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In an ideal world, anyone who enters the Impeccable Pig, a women’s clothing store on the Downtown Mall, would wear a mask. Since the store reopened on May 17, there has been a sign posted at the entrance requiring people to wear a face mask as they enter the store. But a store manager, Joanna Hooker, said about 50 % of the patrons have worn one.

Earlier in the week, Gov. Ralph Northam issued a mandate for wearing face coverings or masks inside of public spaces. While failing to do so is not a criminal offense, businesses reserve the right to refuse service to those who do not enter with a mask. 

Hooker, who prior to the pandemic ran a staff of six, said she has the right to kick them out or deny them service, but she doesn’t because she needs to have people coming in rather than being nitpicky. 

Hooker said she’s a little nervous when people come in not covering their face, adding that it was ultimately the state and the owners’ decision to reopen and she had to reopen eventually. She noted she wears a mask and disinfects her store, so it’s on the customer because they don’t know the person who came before without wearing a mask. 

“I’m not as afraid. I think it’s silly for them not to wear a [mask]” said Hooker, who has been in the retail industry for 15 years, adding she enjoys her store because she enjoys seeing new and familiar faces.  “I’m putting my entire effort to serve the community. I would love for people to come and see me. Just be respectful. … You’re coming to support local business but be smart. Be kind and be safe.” 

More customers have been wearing a face mask as they enter the Impeccable Pig recently, something that Hooker credited to Northam’s announcement requiring people to wear a face mask as they enter businesses.  

Dev Bradford, a store associate at the Impeccable Pig, said she and Hooker will be implementing the store’s face mask policy more. But she has yet to decide how they plan on approaching the situation with customers who do not comply. 

“The face covering/mask order is a ‘matter of public health’ and not a criminal matter, so any enforcement of the new face covering/mask order will be done by health officials rather than law enforcement officials,” said Kathryn Goodman, a spokesperson for the Thomas Jefferson Health District, an arm of the Virginia Department of Health. 

As for TJHD, Goodman said it will take an educational approach by advising the public and businesses of the requirement and importance of wearing face coverings. 

“The goal is to protect people’s health and not to get people in trouble for not wearing masks,” Goodman said. “The governor directed the Department of Labor and Industry to develop emergency temporary standards to prevent workplace exposure to COVID-19.” 

Goodman mentioned the following regarding face covering enforcement:

  • 01.

    To report an alleged face covering violation, people should call the Virginia Department of Health at 1-877-ASK-VDH3. VDH will only take action on willful egregious violations of the order. The Northam administration and VDH want Virginians to do the right thing and wear a mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 to protect public health.

  • 02.

    People should NOT call their local health department with complaints. They should call [the health department] if they need resources for finding face coverings though.

  • 03.

    People should NOT contact law enforcement to address alleged face covering violations. If a face covering violation becomes confrontational, then law enforcement can get involved — not because of the mask, but due to the confrontation.

Though law enforcement is the route least desired to maintain public safety through the face covering mandate, Executive Order 63 does indicate that it can in some instances become a Class 1 misdemeanor, which are punishable of up to a year in jail and a fine of $2,500.

As businesses grapple with  how to handle clients who enter without face coverings, others feel that the state being reopened is problematic. 

Santina Urrutia, a store manager at Market Street Market, said she doesn’t think Virginia should be open at all because not everyone is wearing a mask like they should. 

“They think they have a good immune system, and it’s not going to affect them,” Urrutia said. “It can spread through their whole family. People coming in without masks on really bothers me. I cannot kick them out. I cannot tell them we require them to wear a mask, even though I am a manager. It’s just not part of our rules.”

She doesn’t think she will put a sign at the entrance, requiring people to wear a mask because, she said, that could prevent people from coming in.

“We just need every customer that we can get to stay open,” said Urrutia, adding that wearing a mask would help bring things back to normal a little bit quicker like everyone wants it to be.