Northam Dictates Face Covering Requirement / Workplace Restrictions

Fresh off being seen without a face covering over the weekend (he said he “left it in the car”), Governor Ralph Northam has signed Executive Order Sixty-Three, requiring Virginians to wear face coverings in all public indoor settings. The Governor also directed the Department of Labor and Industry to develop standards “to prevent workplace exposure to COVID-19.”

Governor Northam also signed an amended Executive Order Fifty-One, extending Virginia’s state of emergency declaration.

The new executive order adds requirements to previous actions the Governor has taken and do not take the place of public health guidelines to maintain six feet of physical distancing, increase cleaning and sanitation, and to wash hands regularly.

“We are making progress to contain the spread of the COVID-19 and now is not the time for Virginians to get complacent,” said Governor Northam. “Science shows that face coverings are an effective way to prevent transmission of the virus, but wearing them is also a sign of respect. This is about doing the right thing to protect the people around us and keep everyone safe, especially as we continue to slowly lift public health restrictions in our Commonwealth.”

Virginia Senate Republican leaders immediately voiced their displeasure with Northam’s edict that all citizens must wear masks in indoor places. Republican Party of Virginia Chairman, Jack Wilson, issued the following statement in response to Governor Ralph Northam’s  mask mandate:

“Governor Northam’s latest edict infringes on the freedoms and liberties of the citizens of Virginia. This nation was founded as a direct rebuttal of tyrannical, authoritarian rule from those who thought themselves suited to govern a land to which they had no real connection. Ralph Northam appears to have forgotten that.

“Maybe our tune would be different if Governor Northam had not been caught just this weekend in a crowded public area with no mask and no regard for social distancing. While this administration’s COVID-19 response has been defined by its unforced errors, this is the first time it has turned them back on suffering Virginians. Will those without masks be able to tell Big Brother that they ‘forgot it in the car’? How are we supposed to take this man seriously?

“Even the roll-out of this mandate was bungled and has raised more questions than it has answered. First, Northam told us it was more of a recommendation than an order. Then we find out that failing to comply is a class one misdemeanor.

“In a time of crisis, Ralph Northam has failed. He has failed our seniors in long term assisted living facilities. He has failed thousands of small business owners. He has failed Virginia’s minority communities. He has failed our students. He has failed every single Virginian. This Commonwealth used to be a leader in this nation and a shining example of what a state should be. Governor Northam has turned it into a third-rate mess.”

The State advises that a face covering, “includes anything that covers your nose and mouth, such as a mask, scarf, or bandana. Medical-grade masks and personal protective equipment should be reserved for health care professionals.”

Under the Governor’s executive order, any person age ten and older must wear a mask or face covering at all times while entering, exiting, traveling through, and spending time in the following public settings:

  • Personal care and grooming businesses
  • Essential and non-essential brick and mortar retail including grocery stores and pharmacies
  • Food and beverage establishments
  • Entertainment or public amusement establishments when permitted to open
  • Train stations, bus stations, and on intrastate public transportation, including in waiting or congregating areas
  • State and local government buildings and areas where the public accesses services
    any indoor space shared by groups of people who may congregate within six feet of one another or who are in close proximity to each other for more than ten minutes

Exemptions to these guidelines include while eating and drinking at a food and beverage establishment; individuals who are exercising; children under the age of two (Editor’s note: Good luck with that 3 year old.); a person seeking to communicate with a hearing-impaired person, for which the mouth needs to be visible; and anyone with a health condition that keeps them from wearing a face covering.

The Governor is also “directing the Commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry to develop emergency temporary standards for occupational safety that will protect employees from the spread of COVID-19 in their workplaces.”

These occupational safety standards will require the approval by vote of the Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board and must address personal protective equipment, sanitation, record-keeping of incidents, and hazard communication. But the State went on to advise “that upon approval, the Department of Labor and Industry will be able to enforce the standards through civil penalties and business closures.”

The full text of Executive Order Sixty-Three and Order of Public Health Emergency Five is available here.

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