Katharine DeRosa, Staff Writer
Gov. Ralph Northam denied a request on Monday from Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, who asked that Richmond enter a modified version of phase one in the governor’s plan to reopen the commonwealth.
In the letter, Stoney requested that Richmond maintain its closures on indoor gatherings for places of worship, as well as barber shops, salon and grooming services, while entering phase one of reopening on Friday.
“Many of our faith leaders have told me that they do not believe it is safe to reopen at this time,” Stoney wrote in the letter.
Northam denied this request from Stoney, and Stoney expressed his disappointment with the decision in a tweet.
“The Governor has always said the state set the floor, not the ceiling,” Stoney said. “I proposed this modified plan for the good of our city.”
Phase one includes partially reopening personal grooming services, farmers markets, places of worship and retail stores with social distancing guidelines. Both places of worship and retail stores are allowed to open at 50% capacity, and restaurants can offer outdoor seating at 50% capacity. Gyms and indoor entertainment services, including movie theaters, remain closed.
Northam announced during a press conference on Tuesday that wearing face coverings while indoors will become mandatory beginning Friday, and he said he believes using masks will help slow the spread of the virus.
People will be required to wear face coverings in all indoor public spaces except in special circumstances, which include medical conditions, eating or exercising, Northam said. Children under 10 are not required to wear masks.
“I am asking people to respect one another,” Northam said when explaining the new precaution.
Northam said that he personally recommends “as a doctor” that children three and older wear face coverings, if possible.
The mask mandate will be enforced by the Virginia Department of Health through a civil injunction if necessary. A civil injunction provides a court order forcing people who violate Northam’s mandate to wear masks. Law enforcement is not involved in the process.
Not obeying the mask mandate qualifies as a Class 1 misdemeanor, and is punishable by both jail time and a fine of up to $2,500. Northam’s chief of staff Clark Mercer said that he doesn’t want to implement punishments for not wearing a mask due to economic disparities in the commonwealth. Mercer said enforcements of the mandate would only apply to businesses that were “grossly negligent” in refusing to adopt the policy.
Northam said he plans to address the General Assembly once it is back in session about implementing a civil fine that would be less extreme than a Class 1 misdemeanor.