Northam news conference 5.26.20

Speaking during a news conference in Richmond on Tuesday, May 26, 2020, Gov. Ralph Northam addressed criticism of his visit to Virginia Beach over the weekend, when he was photographed without a mask on. (Screenshot from livestream of news conference.)

Northern Virginia will be moving into Phase One of reopening non-essential businesses on Friday, Gov. Ralph Northam indicated Tuesday, and the state will begin requiring all residents to wear masks in indoor public spaces.

Northam said he will make an official announcement Wednesday, but in response to a question about whether he will approve the region's move into Phase One on Friday, he said, "Yes, that is the plan."  

Northern Virginia, Accomack County on the Eastern Shore and the city of Richmond all were delayed from entering into Phase One when the rest of the state did so on May 15.  Phase One loosens restrictions on non-essential businesses, allowing hair salons to open, restaurants, wineries and breweries to begin offering outdoor dining, and retail establishments and churches to operate at 50% capacity. 

The Northern Virginia localities affected by the delay were the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William, all the towns in those counties, and the cities of Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas and Manassas Park.  Adjacent localities such as Clark, Fauquier and Stafford counties were able to enter Phase One. 

"We all understand that businesses need clarity and time to prepare," Northam said, while noting that no business is required to reopen under Phase One. "Just because you can open doesn’t mean you have to open."

At the same time, as he had hinted Friday, Northam said that effective Friday, the state will begin requiring all residents to wear face coverings inside public places, such as restaurants, stores, public transit, government buildings or anywhere else where people congregate. However, failure to wear a mask will not be a crime or incur a civil penalty and will not be enforced by police officers or sheriff's departments, he said.  Instead, the requirement will be enforced by the Virginia Department of Health, which issues licenses and conducts business inspections. 

"I’m not looking for people to get in trouble for not wearing a mask, but I am looking for people to do the right thing," Northam said. "Science increasingly shows us the virus spreads less easily when everyone wears face coverings ... This is about protecting those around us, especially our workers.... We're trying to promote safety."

Exceptions will be made for patrons who are eating or drinking in restaurants, people who exercising, anyone whose health condition keeps them from wearing a mask and children under the age of 10.   

Northam said masks don't need to be medical grade and even bandanas will suffice.  "If you don't have protective facial covering, please make arrangements."

Northam's chief of staff, Clark Mercer, said the health department will only be enforcing what he called "gross negligence" by a business that refuses to adopt a policy requiring customers to wear masks.   He noted that under the Phase One reopening, employees at public-facing businesses must wear masks. 

Northam also said that the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry will be developing emergency regulations to cover businesses that are not open to the public. The regulations would set standards for wearing of personal protective equipment, sanitation, record-keeping and reporting of hazards. 

Northam and Mercer indicated they may seek legislation when the Virginia General Assembly meets in special session this summer that would allow for civil fines to be assessed against individuals who don't wear masks indoors but that the state does not have the authority to do so currently. 

The governor said he does not have a timeline for how long the mask requirement would remain in place. "As soon as it's safe to lift this guideline, we will."

Northam began his news conference by addressing criticism that arose Saturday when he visited Virginia Beach to check on the first weekend of reopening there and was photographed on the boardwalk without a mask on.  He said he was on his way to talk to reporters when several visitors recognized him and asked to take photos with him.

"I was not prepared because my mask was in the car," he said. "I take full responsibility for that.  In the future, when I’m out in public, I will be better prepared."

Northam said the reopening of the beach went well and could be a model for reopening other beaches around the country. "Most people did the right thing. People were social distancing on the beach. They were following the rules." 

Northam said he doesn't have a timeline for moving the rest of the state into Phase Two of reopenings, which would allow restaurants to open some indoor seating and indoor gyms and fitness centers to reopen. In a letter to Northam on Monday, Northern Virginia government leaders suggested their region could move into Phase Two at the same time as the rest of the state.

In a separate letter over the weekend, Northern Virginia health officials said the region had met four of the six metrics necessary to move into Phase One and needed state assistance on the other two: sustainable inventory of personal protective equipment for long-term care facilities and first responders and adequate contact tracing efforts.   

Northam said progress is being made in both of those areas, noting the state's plan to hire more than 1,000 contact tracers. "That process is moving forward nicely," he added. "We are encouraged by the numbers that we see."

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(10) comments

Zed Rahl

Well Virginia you reap what you sow. You put this fool in office and have to live with your decision. He is a typical hypocrite liberal. The rules he enacts will be for you and not him (cause he's special). if it weren't for double standards democrats would have no standards at all.

Alan Olsen

Prime example of continued government overreach, not to mention stupidity. So if face coverings are so important and valuable to prevent the spread of disease, then where was this rule for the past three months? Wearing a mask probably won’t save aborted babies lives, but it will allow the governor to wear whatever paint he wants to on his face and then claim it wasn’t him. We all know why the governor likes masks, especially white ones.


Wearing a mask protects you and others. Its amazing that theirs always some type of disaster when a certain administration is in office.


I like how he realized that he cannot directly decree that you wear a mask, but can sure as shit move that responsibility around to private business.

What a scumbag.


What they don't want banned they want to make mandatory.

Catherine Christine

How will Catholics receive the Eucharist?

Rob Schneider

So, the governor took responsibility for his "forgot the mask" event in Virginia Beach, and then he got his photo taken in a public building in Richmond yet again without a mask. But he's going to "try harder" I suppose...

In other news, I'm guessing people aren't wearing a mask while receiving a haircut.

Lynne June

Great! I don’t mind wearing a mask on a temporary basis. I’ve limited my online purchases to restaurants and have put off buying the things I really needed until re-opening. We all need to get out and patronize local restaurants and businesses we like. Let’s help keep them afloat.


Never thought the Democratic Party would turn us into a Police state. Count me out. I will sit back and watch more bricks and mortar die due to foolishness of Virginia's Governor. I will go without. Enjoy what I have. Then there's online. R.I.P, retail.

Paul Benedict

What an idiot!

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