Beginning Friday, Virginians will be required to wear a face covering in public indoor settings after Gov. Ralph Northam announced the mandate during Tuesday’s press conference, but local representatives in the Rockingham County area have mixed feelings regarding the measure.

Within hours of Northam’s announcement, the Virginia Senate Republican Caucus released a statement decrying the governor’s face mask mandate, and state Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, was included in the statement.

“It is certainly an unprecedented order,” Obenshain said during an interview on Wednesday. “The governor is basically saying ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’”

The governor’s order aims to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and comes weeks after Northam recommended face coverings be worn in public.

Obenshain, who serves as the Virginia Senate Republican Caucus co-chairman, said Northam’s actions over the weekend — where he was seen at Virginia Beach not wearing a mask or following social distancing measures — stood in contrast to his public comments on Tuesday.

“The public liberty is at stake here,” he said.

Northam’s executive order requires any person over the age of 10 years old to wear a mask or face covering while entering, existing, traveling through or spending time at a personal care and grooming business, brick-and-mortar retail business, restaurants, train or bus stations, state and local government buildings, and any indoor space shared with a group of people.

The mandate also includes requiring a mask inside entertainment or public amusement establishments when permitted to open.

There are exemptions for people eating or drinking at a restaurant, those exercising and individuals with a health condition that would keep them from wearing a face covering.

“It’s probably something that should have happened sooner,” said Bill Kyger, a Republican and chairman of the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors.

How the mandate will be enforced, however, has created another wave of backlash by the Virginia Senate Republican Caucus and other local representatives.

During Northam’s press conference, he said wearing a face mask was not “a criminal matter,” and law enforcement would not have a role in enforcing the mandate. Any reinforcement that is needed would be done by health officials, Northam said, leaving the Virginia Department of Health to have the authority to enforce the order.

But as stated in the emergency order, failure to comply with the order is punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor and is punishable by up to 12 months in jail, a fine of up to $2,500, or both, according to the Code of Virginia.

“[Northam said] there is no criminal penalty attached and that is not the truth,” Obenshain said. “You can go to jail for a year in failure to comply with this order.”

Maria Reppas, director of communications for the Virginia Department of Health, said in an emailed statement that the department “has the power to enforce egregious patron/customer violations through a court order, which is punishable by a Class One misdemeanor.”

“Many businesses also have face covering requirements for their employees as outlined in Phase One restrictions (restaurants, salons, etc.), which are enforced by the health department and the relevant regulatory agency,” Reppas wrote. “We are not looking to put anyone in jail — we are focused on education, and we hope and expect that Virginians will do the right thing.”

The Virginia Senate Republican Caucus said that requiring Virginia’s businesses to enforce the mandate under threat of action by VDH would only add to the “incredible and stifling burdens placed upon them by the Democrat majority and the governor this year.”

Obenshain said it made sense to allow local businesses to impose a “no mask, no service” policy if they wanted to, but mandating the face mask policy was the “most politically motivated jag, heavy-handed order I’ve ever seen from an executive.”

Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, said Wednesday that instead of making it a criminal offense, the state should provide strong encouragement to wear masks when appropriate based on individual judgment.

“Individual businesses should then make their own judgments about whether it will be a requirement to patronize their business,” he said. “Common sense and courtesy should prevail on both sides of the issue.”

Hanger did find Northam’s approach poorly executed.

“He didn’t position himself well with what he did over the weekend,” he said. “He made himself an easy target. He apologized for that and went ahead with the order.”

Hanger’s concerns lied with the statutes in the Code of Virginia that give broad authority to the governor during a state of emergency.

Under the powers and duties of the governor, the governor becomes the director of emergency management and can proclaim rules and regulation in his judgment that are necessary and make executive orders that shall have the force of the law and be punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor. There is no limitation for how long the governor can exercise this role, and the extended period of time currently in place is something Hanger does not believe should be in play.

“I think it’s something we need to focus on and make changes in statutes ... involve the democratic process in large emergency orders,” he said.

Del. Tony Wilt, R-Broadway, said with businesses already having the right to require patrons to wear face masks, it is time to “trust the citizens.”

“We are three months in and now [Northam] is going to say we need a mask to go to these places,” he said. “I think it was misdirected and poorly laid out.”

Del. Chris Runion, R-Bridgewater, said that throughout the pandemic, Northam has consistently waffled on a near daily basis.

“The governor stated the mask mandate will be effectively enforced by the business community under threat of the VDH pulling business licenses. However, the actual text of the order states that it is a criminal offense and the onus is on the individual,” he said. “Executive overreach is a serious threat to our representative democracy and I look forward to supporting legislation during a special session that will curb the executive office’s powers.”

Harrisonburg’s Democratic Mayor Deanna Reed said she was happy about the executive order in a Wednesday interview.

“I believe that for right now, this what we need to do and I totally support the governor’s executive order,” Reed said.

City staff and council members have received numerous emails from residents complaining that other residents are not wearing masks, according to Reed.

“We hear those concerns, so now that the governor made this an executive order, I feel this is really what people wanted,” Reed said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and VDH have recommended mask usage to help slow the spread of COVID-19 from those who may not know they are carrying the virus to others.

Wearing a mask is “what the scientists and experts say we need to do,” Reed said. “It’s a known fact that wearing the masks help slow down the coronavirus.”

She said that slowing the spread of the virus can help businesses continue to operate more safely for owners, employees and customers, along with increasing consumer confidence.

Reed herself has collected over 1,500 masks over the roughly past two weeks.

“I want to make sure anybody who needs a mask gets a mask,” Reed said, adding that people can contact her through her city email for masks.

Reed said the city is beginning messaging to spread information about the executive order today.

“We want people to understand that wearing a mask is just like you’re putting on your clothes or your shoes,” she said. “It’s now a part of the new normal.”

Documents on the order will be posted in English, Spanish, Arabic, Kurdish, Russian, Swahili and French, according to Reed.

“It’s definitely not political for me. It’s a health issue,” Reed said.

Contact Jessica Wetzler at 574-6279 or jwetzler@dnronline.com. Follow Jessica on Twitter @wetzler_jessica

(11) comments

Donald

It is unfortunate that a characteristic of humankind is that a large proportion is eager to have an ‘authority’ tell them what to do, and they then do so willingly and without question (It is as though they need a Daddy figure but do not want to vocalize it as such). Having done so they can become very aggressive toward those who chose not to subscribe to the “new normal” as referred to by Ms. Reed. This can and has already resulted in assault by the good “Maskers” on the bad “Unmasked”.

It is the barely hidden totalitarian mindset that lurks just below the surface, and is especially prevalent in politicians – from the Federal level all the way down to the local level. If it is reflective of a Chinese Communist model or a corporate-state model, that is hardly surprising.

Perhaps the DNR could ask the three candidates for city council where they stand on this mandatory masking edict from a single guy (Mr. Northam). Indeed, let’s hear from the rest of the Council as to what they think of it. Do they also think it is the “new normal”? As Chris Simmons, a former Sports editor at the DNR might have said, “ask the uncomfortable questions”.

Donald

Since Ms. Reed brought it up, what does she mean when she refers to a “new normal”? Why should putting on a mask be as normal as getting dressed each morning? Are we to take from this that we are expected to strap on masks in perpetuity? Why? The masking of a population certainly further separates individual from individual and reduces a sense of social adhesiveness. Indeed, it effectively alienates and stigmatizes each individual as being a potential deadly threat to another individual. Who in power benefits from this?

And what will be the next “new normal”? Perhaps it will be an elimination of filthy, disease-ridden cash in favor of a digital cashless society where one’s very livelihood is completely at the mercy of the State and where one is unable to engage in any private transactions not subject to the scrutiny of the State? Of course we will be told it is to make us safe from the Wuhan virus and any other subsequent viruses imported into America.

Perhaps during the regular flu season – since zero death from illness is apparently now the ticket to increased consolidation of power – flu shots will be mandated and if your digital identification documents do not show you as having complied you will be quarantined at home and denied employment until you submit. In short you will be an enemy of the People. Does that sound kind of ChiCom, to you?

Perhaps the next “new normal” will be designating specific days one can shop based on whether ones SS number is even or odd. It would help maintain social distancing to keep the individual ‘safer’ when in brick and mortar establishments. There is certainly historic precedent for such a system from when gasoline was supposedly in short supply.

Unfortunately, any “new normals” are really just a desire and an attempt to take us back to the historic system under which Man has been subordinated to throughout history. There is a reason why America, being the apex of Western Man, progenitor and progeny of Western Civilization, the greatest civilization ever known is viewed as a unique experiment – it is not yet known if it can survive the avalanche of “new normals” the totalitarian bent of Man continues to conjure up – or should I say, harkens back to?

prodigalson

Donald, both of your posts are excellent! It is amazing to me how easily people are led into believing whatever the government tells them to believe. In the case of Demokkkrat Governor Ralph Coonman Northam, he is a proven Klansman and baby killer, and should reside in prison, not in the Governor's mansion. I will not comply with his ridiculous order.

sbsheridan

I can't help but think that your response to masks is far out of proportion to what you are being told to do. Using a mask for a limited period of time in limited circumstances doesn't seem much to ask, or much to comply with. If it helps but doesn't harm, why not? How did attempts to stop the spread of COVID-19 become so politicized, anyway? I don't remember that happening when water usage was restricted during droughts, or when fill-ups at gas stations were limited to even or odd days. Such temporary restrictions were not then end of Western Civilization, and I don't think that wearing a mask in stores will finish off society, either. Being willing to follow this directive does not make me a supporter of "mindless autocrats"? It seems to me that some of the resistance to measures designed to slow or stop COVID-19 can be seen as stemming from the misleading, conflicting statements by those attempting to run this country. Does that make people who listen to them supporters of mindless autocrats?

Donald

Uh, that should have been social cohesive, not social adhesiveness. Contrary to Lionel Richie’s “Stuck On You”, it is probably best people be not too sticky – it makes getting into cabs, going through doors, passing through turn styles, and other narrow spaces somewhat cumbersome.

And, if one finds one’s self accidentally stuck to someone who is not a bosom buddy (bestie) things could get awkward. For example, If Mr. Driller and Mr. Billyanonymous where to get stuck together they might develop an instant friendship or each would begin to experience their separate versions of the opposite of heaven. Best not be too sticky.

[beam]

Donald

I am assuming Mr. Northam will not be wearing a black mask.[whistling]

prodigalson

Or a white hood?

Auntbee0643

I believe everything was opened up too soon. If citizens had enough common sense to wear masks and socially distance themselves, we probably wouldn't have had to shut everything to begin with !

Comment deleted.
sbsheridan

What do all those aspersions you cast on Northam have to do with the decision to isolate at home?

prodigalson

Sister M S, telling the truth about Governor Ralph Northam is not casting "aspersions" upon him. There is a photograph of Ralph Northam in his medical school yearbook, wearing a Klan robe and hood. That is a documented fact. Ralph Northam gave an interview to a radio station recently where he actually advocated for a mother and doctor to decide AFTER AN INFANT IS BORN whether or not that infant should be killed, or whether it should be allowed to live. That is a documented fact. These are not aspersions. These are not my opinions. They are documented fact. Just because you don't like the facts doesn't mean that they cease to be facts.

S in Shenandoah Valley

I'm really disappointed in the resistance to wearing masks. It truly is the best way short of lockdowns to keep from spreading the virus. It also shows love and respect for your fellow humans. Northam deserved all the criticism for his hypocrisy but we can do better!

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