Governor's Order Requires Virginians To Wear Masks In Public Spaces

May 29, 2020
Originally published on May 29, 2020 7:37 pm
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In Virginia, if you are in a public space, you better cover your face. Under an order that took effect today, most Virginians are required to wear masks in indoor public places. As NPR's Sarah McCammon reports, not everyone is pleased with this new rule.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Here's what the order says - if you're over 10 years old and you don't have a medical reason not to, you now have to wear a face covering over your nose and mouth when you're indoors in most public spaces in Virginia. And for Anthony Gonzalez (ph), today meant wearing one for the first time on a trip to the grocery store in Virginia Beach.

MCCAMMON: How's it feel?

ANTHONY GONZALEZ: It's uncomfortable. You know, it's trouble breathing, you know. You just got to constantly - I guess you got to change these little masks. They stink after a while.

MCCAMMON: They stink after awhile?

GONZALEZ: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAMMON: Standing in the parking lot, Gonzalez said he doesn't mind the new rule too much. He just wants the pandemic to go away as soon as possible. Teddy Griffin (ph) was stopping by the same store to buy food for elderly members of his church. He says wearing a mask is nothing new for him.

TEDDY GRIFFIN: Oh, yeah. My wife makes sure of that. I just had surgery, so I got to wear one.

MCCAMMON: Griffin says his nephew had COVID-19, but he's doing fine now.

GRIFFIN: I think that people just disregard some things. I've even heard people say I don't believe in it because I don't know anybody that's got it. But I always say you say you're blessed not to know anybody that's got it. So it is some strange thinkings around here.

MCCAMMON: But enforcing Virginia's new mask rule could be difficult. A sign on the front door of Tim Anderson's gun store in Virginia Beach tells customers that if they're not wearing a mask, he'll assume they have a medical condition that prevents it and ask no further questions.

TIM ANDERSON: We're not going to drill people down - why are you not wearing a mask? It's not going to be like that here.

MCCAMMON: Anderson, who is also an attorney, says he opposes the rule.

ANDERSON: Now, if I'm around a high-risk group of people, like if I'm going into a nursing home, maybe it should be mandated if I'm going into a high-risk group. But if I'm just amongst other people, it should be a personal choice if I want to wear it, not a mandate from the governor.

MCCAMMON: Violators could be charged with a misdemeanor, punishable with fines or jail time. But Governor Ralph Northam says that's not his intention, and he hopes Virginians will simply do the right thing and wear a mask.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RALPH NORTHAM: This is not a criminal matter. And our law enforcement, our police and our sheriffs will not have a role in enforcing this.

MCCAMMON: The governor has left that job to the Virginia Department of Health, which does not have policing authority. The department's commissioner, Dr. Norman Oliver, says the agency will work to educate the public about the importance of masks. Face coverings can help prevent the spread of the virus to others from people who don't know they're infected. But Oliver told NPR no one will be arrested or given a heavy fine for violating the mask rule.

NORMAN OLIVER: I believe it's to sort of underscore the importance of it. It's a messaging of the importance of wearing the mask.

MCCAMMON: Governor Northam himself has faced criticism in recent days for not wearing a mask during a visit to the Virginia Beach oceanfront over the Memorial Day weekend. Asked about that this week, Northam said he'd left his mask in the car and promised to come prepared next time. We're all forming new habits and routines, Northam said, and we're all adjusting to this new normal. Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Virginia Beach. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.