Who will enforce Virginia’s face covering mandate?

Mike Still • May 29, 2020 at 9:00 AM

RICHMOND — On Friday, it’s the law under state executive order — everyone 10 and older in businesses and public buildings in Virginia has to wear a face covering.

Gov. Ralph Northam, who announced the order on Tuesday, and his legal counsel spent much of Thursday’s regular COVID-19 update answering just how the order will be enforced after saying that local and state police would not be involved in enforcing it.

Northam prefaced the session by saying the U.S. has passed the 100,000 mark in COVID-19 deaths.

“They are our friends, they are loved ones and they are neighbors,” Northam said. “We must keep working to protect each other.”

The order requires everyone age 10 and older to wear face coverings inside all brick-and-mortar retail, personal care and grooming businesses; inside restaurants and beverage establishments except when eating and drinking; buildings where people congregate; on public transportation; and when accessing state and local government services. Exceptions will be made for people exercising or with health conditions affected by masks and for children under 10.

Governor’s Counsel Rita Davis said the enforcement process behind the mandate is not new because it has been in place behind five other orders Northam has issued during the pandemic. Under Virginia Code Title 32.1, violations of the latest mandate can be done first through a court civil injunction and then by a warrant issued by a magistrate.

Davis said enforcement would be against only “gross, egregious and repeated” violations, and enforcement “should not be the responsibility of businesses.

“Rather, it is the personal responsibility of all of us to comply,” Davis said.

Northam on Tuesday said enforcement of the face covering order would be handled by the state Department of Health.

Asked by reporters what would happen if anyone refused to comply with the mask order, Northam said, “As a business owner, if someone came in without a mask, I would ask them to wear a mask for the safety of workers and others.”

Asked if law enforcement would be brought in if a person still refused to wear a mask, Northam said it would not be over the mask but if the person became “confrontational.”

Davis, asked if business owners could refuse service to customers who would not wear a mask, said owners could ask those customers to return at a time when they realized the benefit of wearing a face covering.

Asked if the mask issue was becoming politicized, Northam said, “We need to take politics out of this.”

Regarding business and public spaces reopening, Northam said that Northern Virginia, Richmond and Accomack County have finally met improvements in daily COVID-19 case increases, testing positivity rates and hospitalization to enter the phase one reopening authorized on May 15 for the rest of the state. Phase two, of which exact details have not yet been announced, would take place no earlier than June 5, he added.

Northam said state health and emergency officials are still reviewing trends in infection and testing data before any decision on phase two can be made.

A week after Virginia Beach’s reopening of its oceanfront, Northam said, all other Virginia beaches will be allowed to open on a limited basis. Gatherings of 10 or fewer people will be allowed with social distancing. Tents, alcohol and group sports will not be allowed.

NASCAR, horse racing and similar sports will also be allowed to reopen starting Friday, Northam added. Those events will not be open to spectators and can be only single-day events. That reopening comes as a NASCAR race is scheduled for June 10 at Martinsville.

Northam said that another step had been made in expanding testing capacity with 39 CVS Pharmacy stores from Radford east to begin offering on-site nasal swab testing.

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