RICHMOND, Va. — There are new requirements regarding face coverings as Virginia looks to continue easing restrictions on businesses.
Gov. Ralph Northam made the announcement during a news conference Tuesday. He said starting Friday, May 29, "everyone will need to wear a face-covering" to protect others.
“Protecting the people around us means face masks,” Northam said. "As soon as it's safe to lift this guideline, we will."
Face covering enforcement, according to Northam, would be done through the Virginia Department of Health and not through law enforcement.
"This is for businesses who are grossly negligent. If a manager of a restaurant is not adopting this policy, then VDH can enforce (with a warning or fine)," Northam's Chief of Staff Clark Mercer said Tuesday.
The new rule applies in all retail stores, all personal care and grooming establishments, and “all places where people congregate.” Masks need to be worn at restaurants except while one is eating.
Children age 9 and younger do not need to wear masks, though the governor recommended them for children age 3 and older. There also are exceptions while exercising and for anyone who has a health condition that prohibits wearing a mask.
During a news briefing on May 22, Northam said his administration was working on a policy for a statewide mask mandate.
"We're trying to work through some of the details," Northam said. "Obviously, it's an equity issue. We want to make sure everybody has access to a mask. We also want to talk about how we enforce that."
The governor said that wearing a mask is essential to protect others when going into businesses since they are "one of the most vulnerable places."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises wearing face masks or cloth face coverings "in public settings where other social distancing" is difficult as well as to "slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others."
Northam directed Virginians to online instructions provided by the U.S. Surgeon General for masking a mask or face covering from a bandanna or handkerchief.
"I think it's fair to say that people have gotten very creative with their facial protections," Northam said. "Be ready on Tuesday to go out and about in your business when it's essential with facial protection. "We will make that announcement on Tuesday."
The governor said last Wednesday that the state will enforce mandatory mask policies if COVID-19 cases in the commonwealth continue to rise and if Virginians continue to disregard mask-wearing and social distancing guidelines.
Northam said during last Wednesday’s news briefing that Virginians have several ways to get tested for COVID-19 as the state inches closer to reaching 10,000 tests per day, a goal set by the governor earlier in the month.
The commonwealth conducts roughly 10,000 tests a day, but state health officials said the health department’s site does not reflect those numbers at this time.
In his news briefing, Northam addressed the multiple options to get tested in Virginia, including the expansion of testing events.
“There are a few different ways that one can get tested,” Northam said. “One is to go to your provider or your local clinic. Another is the community testing events that the department of health is organizing in targeted locations around the commonwealth. While people who have symptoms are a priority, everyone is welcome at testing events as long as tests are available.”
Phase 1 of Northam's "Forward Virginia" plan has already started in most of the state, with the exception of Northern Virginia, the city of Richmond, and Accomack County on the Eastern Shore.
Northam said the first weekend of reopening in Virginia was a success. The governor officially delayed the start of Phase 1 of his "Forward Virginia" reopening plan for Northern Virginia on May 12 in a new executive order.
Executive Order 62, signed by Northam, gives specific localities in Northern Virginia the ability to keep current COVID-19 business restrictions in place for longer than in the rest of the commonwealth.
Northam said most of the state has a 10% positive rate for the coronavirus, while the Northern Virginia area's positive rate is 25%.
A few counties in Northern Virginia accounted for more than 70% of new positive tests the state got over last weekend. Because of these higher than average coronavirus cases, Northam originally stated that he would work with leaders in the area to slow its reopening.
As I have said, it’s important that the commonwealth as a whole can meet key health metrics before moving into Phase 1. The Phase 1 policies are a floor, not a ceiling,” Northam said in a statement.
Executive Order 62 extends the “Phase Zero” restrictions in Northern Virginia until May 29.
Virginia localities that did not reopen on May 15, and instead target May 29:
- Loudoun County
- Fairfax County
- City of Alexandria
- Arlington County
- Prince William County
- Fairfax City
- Manassas Park
- Falls Church
Here is what remains as the only things open in Northern Virginia through May 29:
- Elective surgeries
- Veterinarian offices
- Dental offices
- Outdoor exercise
- Travel to medical appointments
- Engage in essential activities, including obtaining medical care that cannot be provided through telehealth and obtaining food and essential household goods;
- Travel to your essential job
- Grocery stores
- Other retailers that sell food and beverage products or pharmacy products, including dollar stores, and department stores with grocery or pharmacy operations;
- Medical, laboratory, and vision supply retailers;
- Electronic retailers that sell or service cell phones, computers, tablets, and other communications technology;
- Automotive parts, accessories, and tire retailers as well as automotive repair facilities;
- Home improvement, hardware, building material, and building supply retailers;
- Lawn and garden equipment retailers;
- Beer, wine, and liquor stores;
- Retail functions of gas stations and convenience stores;
- Retail located within healthcare facilities;
- Banks and other financial institutions with retail functions;
- Pet stores and feed stores;
- Printing and office supply stores; and
- Laundromats and dry cleaners
You still aren't allowed to gather in groups of 10 or more people, and social distancing is required.