Virginia Requires Masks Weeks Too Late
A surprisingly slow response from a governor who has been proactive during the crisis.
While I have not been his biggest fan, Governor Ralph Northam has done a solid job handling the Commonwealth’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He moved to close schools early, overruling the incompetent superintendent in Fairfax County. This was soon followed by state-home orders for non-essential workers. And, while he has succumbed to pressure to begin reopening the state economy despite adequate tracking and testing mechanisms in place, he kept the localities in the DC metroplex of Northern Virginia locked down an additional two weeks.
Oddly, however, he did not follow the lead of federal agencies and neighboring Maryland in requiring citizens to wear masks while going into public places. He announced last week that he was thinking about finally getting around to doing so and finally, yesterday, ordered that it would be mandatory (but not really) starting Friday.
WTOP (“Northam: Face coverings required in public in Va. starting Friday”):
Face coverings will be required inside public establishments starting Friday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday. He also addressed photos of him without a face covering interacting with well-wishers in Virginia Beach over the weekend.
At a briefing, Northam said that anywhere people can congregate in groups — including but not limited to stores, restaurants, barbershops, government buildings and public transportation — they must wear face coverings. These are the few exceptions:
*People who are eating or drinking at a restaurant.
*People who are exercising.
*People who have a health condition that prohibits a face covering.
*Those who are under the age of 10, although Northam strongly recommended children over 3 years old to wear one, if possible.
The governor said the order will be enforced by the Virginia Department of Health, not law enforcement, though Northam noted the penalty can be a Class I misdemeanor.
“This is about people’s health; it’s not about locking people up in jail and giving them large fines,” he said.
Chief of staff Clark Mercer said health department enforcement will be akin to health inspections of restaurants, and the state is aware of the equity and practical issues that can arise from enforcing the order.
“This is for businesses that would be grossly negligent and refusing to adopt this policy,” he said.
Practically speaking, then, this is an order for businesses to require customers and employees to wear masks. And, given the unlikelihood of inspection and the number of incidents where people have been shot, or at least accosted, by customers outraged at the requirement, one suspects the policy will be limited to signs requesting compliance.
For that matter, while it makes sense to exclude what one presumes is the very small number of people with medical conditions that preclude their wearing a mask from the order, it creates a loophole one can drive an 18-wheeler through. We’re not, after all, going to make people carry around papers documenting their medical status.