Mask mandate is a ‘personal responsibility,’ Northam counsel says
Beaches statewide will be open this weekend.
As Virginia’s mask mandate goes into effect Friday, both Gov. Ralph Northam and Rita Davis, counsel to the governor, told residents Thursday that it’s their personal responsibility to wear a mask in businesses and other enclosed public places.
Davis clarified the enforcement process of Executive Order 63, which requires face coverings in public, saying that there are “two avenues”: a civil process by which an injunction can be obtained and “a warrant issued by a magistrate.” Northam, she added, said that the Virginia Department of Health should not get involved unless there is “gross, egregious and repeated conduct in violation of the order.”
According to the order, refusing to wear a mask is punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor. State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver also can seek an injunction in circuit court for a violation. The order also says that anyone under the age of 18 cannot be charged criminally for failure to wear a face covering, although the order includes all Virginians ages 10 and older. Younger children between the ages of 2 through 9 should wear face coverings according to “the adult’s best judgment,” the order says.
Speaking hypothetically, Northam said if a non-mask-wearing patron in his business were to “become confrontational, I would call our security, and the law could be involved,” he said. “But it would not be about not wearing a mask; it would be about becoming confrontational, and we would follow a different line of enforcement.”
Mask wearing has become heavily politicized nationally and locally, as President Donald Trump mocked presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden for wearing a mask while laying a wreath on a grave during Memorial Day, while refusing to wear one himself at news conferences and other events. Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., a Trump supporter, tweeted Wednesday that he would only wear a mask if it depicted Northam’s racist yearbook-page photo — featuring one person in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe.
Northam said Thursday that he would like to get politics away from the issue of wearing masks.
“It should not be the responsibility of the Virginia Department of Health to make sure you are wearing your mask. It certainly should not be the responsibility of law enforcement or a business to make sure you are wearing a face covering,” Davis added. “Rather, it is the personal responsibility of each and every one of us to comply with Executive Order 63.”
Also announced at the news conference: No localities in Virginia will enter Phase Two of the Forward Virginia reopening plan until at least June 5, Northam said, as Northern Virginia, Accomack County and the city of Richmond start Phase One on Friday. If those localities want to start Phase Two with the rest of the state, they can, added the governor.
Also starting Friday, all public beaches will be open to the public, following the same precautions taken last week in Virginia Beach.
Approved activities include sunbathing, swimming, fishing and surfing, Northam said, but will not include group sports, alcohol consumption, grouping umbrellas or the use of audio speakers or tents.
“Virginia Beach’s plan for social distancing and sanitation can serve as the model for other beaches to follow,” Northam said. “I expect everyone to follow the restrictions so that people can be safe while enjoying our beautiful beaches.”
Northam also said that starting Friday, the state would revise its orders to allow NASCAR and other racetracks to host single-day events, but without crowds. NASCAR plans to host a race on June 10 in Martinsville.
“Because these are open-air events with space in between the participants, we believe there is minimal risk in allowing them to move forward with restrictions,” Northam said.
While Department of Motor Vehicles offices have started slowly reopening this week, Northam said that the DMV will also extend the time that Virginians have to renew their licenses. Those who have licenses or identification cards that expire before July 31 will have until August 31 to renew them.