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Patrons pass by a banner that reminds shoppers to wear face coverings while inside Walmart Super Center in Bluefield, Va., Thursday. 

RICHMOND, Va. — Only “gross, egregious and repeated” violations regarding Gov. Ralph Northam’s Executive Order 63 requiring people to wear a facial covering in indoor public places, including all businesses, will be enforced.

That was the statement given by Rita Davis, Counsel to the Governor, Thursday afternoon during Northam’s press briefing. The order takes effect today.

Davis also said two avenues of enforcement are available, as they are routinely used by statute to enforce any order regarding a public health emergency.

There is a civil process where an injunction can be obtained, and a warrant can be issued by a local magistrate.

However, she said, law enforcement and business owners should not enforce the order. Rather, those repeated violations should be reported to the Virginia Department of Health (VDH).

“Business owners can’t enforce (the order),” she said, but they can “educate the non-complying patron” on the importance of wearing a facial covering.

Davis said a business owner also can refuse to serve a non-compliant person and ask them to return to the store with a mask or facial covering on.

Northam reiterated that law enforcement is not involved in enforcing the order and would only be involved if some sort of confrontation ensued.

Business owners can report those repeated violators to the VDH, he said, and an investigation would follow.

However, he did not give the details of how that investigation would be conducted.

When asked if he fears his order will be politicized and possibly create a backlash, Northam said it’s not a political issue, it’s a health issue to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“We need to keep the politics out of this,” he said.

Charles Crowson, senior manager corporate communications for Walmart, issued the following statement regarding the order:

“In addition to participating in daily screenings and temperature checks, our associates have been required since April 20 to wear protective face coverings while working within the store. Should an associate not be in compliance with that requirement, he/she will receive proper guidance from a member of management. As for our customers, we strongly encourage them to be mindful of one another’s safety and adhere to all executive decisions related to the use of face coverings.”

Several leaders in Tazewell County expressed opposition to the mask mandate after it was announced Tuesday, including Del. James W. (Will) Morefield, Board of Supervisors Chair Charlie Stacy and Bluefield, Va. Mayor Don Harris, who is also the owner of a small business.

Harris said he is claustrophobic and will not wear a mask in his store, adding that it should be an option and mandate the wearing of a facial covering is a government overreach, especially in Southwest Virginia where the positive cases are relatively rare.

“I am extremely disappointed in the Governor,” he said. “Why should we in Southwest Virginia, which has seen few deaths, be prosecuted by those from Northern Virginia? As a small business, it certainly has affected our income and not everybody is open yet.”

Both Morefield and Stacy said they can see the value of wearing a mask, but it should not be mandated.

“(But) mandating the use of masks with the threat of prosecution or penalty is not who we are as Virginians or Americans,” Morefield said. “Such a mandate is setting a precedent that encourages future encroachment on our individual liberties…”

“Face covering I feel should be a personal choice we each make based on our own situation,” Stacy said. “I would rather the Governor have announced the state’s ‘desire’ or ‘wish’ that citizens of the commonwealth would consider using a face covering to protect each other during this crisis. … Folks in Southwest Virginia (or America) don’t like being told what to do. I wish he would have simply asked first.”

On another issue, Northam said most of Virginia may enter Phase Two of his three-phase plan to reopen on June 5, and that includes Northern Virginia, Accomack County and the City of Richmond, all of which enter Phase One today.  Their entry into Phase One was delayed because of a continued high number of positive cases.

The rest of the state started Phase One May 15.

Northam said he will have more details about entry into Phase Two on Tuesday.

All Virginia beaches will reopen today, he said, because Virginia Beach’s reopening last weekend was a success.

The same guidelines with social distancing must be followed and groups of people must be limited to 10.

Northam also said he has been working with state education leaders on looking ahead at the opening of public schools in August.

Some information on that will also be announced Tuesday, he added.

 

Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com.

 

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