Ralph Northam's Impotent Mask Mandate Will Backfire On Him

Gov. Ralph Northam, as anticipated, announced during a press conference Tuesday afternoon that wearing masks in indoor commercial spaces will be mandatory beginning on Friday, despite objections from Republican lawmakers and Virginia police chiefs, among others.

During the press conference, Northam was asked about enforcement of the mask order, and the governor was forced to acknowledge that police will not be in charge of ensuring that local businesses are complying with the order. Instead, the governor said the Virginia Department of Health will be the agency tasked with enforcement, though he couldn’t or wouldn’t detail what authority the agency actually has to enforce the governor’s executive order.

The mask order also comes with several exemptions. If gun control advocates were pushing for a mask mandate, we’d be hearing a whole lot about the need to close the “asthma loophole” in Northam’s new order.

People are exempt from wearing face masks while exercising, eating or drinking. The guidelines also exempt anyone with a health condition that would make it difficult for them to wear or remove their face mask.

A lot of folks are going to claim to have a health condition that makes it difficult for them to wear a mask, and there’s not much that the state can do about it. Instead of announcing a public service campaign to encourage the use of mask wearing, the governor instead decided to impose a constitutionally suspect mandate on every corner of the state, which will only ensure that masks become another political fight. I suspect that many of the same counties that declared themselves to be Second Amendment Sanctuaries will also put up some sort of resistance to Northam’s mask mandates. I thought it would be July before we started seeing widespread acts of civil disobedience to Northam’s policies, because that’s when his gun control laws take effect. Instead, it looks like June will be the month that Virginians begin to openly defy Northam, thanks to his unwise and impotent declaration of power.

As I’ve said before, I wear a mask when I’m out shopping because my wife has an increased risk of some terrifying side effects if she were to catch the virus. Yes, I know a mask doesn’t provide complete protection. It’s even less effective for me because I haven’t shaved my beard. Still, it’s better for me than nothing at all, and while I don’t think wearing masks should be mandatory, generally speaking I think it’s a good thing to do when you’re around a bunch of people. Northam’s mask order is likely to make at least some people less likely to wear a mask, simply because people don’t like being told what to do. Northam would have been much better off with a campaign to raise awareness of the benefits of wearing masks in public, addressing some of the fears and falsehoods surrounding masks, and acknowledging the truth that masks, particularly N95 masks, are not even close to being 100% effective at preventing the spread of the coronavirus. The governor’s message should have been about reducing the spread of COVID-19, but instead we’re now talking about compliance, enforcement, constitutionality, and disobedience.

Over at Twitchy, editor Sam J. (@Politibunny on Twitter) has been capturing some of the reaction to Northam’s new executive action, and she herself has made it crystal clear that she’s not inclined to follow the governor’s order.

Northam can and should expect a lot of similar reactions, and why not? The governor had the audacity to announce his mask mandate just days after he hung out on the Virginia shore taking selfies and ignoring his own social distancing rules by not wearing a mask while greeting strangers and getting up close and personal with them.

After urging Virginians to wear masks when in public, Gov. Ralph Northam acknowledged he should have worn one himself while visiting Virginia Beach on Saturday.

Photos circulating on social media showed Northam, a Democrat, without a face covering on while visiting the oceanfront over the Memorial Day weekend. He stood in close proximity to several beachgoers for photos, breaking social distancing. Republicans criticized Northam, a physician, for not practicing the public health precautions he has asked residents to follow.

“Physician, heal thyself,” tweeted House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah.

Alena Yarmosky, a Northam spokeswoman, said in a statement Sunday that the governor should have had a mask with him in case he came into close proximity with people.

“The Governor has repeatedly encouraged wearing face coverings inside or when social distancing is impossible. He was outside yesterday and not expecting to be within six feet of anyone,” said the statement. “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.”

He was checking out the newly reopened beaches in one of the most populated parts of the state and he didn’t think he’d be within six feet of anyone? Either the governor is an idiot or he thinks Virginians are, because there’s simply no way that’s true.

Personally, I’m leaning towards the theory that Dr. Northam isn’t the sharpest scalpel in the operating room, at least not when it comes to understanding Virginians. I’ve only lived in the state since 2004, and half that time was spent in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. before I moved to rural Virginia in 2012. I think know both the blue and red portions of the state fairly well, and there’s simply no way that rural Virginia sees massive compliance with Northam’s mask mandate. Instead of using science and rationality, the governor has imposed a one-size-fits-all policy that simply doesn’t fit for most of the state. Are people in Bath County, where there have been zero reported cases of the coronavirus, really going to mask up like they are in Fairfax County, which accounts for nearly a quarter of the state’s total confirmed cases? Of course not, and why should they? Because the governor told them they have to?

You can probably guess what they’re likely to say in return, and rightfully so. Northam’s approach is so heavy-handed and constitutionally suspect that Virginians are right to tell him to pound sand, but his mask mandate has so many loopholes it’s virtually meaningless as a practical matter, revealing Northam’s real impotence in attempting to enforce the new rules.

I hope the Governor enjoys the experience, because it’s likely that this is just a taste of what’s to come when his new gun control laws go into effect on July 1st. The blue parts of the state will look for ways to vigorously enforce the new laws, while many of the red counties and Second Amendment Sanctuaries will ignore the new laws in large part. There’ll be court challenges to his new gun laws just as we’ve seen court challenges to his coronavirus closures, and Northam will continue to rile up the state’s conservatives and rural voters in the months before the November elections. Gun owners already turned out and scored some big wins in local elections in May, and with his mask mandate, Northam’s doing a great job in keeping them energized and engaged for the fall.