UPDATED: Sen. Chase refused to wear mask at Harrisonburg restaurant
Owners of Vito's Italian Kitchen say GOP candidate threatened to sue over policy.
Updated, Aug. 19
The owners of a Harrisonburg restaurant posted a message on Facebook saying that GOP gubernatorial candidate Amanda Chase refused to wear a mask in their restaurant Sunday and threatened to sue them for enforcing the policy.
“Chase came into our restaurant,” wrote Katharine Nye Pellerito, co-owner of Vito’s Italian Kitchen with her husband, Vito, as well as a second Harrisonburg eatery, Corgans’ Publick House. “She threatened to sue us and insulted us because of our mask requirement. She had a note from her doctor, claiming a medical exemption. She recorded my husband while he was explaining to her our policy and got on the phone with her lawyer while in our restaurant.” Hours after the post went up, it had more than 1,000 shares, and many commenters said they would patronize the restaurant.
Chase, a state senator who lives in Chesterfield County, visited Vito’s after a campaign stop in New Market with rock musician Ted Nugent. Like Chase, Nugent is also a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump. In pictures from the event, no one is wearing a mask, but at other public events this year, Chase has worn a face covering or had one around her neck.
In a statement Monday evening on her campaign’s Facebook page, Chase wrote, “This weekend while touring Virginia … on two separate occasions, store employees initially denied me service because I refused to wear a mask, in spite of me expressing to them that I had an underlying health condition and could not wear a mask. Once I provided a letter from my doctor, I was finally provided service, but not without being harassed and belittled in front of other store patrons.”
Chase did not disclose her health condition but added, “I chose to stand my ground because there are thousands of disabled Virginians who are being victimized and harassed because of this governor’s confusing and ever-changing executive orders. Does this governor truly care about those with disabilities?” Her statement also accuses Gov. Ralph Northam of advocating for “killing babies” in the third trimester and championing “rioters and looters in our communities.”
As the General Assembly reconvened Aug. 18, Chase continued to decline to wear a mask, saying she had a doctor’s note saying she couldn’t wear one. At the Science Museum of Virginia, the state senator sat behind a three-sided glass box around her desk, separating her from other lawmakers, and she had to use a handheld plastic shield in front of her face when walking around the room, according to The Roanoke Times reporter Amy Friedenberger.
Last week, Chase visited Calabash Seafood, a Mechanicsville restaurant that has been cited by the State Board of Health for not requiring its staff members to wear masks and not enforcing social distancing measures. On July 27, the restaurant’s license was suspended, but it has continued to operate, prompting the board and State Health Commissioner Norman Oliver to file for a temporary injunction Monday in Hanover County Circuit Court that would compel the restaurant to close.
Pellerito wrote that the year has been “challenging enough — navigating the uncertainty of [COVID-19] as it threatens our ability to maintain our restaurants has been exhausting, to say the least.” Pellerito says her restaurants have been following the state’s guidelines, including Gov. Ralph Northam’s May 26 mask mandate, which requires people ages 10 and older to wear face coverings indoors, with some exceptions.
Under the order, restaurant patrons can remove their masks while eating, and many restaurants only require masks when people are away from their table or when a waitperson approaches them, which is the case at the couple’s two restaurants. Describing herself and her husband as small business owners and parents of four children, Pellerito wrote that Vito’s offers curbside pickup for people who don’t want to eat inside or can’t wear a mask for medical reasons.
“Whether our policy is the right or wrong approach, the treatment we received and the behavior she demonstrated making sure we knew who she was, was nothing short of appalling,” Pellerito wrote.
In her statement, Chase says that she empathizes with small business owners “who have been threatened with losing their business licenses and aggressive fines if they don’t refuse service to every single person who does not wear a mask, even those with legitimate medical reasons,” and says that Northam’s orders are “unconstitutional” and a “tyrannical overreach of power.”
The state mask mandate, which Attorney General Mark Herring has successfully defended in court over the past two months, notes the following exceptions to the policy: any person who has trouble breathing or is unable to remove a mask without assistance; anyone trying to communicate with the hearing impaired for which the mouth needs to be visible; and people with health conditions that prohibit wearing a face covering. The order says that a person who says they have a medical condition won’t be required to show medical documentation or identify the precise condition.
However, mask wearing has become intensely politicized, with Trump declining to wear a mask in public except on rare occasions and other prominent conservatives questioning the need for such precautions, even as the United States has surpassed 5 million COVID-19 cases, exceeding the second-highest country, Brazil, by 2 million. There also are cards for sale that say the person holding it is exempt from wearing a mask, but Department of Justice officials have said they are fraudulent.
Virginia has seen several instances of protests against masks, from lawsuits against Northam’s order that have failed so far, to a person being removed from a flight at Richmond International Airport for refusing to put their mask on. A few restaurants in the state have been ordered closed by the health department for not following social distancing and mask guidelines, including one in Hanover County that has so far refused to shut down, two weeks after its permit was suspended.
This is just the latest controversy that Chase has been involved with in the past year. Last month, the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce rescinded its invite for Chase to speak to its members in an online round table event July 8 because of several comments Chase made that the chamber executive committee considered racially offensive. In 2019, Chase was kicked out of the Chesterfield County GOP for derogatory comments she made about the county’s sheriff, a Republican.
Although Chase is the only Republican who has declared her run for governor so far, former Sen. Bill Carrico of Grayson County and Del. Kirk Cox, former speaker of the House of Delegates, have both said they may seek the Republican nomination in the 2021 governor’s race. Northern Virginia businessman Pete Snyder also is said to be considering a run.