Northam: Face coverings required in public in Va. starting Friday

A line of hundreds of people forms outside of Annandale High School, along with a separate line for drive through testing, Saturday, May 23, 2020, for COVID-19 testing. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

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.

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Northam addressed his own shortcomings in wearing a mask in public. He said during his visit to Virginia Beach on Saturday, he was on the way to talk to reporters when he was caught off-guard by Virginians seeking photos with the governor.

“I was not prepared because my mask was in the car,” he said. “I take full responsibility for that.

“People held me accountable and I appreciate that. In the future, when I’m out in the public, I will be better prepared. We’re all forming new habits and routines, and we’re all adjusting to this new normal,” Northam said.

The governor deferred details for Northern Virginia’s reopening until Wednesday but said four of the six criteria for reopening have been met, and Phase I is expected to begin Friday.

Northam reiterated Phase I will continue for the rest of Virginia through Friday, and he will determine in the coming days whether Phase II can commence.

“I’m really optimistic because I’ve seen Virginians do the right thing, time and again, over these many weeks,” he said. “It has not been easy for anyone. But this experience is bringing out the best in most people.”

Northam said Virginia Beach performed well over the weekend — no large crowds, people adhering to social distancing guidelines — and said this can be a guide for reopening in Norfolk and Hampton.

“I’m convinced Virginia Beach can be a model for the rest of our country — a model for how to open the right way, and how to operate a beach safely even while the pandemic remains with us,” Northam said.

Rob Woodfork

Rob Woodfork is WTOP's Senior Sports Content Producer, which includes duties as producer and host of the DC Sports Huddle, nightside sports anchor and sports columnist on

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