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Wearing a Face Covering "Right Thing to Do" Says Governor

Counsel Rita Davis addressed mask mandate enforcement.
Counsel Rita Davis addressed mask mandate enforcement. (Photo: Ben Paviour/VPM News)

Face masks and coverings must be worn in public starting Friday, Gov. Ralph Northam said during his Thursday briefing. The new order was first announced Tuesday, at a briefing where Northam apologized for not wearing a face covering over the weekend, and took questions about legal enforcement.

While describing the importance of wearing a face covering, Northam said it’s “simply the right thing to do.”

“If you shouldn't go into a public place without shoes or a shirt, you shouldn’t go in without a face covering,” said Northam.

Rita Davis, counsel to Northam, downplayed enforcement concerns. She said the enforcement mechanism in the executive order is the standard statutory process that’s been used throughout the pandemic, and before. “It was not created specifically for Executive Order 63, and it is not new,” Davis said.

She said the governor does not expect that business owners will enforce the order, but they should take the time to educate their customers about the importance of wearing masks. Suggesting that enforcement will be minimal, Davis said, “only gross, egregious, repeated conduct” should result in notifying the Virginia Department of Health.

Phase one will continue at least another week, Northam said, while more testing data is collected. He said numbers continue to trend downward, but that they don’t have enough data to move into phase two of the statewide reopening. Thirty-nine community testing sites are now in operation. Northam said he’ll be tested soon and report back on the process next week.

 

Northam describes the CVS testing sites across Virginia

 

Richmond, Northern Virginia, and Accomack County will enter phase one of reopening tomorrow, and have the same rules as the rest of the state: Restaurants can serve customers outdoors at 50% capacity, non-essential retail and houses of worship can open at 50% capacity, and salons and barber shops can operate with a number of restrictions, including face coverings and social distancing for patrons. Gyms can offer outdoor-only fitness classes.

Although phase two will not begin this Friday, Northam updated his executive order to reopen beaches statewide, with restrictions barring large gatherings, tents, alcohol, and group sports. Citing Virginia Beach as a success, he said beaches will stay open so long as social distancing continues. Race tracks will be able to hold single-day events starting tomorrow as well, but in-person spectators will not be permitted.

While many remain unemployed, Northam announced some positive economic news. Microsoft is spending $64 million dollars to develop a software development hub in Reston, which will create 1,500 new jobs. In addition, construction on a wind turbine offshore from Virginia Beach is beginning. It will be the first in U.S. federal waters.

The governor also paid tribute to the victims of the mass shooting in Virginia Beach, which occurred last year. The shooter took the lives of 12 workers of a municipal building in the Princess Anne neighborhood. The governor took a moment of silence after he called off the names of each worker.

As of today, more than 100,000 Americans have died of the coronavirus. In Virginia, total deaths stand at 1,338, and 4,442 people have been hospitalized with confirmed or probable cases. Total confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the state now number 41,401.