Southwest Virginia reacts to Gov. Northam’s mask mandate

Local Coronavirus Coverage

ABINGDON, Va. (WJHL) — In a press conference Tuesday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Virginians will need to wear masks while in public beginning May 29.

SEE ALSO: Virginia Gov. Northam: Police will not enforce face coverings mandate, starts May 29

News Channel 11’s Anslee Daniel and Mackenzie Moore set out to grab reactions from state officials along with business and restaurant owners in regard to the new mandate.

Sen. Todd Pillion views the announcement as a government overreach and fears for those businesses who just reopened.

“This new mask mandate has basically weaponized yet another bureaucratic agency in forcing small business owners to turn away their clients or turn away their patrons if they don’t have the proper mask to wear,” Pillion said. “If the governor were really concerned about a mandatory mask order, the bigger question is why now and why Friday?

“Why didn’t he do this two months ago when COVID-19 was spreading rapidly throughout the region?”

Virginia law enforcement will not demand the public to wear masks; however, in a press release Tuesday, it states that the Virginia Department of Health will enforce the mandate.

The Virginia Department of Health shall have authority to enforce this Order. Any willful violation or refusal, failure, or neglect to comply with the Order, issued pursuant to § 32.1-13 of the Code of Virginia, is punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor pursuant to § 32.1-27 of the Code
of Virginia.

Virginia Executive Order 63

Mt. Roger’s Health District Population Health Manager Breanne Forbes Hubbard said everyone who enters public areas will be required to wear a mask.

“Everybody needs to wear a face mask when they’re out in public now,” Hubbard said. “When you’re in any public building — restaurants, grocery stores, pharmacies — anything like that you need to have a face covering on.”

In regard to enforcement from the department, Hubbard said health officials have yet to receive word with how it will be executed.

“We’re still awaiting guidance from our central office on what exactly that’s going to look like in the local health districts,” Hubbard said.

There are exceptions to the mandate, such as eating and drinking.

Joshua Fuller, owner of The Tavern off East Main Street, said that while he will inform restaurant-goers of the mask advisement, he won’t turn customers away.

“It’s going to discourage people from going out because it presents its own challenges as far as how you’re going to go out and be comfortable having dinner somewhere and then in the meantime having to remind yourself every moment, ‘mask up, mask down,'” Fuller said.

The restaurant owner fears for his business, as customers can drive an extra 15 minutes to Tennessee, where lacking a mask won’t be enforced nor punishable.

“It’s just not fun to sit there and think about the opportunity people can have 10 minutes down the road, but it’s something that we’re constantly trying to evolve as a business and get creative to get people here,” Fuller said.

Food Country Vice President Debbie Creasy wants to avoid overreaching by demanding grocery shoppers to wear a mask within the store, which also features several locations in Tennessee where the mandate doesn’t exist.

“We just want a good safe place for the consumer to come buy their groceries and we just feel like it’s up to them,” Creasy said. “I don’t feel like it’s up to us to tell someone they have to wear a mask.

“I don’t think it should be up to the governor whether we wear masks, our employees wear masks, our customers wear masks. I think it should be up to the individual.”

SEE ALSO: Ahead of Northam’s decision, locals ponder face mask mandate

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