As Virginia starts seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases, Gov. Ralph Northam reiterated Friday what has become a familiar message about limiting crowds, washing hand frequently and wearing face coverings.
But he added a new fourth point: Report businesses flouting the rules to the local health department.
“We will continue watching the data over the coming days to make sure public health guidelines are being followed—and I won't hesitate to impose restrictions if needed,” Northam said.
Grabbing groceries, getting a haircut and shopping at the mall during the pandemic means remembering to bring a face mask.
Since Gov. Ralph Northam implemented the mask requirement May 26, the Prince William Health District has received 122 complaints about people gathering in large groups, not wearing a face mask in public indoor spaces or not maintaining social distance in a public building.
Patrick Jones, environmental health manager for the health district, said the health district has received 122 complaints from residents about health violations in public places since May 29.
The health district includes Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park. Officials have made educating business owners about the mask requirements a priority and they have followed up with site visits as needed for repeated violations, Jones said. The requirement to wear a mask applies to employees and customers whenever they are in a closed indoor public place.
Of the total complaints received, 39 complaints were at restaurants, 34 complaints were at grocery or convenience stores, 18 complaints were at retail stores, 12 complaints at office buildings, five complaints at fitness centers, five complaints at personal grooming establishments, three complaints at car dealerships and auto shops, two complaints at religious services, one complaint each at a nursing home, laundromat and hotel.
The health district has not taken any enforcement action, Jones said.
“The business owners and establishments have been cooperating and responding well to the executive orders,” Jones said.
A violation of the mask requirement can mean a Class 1 misdemeanor for any willful violation, refusal or neglect of the mask requirement, according to Northam’s order.
While the health district provided most businesses with education outreach, 46 businesses were also referred to the state agency regulating the business, Jones said.
The Virginia Department of Health has received thousands of complaints across Virginia about people not wearing face masks in public settings. Public health officials received 3,591 mask-related complaints from June 15 through June 30, according to the Virginia Mercury.
The virus can be spread when someone talks, coughs or sneezes, Northam noted in the executive order requiring masks. He also noted people may spread the virus when they don’t have symptoms or before they have symptoms.
“The use of cloth face coverings does not replace the need to maintain six feet of physical social distancing, clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces routinely in all public settings, stay home when sick, and practice frequent hand washing,” according to Northam’s executive order requiring masks.
The mask requirement doesn’t apply to people eating or drinking or those exercising (though social distancing is still required), anyone with trouble breathing, a related health condition, or those seeking to communicate with someone who is hearing impaired.