Northern Virginia will join the rest of the state in reopening its economy on Friday, and that same day all Virginians will have to wear face masks indoors in public, Governor Ralph Northam announced today.
“Everyone will need to wear a face cover when you’re inside at a public place starting this Friday,” Northam said at his weekly coronavirus press conference. “That’s at a store, a barber shop, a restaurant, on public transportation, at a government building or anywhere where people can congregate in groups.”
Northam said there will be exceptions for wearing masks, including eating or drinking at a restaurant, exercising, have a pre-existing condition, or for children under the age of 10. The order will be enforced by the Virginia Department of Health, and not any law enforcement entity, although Northam said he will discuss with the General Assembly this summer a potential civil fine for violators.
“I’m not looking for people to get in trouble by not wearing a mask, but I am looking for people to please do the right thing,” Northam said, and apologized for not wearing a mask this weekend in Virginia Beach. “I’m asking people to respect one another.”
Northam delayed the first phased opening of Northern Virginia’s economy from May 15 (when the rest of the state reopened) until May 29 after receiving a letter from regional leaders, including Mayor Justin Wilson. On Sunday, Wilson signed another letter with his regional counterparts stating that Northern Virginia has met four out of the six criteria necessary to move into phase 1 on May 29.
“The City has been planning for a transition to Phase 1 for several weeks now,” Wilson told ALXnow. “We will work with our businesses and residents to ensure that Phase 1 is a success and further loosening of the public health restrictions will be possible in the near future.”
As for the face masks, Wilson said that the city encourages residents to wear masks in all situations where social distancing is not possible, as a way to prevent community spread and protect our essential workers.
Under Phase 1, restaurants will be allowed to seat 50% of their outdoor capacity while remaining closed inside. Gatherings of 10 or more people would be prohibited, and churches and retail stores are allowed to open at 50% capacity and hair salons will be open by appointment only.
“I want to emphasize that while Phase 1 loosened some restrictions, it does not require any business, or place of worship to open until they are comfortable that they can do so safely,” Northam said. “Just because you can open doesn’t mean that you have to open.”
Some local civic and business leaders encouraged Alexandrians to comply with the new rules. Bill Blackburn is the co-founder of the Homegrown Restaurant Group, which includes Holy Cow Del Ray, Pork Barrel BBQ, The Sushi Bar, Sweet Fire Donna’s, Tequila & Taco and Whiskey & Oyster.
“We strongly encourage our customers to wear masks, and it is required of our staff to do so,” Blackburn said. “If a customer arrives with no mask, it is more of a risk for us to argue with them about wearing a mask, refund their money and throw away their food, than it would be to put the bag on a table and let them leave… We want our customers to wear masks, period.”
Wayne Hulehan is the administrator of the Beverley Hills Listserv, and said the face mask mandate was a prudent decision.
“We are in a pandemic and face masks help to avoid the spread and flatten the curve,” Hulehan said.
Staff photo by James Cullum