Just a strong suggestion: Va. governor won’t require coronavirus masks for public

Giant customer
A customer at a Giant grocery store in Alexandria, Virginia, wears a protective face mask while waiting in line at the checkout. (Courtesy Shannon Finney/shannonfinneyphotography.com)

Despite orders in the District of Columbia and Montgomery County, Maryland, that require shoppers to wear cloth face coverings to try to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said he won’t make masks mandatory.

“It’s just a strong suggestion, and encouragement,” Northam said in his Friday briefing on the state’s latest COVID-19 developments.

More than a week ago, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested members of the public wear non-medical-grade face masks, when around people who aren’t immediate family members.

As of Monday, shoppers in Montgomery County will be required to wear a cloth face covering in grocery stores, pharmacies and large chain retail stores. Last Wednesday, D.C. began requiring people shopping for groceries to wear masks.

Northam, a pediatric neurologist by profession, noted the CDC initially was reluctant to the idea of non-medical-personnel wearing masks because of the shortage of N95-type face protection for first responders and hospital caregivers.

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“What’s happened over the weeks is we can now make facial protection,” Northam said. “We can take a bandanna, and fold it, and use rubber bands.”

Northam said he encourages people to use makeshift cloth masks, “not only to protect themselves, but also protect others.”

The CDC said the loose fitting masks likely catch droplets from a wearer’s cough, sneeze or breath if an infected wearer is not showing symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the 2019 coronavirus which originated in Wuhan, China.

But asked if he plans to make mask wearing mandatory in Virginia, Northam made clear the answer is no — at least for now.

“To date, we have not made that mandatory. It’s just a strong suggestion and encouragement,” said Northam, repeating his thanks for mask-wearing Virginians. “You’re doing the right thing, and we appreciate you being part of the solution.”

“As long as we can continue to work together, as long as we can continue to see that social distancing is working, that the curves are flattening, we’ll continue with our present guidelines,” Northam said.

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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