Gov. Ralph Northam is weighing the details of a statewide order requiring people to wear face masks to contain the spread of COVID-19, with an announcement planned for Tuesday.
“Face coverings are an important part of the next steps. We’ll have more on that next week,” Northam said Friday, adding that his “homework” for Virginians is to procure face coverings for themselves and their families over the weekend.
The details of the policy remain unresolved, but Northam said he was looking at a requirement “especially for individuals going into businesses.”
“We’re trying to work through some of the details,” Northam added. “It’s an equity issue. We want to make sure everyone has access to a mask, and we also want to talk about how we enforce that.”
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, who previously advocated for a delay of the city’s reopening, asked Northam this week to issue a mask order for the city in a bid to contain the coronavirus.
“I applaud the mayor for wanting to do what’s safe in our city of Richmond. We also know facial protection is one of the ways we stop the spread of this virus,” Northam said.
Northam said the new mask policy would apply to all of Virginia, not just Richmond.
“Wearing a mask could literally save someone else’s life,” Northam said. “That is becoming clearer every day as we move further into managing this virus over the long term.”
Northam, a pediatric neurologist, encouraged children to wear facial protection in public, noting that they can contract the virus and they can be asymptomatic but transmit it to others.
Also next week, Northam said he expects to have an update on when the state might be able to move onto the second phase of reopening, and when Northern Virginia, Richmond and Accomack County might be able to enter the first phase.
Ahead of Memorial Day weekend, Northam said residents of those areas, which remain under a stay-at-home order, should continue to limit their travel.
“Unless it’s essential, we don’t expect people to be traveling in those particular areas,” Northam said. “They are still under the stay-at-home order, so we would encourage them to abide by those guidelines.”
Also Friday, the Virginia Department of Health launched a new tool to help guide and educate people who fear they may have COVID-19, and connect them with appropriate resources.
The tool, called COVID Check, can be found at vdh.virginia.gov/covidcheck.
The Virginia Department of Health reported Friday that the state has 34,950 COVID-19 cases, an increase of 813 from the 34,137 reported Thursday.
The 34,950 cases reported Friday include 33,208 confirmed cases and 1,740 probable cases. Also, there are 1,136 COVID-19 deaths in Virginia — 1,100 confirmed and 36 probable. That’s an increase of 37 from the 1,099 reported Thursday.
VDH defines probable COVID-19 cases as people who are symptomatic with a known exposure to COVID-19, but whose cases have not been confirmed with a positive test.
VDH data shows most cases (80.3%) are occurring in adults between the ages of 20 and 69, with people in their 40s accounting for the largest percentage of cases (18.6%). Most deaths (77%) are among Virginians over the age of 70.
In the Richmond area, there are 3,707 cases: 1,375 in Henrico County; 1,152 in Chesterfield County, 934 in Richmond and 246 in Hanover County.
Also, the region has 185 deaths attributed to the virus: 117 in Henrico, 29 in Chesterfield, 20 in Richmond and 19 in Hanover.
Fairfax County, the state’s most populous locality with more than 1.1 million people, has the most cases with 8,734 and 321 deaths.
VDH said there are 320 outbreaks in the state, 188 in long-term care facilities. These facilities also account for 667, or 58.7%, of the state’s 1,136 deaths attributed to the virus.
State health officials have said there’s a lag in the reporting of statewide numbers on the VDH website. Figures on the website might not include cases or deaths reported by localities or local health districts.
Staff writer Paul Whelan contributed to this report.