,” Northam said. “Science shows that face coverings are an effective way to prevent transmission of the virus, but wearing them is also a sign of respect. This is about doing the right thing to protect the people around us and keep everyone safe, especially as we continue to slowly lift public health restrictions in our Commonwealth.”
As of today (May 29), people are required to wear a mask or other face covering when entering, exiting, traveling through and spending time inside the following settings:
n Personal care and personal grooming businesses
n Brick and mortar retail businesses (both essential and nonessential)
n Food and beverage establishments
n Entertainment or recreation businesses
n Train stations, bus stations and intrastate public transportation
n Any other indoor place shared by groups of people who are in close proximity to each other.
n State or local government buildings
The restriction does not apply to people inside their residences or the personal residences of others.
Northam has made exceptions for those eating, drinking, exercising or those with health conditions that prohibit them from wearing a face covering.
The new mandate also states that all employees of essential retail businesses shall wear a face covering whenever working in an area facing customers.
Local residents have expressed mixed feelings about the new mandate with strong opinions supporting both sides.
“I cannot wear a mask for eight hours at work and breathe,” said Amy Setliff of Rocky Mount. “Three months into a pandemic is a fine time to make it mandatory.”
Patricia Holland of Rocky Mount said, “They waited this long. It should have been made mandatory from the start. It’s just been up and down, up and down. I think it needs to be up to the person individually. A lot of people have medical problems, and they can’t wear them.”
Several residents referenced the recent sighting of Northam at Virginia Beach not wearing a mask. Northam later took responsibility for not being better-prepared for the group that approached him for photos. He then promised to not let it happen again.
“He (Northam) is not even listening to his own opinion,” Holland said. “He’s on the beach and he doesn’t even have a mask on. It doesn’t make any sense. (The new mandate) is like telling somebody not to drive 80 miles an hour, but they won’t get a ticket if they do.”
Instead of charging local and state law enforcement with the task of enforcing the mandate, Northam has granted the Virginia Department of Health authority to enforce the order. The order states that any willful violation or refusal to comply could be punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor. It also states that minors will not be subject to criminal penalty for failure to wear a mask.
Not all residents are against wearing masks in public places. Those with underlying health conditions and those who are at a higher risk for infection said they are in agreement with the governor’s recent orders.
“I agree with it 100%,” said Debbie Payne of Rocky Mount. “It will keep people from being in your face and keep their spit particles out of your face when they’re talking to you. I have COPD and I don’t need a virus. The way the virus numbers are growing, people should be willing to do it.”
To read the governor’s complete executive order, visit www.virginia.gov.