Northam says he is considering statewide mask mandate
Governor will make announcement Tuesday afternoon.
Gov. Ralph Northam said he is considering a statewide mask mandate in public spaces and businesses, and will make an announcement Tuesday.
“We are working through the policy. Obviously it’s an equity issue,” Northam said at his Friday news conference, adding that all Virginia residents would need access to face coverings and that he is examining how to enforce such a policy. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney sent a letter to Northam on Friday encouraging him to require that Virginians wear masks in public spaces and businesses.
Northam said he spoke with Stoney on Friday morning, and he will announce any changes in masking policy at Tuesday’s news conference. Starting next week, Northam will switch from three updates a week to two, on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.
“The Market at 25th, a grocery store in the East End of Richmond, noticed a dramatic decrease in customers wearing masks upon last Friday’s overall implementation of Phase One, despite our city delaying this phase,” Stoney wrote. “Additionally, citizens have reached out to my office to express concern of shoppers and businesses in surrounding counties that are not wearing masks at all and simply refusing to do so, causing a disconnect with what we all should be responsibly doing.”
Meanwhile, most of the state is entering its second weekend in Phase One of Northam’s “Forward Virginia” reopening plan. Northam said that although more people are expected to be out and about during the Memorial Day weekend, they still need to maintain social distancing and other precautions.
The state plans to hold 44 community testing events in the next week in the following locations: Richmond, Fairfax, Alexandria, Arlington, Henrico County, Harrisonburg and Woodbridge.
Accomack County, Richmond and Northern Virginia are still in “Phase Zero,” with a two-week extension of the governor’s restrictions on “nonessential” businesses, including hair salons, massage therapy parlors and restaurants. The extension is set to end May 29, but Northam has said he could extend it further if needed.
Masks are required under Phase One for employees and customers of barbers, massage therapists, nail techs and other close-contact businesses. So far, Northam has only recommended that people wear masks when near other people in public spaces or inside confined spaces like grocery stores.
Parts of 38 states — including Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Kentucky — have requirements that residents wear masks while in essential businesses and on public transportation.
However, as Northam noted earlier in the week, there have been news stories and videos posted online showing people reacting violently when told to wear masks, although most of these incidents appear to have taken place in other states.
“Over two-third[s] of Americans think that wearing a mask in public is simply respectful and not in any way weak, but only half of Richmonders are wearing some form of face coverings,” Stoney wrote in his letter to Northam, referring to a HuffPost/YouGov poll released this week indicating that 69% of people surveyed felt “it is a sign of respectfulness to others to wear a face mask when in public and near other people.”
In a Richmond Times-Dispatch article, reporters said about half of shoppers in the area’s grocery stores are not wearing masks, despite recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health officials.