(The Center Square) – A few days after he faced criticism for posing in pictures with members of the public without wearing a face mask, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday face coverings will be mandatory in public places of business, starting Friday.
Northam, a medical doctor, took photos without a face mask Saturday when he visited Virginia Beach, whose beaches were allowed to reopen at limited capacity for Memorial Day weekend.
Northam faced criticism and accusations of hypocrisy, and owned up to his mistake during a news conference Tuesday, saying he did not expect to interact with the public, but will be better prepared in the future.
The governor’s new face mask mandate will include patrons in stores, barbershops, restaurants, government buildings, on public transportation and in any location where people congregate in groups.
“Everyone will need to wear a face covering when you’re inside at a public place starting this Friday,” Northam said. “... I am taking this step because science increasingly shows us that the virus spreads less easily when everyone is wearing face coverings. … Protecting the people around us means face coverings.”
The mandate received criticism from House and Senate Republicans.
“We are deeply concerned about Gov. Northam’s actions today,” House Republican leaders said in a joint statement. “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.”
Senate Republican leaders said Northam was being hypocritical.
“While this governor behaving hypocritically is nothing new, this latest do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do edict takes his disingenuousness to an entirely new level,” they said. “Requiring Virginia’s businesses to enforce this mandate under threat of action by the Department of Health only adds to the incredible and stifling burdens placed upon them by the Democrat majority and the governor this year.”
There will be no criminal penalties for people who do not wear a mask, but rather the Department of Health will enforce this mandate on businesses. The department will use enforcement measures if a business refuses to adopt a policy requiring face masks or is grossly negligent in enforcing it.
Virginians will be exempt from the requirement while eating, drinking, exercising and if they have a health condition that keeps them from wearing a mask. Children under 10 years old will also be exempt, but Northam recommended any child who is at least 3 years old wear a mask when possible.
Coverings do not need to be medical grade, Northam said, and people can use a bandana or make their own face masks with cloth and a rubber band. He said that this mandate might be difficult for some vulnerable populations, but the state is trying to provide them with face coverings. He also encouraged community groups to step in and help supply masks.
Northam said there is not a timeline for easing these restrictions, but they will be lifted when it is safe.
“I’m asking Virginians to remember that their actions have consequences,” Northam said. “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. And I’m really optimistic because I’ve seen Virginains do the right thing time and again over these many weeks.”
Northam said relevant data for reopening has continued to trend in the right direction, and he has approved a reopening plan for northern Virginia counties and Accomack County. He said he also is in talks with the city of Richmond, working on a plan to get them to enter phase one.