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Alexandria Mayor asks city to ‘step up our masking game,’ but says mask mandate has to come from state

Fresh from a bout with Covid that left Mayor Justin Wilson isolating in Spain, Wilson’s first virtual town hall of 2022 launched with a discussion of the current situation with COVID-19.

Alexandria has seen record-high levels of confirmed Covid cases thanks to the highly infections omicron variant. Wilson implored locals to swap out the simple cloth masks for more effective N95 or KN 95 masks.

“We need to up our masking game,” Wilson said. “The simple cloth masks are not going to be sufficient in the face of this highly transmittable variant. We’re encouraging people to get K-95 to prevent spread.”

Wilson said mask-wearing indoors was ubiquitous in Europe, which has helped keep the virus under control. But when asked about a mask mandate, Wilson deferred to the governor’s office, noting that the Dillon Rule makes Alexandria’s authority to enforce that mandate unclear.

“The authority on masking requirements has always been a little murky from the beginning,” Wilson said. “The city was one of the first jurisdictions to adopt a masking ordinance back in 2020. That ordinance was later replicated by the state and applied state-wide. We did not include enforcement in our ordinance, largely as a nod to some of the authority concerns in a Dillon Rule state.”

Wilson said a mask mandate would have to come from state authorities.

“In my view, and I’m not an attorney, but the governor has much clearer authority which is why we preferred those orders to come out of Richmond, and at this point that’s where they need to come,” Wilson said.

Today (Monday), Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency in Virginia as a result of the spike in COVID-19 cases, which gives hospitals authority to expand bed capacity, but stopped short of issuing a mask mandate or other Covid mitigation measures.