Virginia Governor Criticized for Not Wearing Mask or Social Distancing During Beach Visit

May 25, 2020 Updated: May 25, 2020

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has come under mounting criticism after he visited Virginia Beach over the Memorial Day weekend without wearing a mask or practicing social distancing.

The governor was pictured in close proximity with residents Saturday at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, drawing swift criticism from social media users.

A spokeswoman for Northam said the governor should have been wearing a mask during the beach’s second day of reopening, and that he did not expect to come into close contact with anyone else.

“The governor has repeatedly encouraged wearing face coverings inside or when social distancing is impossible,” spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said in a statement on Sunday.

“He was outside and not expecting to be within 6 feet of anyone,” she added. “This is an important reminder to always have face coverings in case situations change. We are all learning how to operate in this new normal, and it’s important to be prepared.”

Yarmosky said Northam visited the oceanfront to ensure “rules were being enforced.”

The reopening of Virginia Beach is considered an experiment to see whether residents can adhere to social distancing measures, before other beaches in the state follow suit.

Under current rules implemented by the state, Virginians can swim, fish, and sunbathe outside without wearing a mask, as long as social distancing measures are respected.

The state’s Republican House minority leader criticized Northam, a doctor, on social media after he was pictured posing with several beachgoers unmasked.

“Physician, heal thyself,” Todd Gilbert wrote on Twitter.

Jonell Cooper waits to check moviegoers' tickets at the Family Drive-In Theatre
Jonell Cooper waits to check moviegoers’ tickets at the Family Drive-In Theatre during its opening night amid CCP virus restrictions in Stephens City, Virginia, on May 1, 2020. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

Northam said last week that wearing a mask “could literally save someone else’s life.”

He is expected to announce a statewide policy on face coverings on Tuesday, requiring masks to be worn for all inside businesses, according to NBC.

“We’re trying to work through some of the details,” Northam said during a press briefing on Friday. “Obviously, it’s an equity issue. We want to make sure everybody has access to a mask. We also want to talk about how we enforce that.”

Northam added that businesses are “one of the most vulnerable places,” as he urged Virginians to prepare over the Memorial Day weekend, ahead of the new expected measures.

“And so your homework this weekend is to, first of all, have a safe and peaceful weekend,” Northam said. “But but also make plans for you and your other family members to have facial protection.”

“Be ready on Tuesday to go out and about in your business when it’s essential with facial protection,” he said. “We will make that announcement on Tuesday.”

Although the new statewide measures are not expected to apply when outdoors, the governor has previously advised people to wear a “facial covering” in public and to remain 6 feet away from others.

There are more than 36,000 confirmed cases of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus, in Virginia, with 1,171 confirmed deaths, according to the state health department.

Most counties in the state, bar northern Virginia jurisdictions, started phase one of reopening, including the reopening of retailers, gyms, churches, personal care businesses, and the resumption of outdoor restaurant dining.

Phase one will last up to four weeks or even longer, according to state officials. Phases two and three are projected to last about three weeks each.

Northam said last week it is not yet clear whether northern Virginia can start reopening on May 29.