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The mandate, which goes into effect Friday, requires face coverings to be worn in restaurants, government buildings, on public transportation or anywhere that people gather in groups inside.
“I am taking this step because science increasingly shows us that the virus spreads less easily when everyone is wearing face coverings,” Northam said during a press conference.
Anyone under the age of 10, people who have trouble breathing or anyone eating or drinking in a restaurant do not have to wear a mask.
Northam faced criticism Saturday after going to Virginia Beach without wearing a face covering and not practicing social distancing.
“I was not prepared because my mask was in the car,” Northam later said.
Images emerged Saturday on social media of the governor closely standing next to members of the public while at the beach.
“Some well-wishers came up to me and asked to take pictures,” he said. “I take full responsibility for that.”
“In the future, when I'm out in the public, I will be better prepared,” the governor said in his press conference Tuesday. “We're all forming new habits and routines and we're all adjusting to this new normal.”
Virginia Beach was reopened last week as a test to see how the public listens to the new health and safety measures put in place.
“Virginia Beach performed well this weekend. People were social distancing and following the rules,” the governor said. “Virginia Beach can be a model for the rest of our country.”
Northern Virginia will be allowed to start phase one of the state’s reopening plan Friday. Other parts of the state were able to initiate phase one on May 15.
Virginia has seen more than 39,000 cases of coronavirus and just over 1,200 deaths, but the biggest concentration of cases has been in northern Virginia according to the state’s Department of Health.
“The virus clearly is still here, but these numbers are trending in the right direction,” Northam added.