Virginia governor Ralph Northam faced criticism on Saturday after visiting Virginia Beach with other holiday revelers but refusing to wear a mask or abide by his own administration’s “social distancing” requirements, instead mixing with other partygoers and taking selfies.
“Northam reportedly visited the beach with Mayor Bobby Dye on the second day of the beach’s reopening, according to local news outlet 13News Now. Virginia Beach’s reopening is considered a test to see if people can safely follow social distancing rules before other beaches in Virginia reopen,” Fox News reported Sunday. “But Northam, who previously served as an Army doctor, came under fire when images of him surfaced on social media not wearing a face mask and apparently in close contact with other community members.”
Just days ago, Northam, who says he remains concerned that Virginians are not taking appropriate precautions to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, announced that he was mulling a statewide order requiring residents to wear masks when inside establishments or outside, when maintaining a safe “social distance” is not possible.
Northam appeared at a press conference sporting a floral mask to stress the importance of wearing face coverings amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“Face coverings are an important part of the next steps. We’ll have more on that next week,” Northam said, according to Richmond.com. He also gave Virginians a “homework” assignment, urging them to find, purchase, or make “face coverings for themselves and their families over the weekend.”
“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.”
A number of people on social media caught Northam defying his own recommendations.
Here's Gov. Ralph Northam social distancing with a mask on at the beach today… you know… like he tells everyone else to do. pic.twitter.com/8IUEGYH0GI
— Tim Young (@TimRunsHisMouth) May 23, 2020
A later statement from the governor’s office claimed that Northam “has repeatedly encouraged wearing face coverings inside or when social distancing is impossible. He was outside today and not expecting to be within 6 feet of anyone.”
Even if he didn’t anticipate being within 6 feet of beachgoers, he could probably have refused the selfies.
VA Gov. Northam posing Saturday in Virginia Beach for a selfie, NO Mask, NO 6' Social Distancing…. yet he hinted Friday that he may make face masks mandatory⁉️ pic.twitter.com/2TuamTBEqP
— Missy (@Missy_mma) May 24, 2020
Northam, of course, wasn’t alone in wanting to take advantage of seasonably sunny weather Memorial Day weekend. Even though anti-lockdown protests have largely died down as most states have no relaxed at least some coronavirus-related restrictions, Americans took to beaches, water parks, and recreation areas on Saturday — in some cases, in defiance of state shelter-in-place orders.
Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks was packed with partygoers and barhoppers over the weekend, according to The Hill. Florida beaches were crowded, per the Boston Globe. Other cities saw residents head out to farmer’s markets and to restaurants, which are now, in many places, open for outdoor dining.
Dr. Deborah Birx, one of the key players on the White House coronavirus task force, warned Americans on Sunday not to assume that the coronavirus pandemic has been contained, to wear masks where appropriate, and to take care to “respect” others, especially those who are especially vulnerable to virus.
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