Virginians react to possible mandate to wear masks in public

Posted at 5:42 PM, May 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-21 18:27:44-04

RICHMOND, Va., — Jerry Beverage rarely leaves home without a face mask.

“A lot of the information I hear indicates I’m protecting others,” he explained while shopping in Carytown. “I feel like maybe I’m protecting myself a little bit.”

Beverage was among a handful of shoppers wearing a face mask during lunchtime in the popular Richmond shopping district.

“If I were infected with the virus I would protect others that I may pass,” Beverage said.

Wearing a face mask or covering in public in Virginia is encouraged and not voluntary. But, that could soon change.

Gov. Ralph Northam said on Wednesday that the state will enforce mandatory mask policies if COVID-19 cases continue to rise and Virginians continue to disregard mask-wearing guidelines.

"If it gets to the point that we see our numbers going up, for example, and people not complying with our guidelines, then that's something we will do," Northam said during a Facebook Live conversation with CBS 6.

The Virginia Department of Health recommends that people wear cloth face coverings when they are in public places, such as the grocery store, where they will be around other people and it may be difficult to keep at least 6 feet apart.

States like Maryland, Connecticut, and New York have varying policies requiring wearing face masks in public.

“I’ve tried to offer our best advice following the science and encourage people to wear masks,” Northam stated. “Just having the mask on reminds you to keep your hands away from your face.”

Thomas Powers is required to wear a face mask as a crane operator in the Tri-Cities. But, he leaves his face uncovered when he goes to the grocery store.

“I do follow the rules by applying six feet away,” he recalled. “I really don't see the point of wearing a face mask out in public.”

Powers doesn’t disagree with anyone who chooses to wear one. He believes wearing a mask encourages you to touch your face and spread germs.

“I understand they don’t want to get sick and they don’t want to take it home to their families,” he said.

The 24-year-old said he’d rather stay at home if he was required by the Governor to wear a mask in public.

“In my honest opinion he's been overstepping a lot of things,” Powers said.

The ACLU of Virginia has urged the state to use caution if masks were required in public.

“Any public health mandate should be imposed based on good science and positive impact, using the least restrictive measures possible. Steps must be taken to ensure enforcement isn't discriminatory or based on biased policing (as has been the case in New York City). Also, enforcement of a mandate must not add people to jail populations that should be reduced,” ACLU of Virginia’s executive director, Claire Guthrie Gastañaga said in a statement.

Danny Avula, Director of the Richmond/Henrico Health District, said Virginians should move toward the “normalization of mask wearing in our community.”

During a Thursday press conference, Avula suggested wearing face coverings can help reopen the economy sooner.

“The risk of returning to lockdown is really high if we don’t social distance, if we don’t wash our hands, and if we don’t wear our masks,” he explained.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney has requested help from Northam mandating mask wearing in public within the city.

“Over the last couple of weeks I’ve penned a letter to the Governor suggesting mandating mask wearing as a matter of law for cities like ours, and other localities, because evidence shows that you can reduce the transmission of COVID- 19 by 20 to 80 percent depending on what sort of mask you’re wearing. If we want to return to just a modicum of normalcy it will take each and every individual wearing a mask,” Stoney said.

Northam also reminded Virginians that masks serve multiple purposes: they protect others from potentially deadly COVID-19 which can be asymptomatic in some carriers, and they serve as a reminder not to touch your face.

"The most important reason to wear a mask is to prevent other people from catching or having what you have," Northam said. "The other thing, from a physician’s perspective, is we know that this virus is transmitted from bringing our hands to our face, whether it be our mouth, our nose, or our eyes, and actually just having the mask on kind of reminds you to keep your hands away from your face."

"I encourage all Virginians to do it not just for themselves but to protect others. Think about these people on our front lines in our hospitals and nursing homes, those are the ones we need to take care of."

Depend on CBS 6 News and for the most complete coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 Precautions

Most patients with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms. However, in a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can lead to more severe illness, including death, particularly among those who are older or those who have chronic medical conditions.

COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.

Virginia health officials urged the following precautions:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.Stay home when you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with sick people.Avoid non-essential travel.