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Order requires masks in public spaces

Gov. Ralph Northam signed an executive order Tuesday, May 26, requiring the wearing of face masks in public indoor settings to slow the spread of coronavirus infections. The requirements begin Friday, May 29.

“We are making progress to contain the spread of COVID-19 and now is not the time for Virginians to get complacent,” Northam said in a release Tuesday. “Science shows that face coverings are an effective way to prevent transmission of the virus, but wearing them is also a sign of respect. This is about doing the right thing to protect people around us and keep everyone safe, especially as we continue to slowly lift public health restrictions in our commonwealth.”

Some examples of when a face covering should be worn in public include personal care and grooming businesses, grocery stores and pharmacies, public transportation, state and local government buildings and any indoor space where people may congregate within six feet of each other or who are in close proximity for more than 10 minutes.

“I am taking these steps because science shows us the virus spreads less easily when everyone is wearing face coverings,” Northam said during his Tuesday press conference.

Exemptions to the guidelines include while eating or drinking, individuals who are exercising and children under the age of 2.

Northam made it clear during Tuesday’s press conference the mask order is not a criminal matter and will not be enforced by law enforcement agencies. Health officials of the Virginia Department of Health have the authority to enforce the order.

“Our law enforcement, our police and our sheriffs will not have a role in enforcing this,” he said. “I am not looking for people to get in trouble for not wearing a mask, but I am looking for people to please do the right thing. I am asking people to respect one another.”

Northam’s face mask order comes after he was photographed standing in close proximity of several people and taking a selfie while not wearing a mask in Virginia Beach over Memorial Day weekend. Northam said he was in Virginia Beach to meet with the mayor and first responders. He said he was not expecting to meet the public and did not have a mask with him.

“I was unprepared when I encountered the public. The next time I am out in the public, I will be better prepared and again, I take that as my responsibility,” Northam said.

Republican Party Chairperson Jack Wilson was not impressed with the governor’s mask order. In a Wednesday release titled a “Statement on Dictatorial Mask Mandate,” Wilson said Northam’s latest edict “infringes on the freedoms and liberties of the citizens of Virginia.”