WINCHESTER — Community members and business owners seem split on whether to follow Gov. Ralph Northam's order to wear a mask or face covering in indoor public places.

The mandate went into effect Friday. In addition to wearing masks in indoor public spaces such as stores, the order requires that masks be worn while using public transportation.

But there's plenty of gray area on who is supposed to enforce the order.

Many people think police should help with enforcement, but the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police says police departments across the state lack the resources to do that around the clock in every indoor public space.

Northam suggested health departments would step up and monitor the situation, but that’s not entirely possible either.

“Our job is not going to be to police anybody. We’re not going to respond to individual complaints about individual activities,” Lord Fairfax Health District Director Dr. Colin Greene said Friday. “Those should be addressed with the proprietor of the institution where the behavior is taking place. We’re not going to respond to that. We don’t have a police force.”

The Lord Fairfax Health District includes the city of Winchester and the counties of Frederick, Clarke, Page, Shenandoah and Warren.

Greene said certain circumstances could occur where police or health department officials might get involved, such as a person who is not wearing a mask refusing to leave an establishment, which could result in a trespassing charge, or if a situation at a specific location is spiraling out of control.

“Most of what the health department is going to do at a local level is designate, advise and encourage,” Greene said. “If there is a really egregious violation and it seems like the store owner is complicit with it, that we can do something about. We can engage whoever the licensing authority for that institution is.”

Greene said he suspects those types of situations will be “probably pretty rare.” He said people who encounter problems with the mask-wearing mandate should call the Virginia Department of Health at 877-275-8343.

The order exempts people who are eating and drinking, children under the age of 10, and people with health conditions that make wearing a mask dangerous.

Still, some folks believe that being told to wear a mask infringes on their rights, and some have said they will either refuse to wear a mask or refuse to go to places  enforcing the rules.

“I believe it should be left up to the owners and patrons. If you’re not worried about masks and don't make them mandatory for your store, so be it. If people want to go somewhere else, then that’s their choice,” Michael Easterday, a Winchester resident, said on Facebook. “Also on the other hand, if I don't want to wear a mask and go to a store to find out it is mandatory, then I can take my business elsewhere. It’s called freedom.”

Some have even said they would start shopping in West Virginia, where a mask-wearing order is not in place. Others have that said requiring masks three months into a pandemic doesn't make sense.

But many people say they will comply if it helps prevent the spread of the virus, which can be deadly.

“It’s intended to protect others that may not have the luxury of being able to stay home, so it’s just the morally right thing to do,” Whitney Woodall, a Winchester resident, said on Facebook, adding that if businesses have the right to deny service to customers not wearing shirts or shoes than they should have the same right for those not wearing masks. “Yeah, masks are uncomfortable, but so is dying of respiratory failure or being responsible for the death of someone else. I don’t see what the big deal is. I’m as big a fan of freedom as the next person, and this is not a violation of your freedom, (it’s) just a nice thing to do for your fellow American.”

Not just residents are torn over the mask order. Business owners — some of whom feel they are in no position to turn anyone away with the economy in distress — are struggling with mask order and how to enforce it.

“I feel we have no choice but to comply with the rule,” Chelsea Karche, owner of Ohana Vapors in Winchester, said. “I’m not happy about it, but my employees rely on this business to feed their families. I can’t risk a fine or losing our business license.”

Some businesses said they will post policies stating that masks will be required, but that those who are exempt will be exempt with no questions asked.

Others are worried about issues such as patrons coming in and simply saying they have a medical condition when they don’t or folks refusing to leave when asked.

“If someone comes into my store without (a mask), I can’t actually do anything about it,” Josh Lewis, owner of Element Sports in Winchester, said. “Plus, the customer can claim they can’t wear it for medical reasons, but it’s unlawful to ask about that. I will simply assume anyone not wearing a mask claims a medical reason so I don’t get sued for discrimination if I were to ask them to leave.”

John Bell, the commonwealth’s attorney for Warren County, said on Thursday the order was “don’t mask, don’t tell.”

Dave Hutton, the Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce Chair, said “communication is key.”

“Each business should clearly state their practices to comply with requirements for the safety of both employees and patrons, either online or at their place of business, he said. “We are beginning to see some of our businesses communicate a ‘no shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service’ policy. It is ultimately up to each business owner to politely remind patrons of their expectations. We expect everyone to be considerate and respect one another.”

Cynthia Schneider, president and CEO of the Top of Virginia Regional Chamber, agreed and said businesses should provide signage and continue to provide kind and respectful service.

Sharon Baroncelli, the Shenandoah County chamber’s director, said a guidebook to reopening businesses is available on the chamber’s website for business owners and residents.

“Our businesses are the lifeblood of our community, and we need them now more than ever," Baroncelli said.

— Contact Matt Welch at


(18) comments


The mask advisory is not hard at all to enforce. The first business forced to close by the health department will be enough.

Or are masks more difficult than shirts, pants, and shoes? You know, what we have been "forced" to wear in public since forever?


Once again, two days in a row.


two days in a row?


Is it going to come to a certain day Of shopping for “good” Citizens who wear their mask for whatever the reason and one for the “bad” ones who don’t for whatever the reason?

I’m not sure how any of you can judge me or assign a reason for me wearing or not wearing a mask. Used to be only the bad guys wore masks. Now your telling me it’s the good guys. Can’t you see how upside down, wrong side out and backwards things are getting?

Mask or no mask the fact that you automatically assign sinister or rebellious character traits to the person who doesn’t wear a mask and use words like good, moral and compassionate for those who do just shows how little compassion you have. Why aren’t we assuming that the folks who don’t have a mask on are just too traumatized by claustrophobia or other illness to comply? Remember the ruler you use to measure others will be used on you one day. How will you pious, self righteous, churlish, bigots measure up?


Probably the same way the self-righteous cast judgement all week so they can feel like they earned their trip to church on Sunday mornings...


You can’t convince me that face masks don’t at the very least *reduce* the risk involved with a ***respiratory disease***. If you have a child, then you know, first hand, what it’s like to have someone sneeze AT your face ... imagine if that munchkin had been wearing a mask!!

I ABHOR wearing a face mask, rebreathing my own air makes me nauseous for the first 2 hours I have to wear it. “Have to”, you may ask? Yes, *have to*, as I’m an “essential worker”. I’m not saving lives in a hospital, a doctor’s office or even on a first responder vehicle. I am NO hero. I work, for just above minimum wage, at a grocery store. While I agree that those positions are more important than mine, I would argue that I’m in close contact with 2-3 times more people/day than any one of those healthcare employees. (And I mean no disrespect - I come from a family of healthcare workers, and also am lucky enough to call a few of these actual heroes my friend). But I would also add that those healthcare employees are provided with more resources and requirements to help keep them safe than your average grocery store employee.

First - HUGE kudos and thanks to those above who are wearing their masks & defending the reasons, no matter how awful you feel doing it. I honestly expected to see way more anti-mask statements here (only based on what I’ve witnessed).

TLDR ... My point IS .... it doesn’t matter how awful the mask makes you feel, nor your illogical [or *provable*] reasoning behind why/joe your freedoms are being squashed ... the world that we currently live in dictates, common curtesy, is to wear a mask for the sake of the other humans you encounter ... because they’re doing the same for your YOU ... and sometimes not for just the 20 minutes it takes to shop ... but the 8 hours it takes to pay the bills.


My doctor recommended it to me because the medications I take make me more susceptible to carrying and for longer. I wear a mask for every one else, not for me.


Masks do make a difference, it has to help in some way. I can't sneeze or cough on someone while wearing a mask and vice-versa. And wearing it helps remind people (at least me) of the situation of social distancing. I haven't encountered anyone being rude or disrespectful during this crazy time (or at least not more than normal).


Funny that liberals think they define what a good citizen is. It's called HIPPA. You can't ask, you can't assume, you can't do nothing. Get over yourselves.


HIPPA has no bearing on this issue. I think you're trying to reference the 4th Amendment and the ADA, neither of which also apply here.

Good try, though.


HIPPA is related to medical privacy.


Correct. Medical records cannot be discussed by doctors or demanded by employers, etc. "Are you too ill to wear a mask?" does not violate HIPAA


Folks debating about if the mask works or not, I'm not a scientist but I am polite and hygienic. For the folks that are working in this beleaguered economy, I wear my mask in indoor public spaces because it is common courtesy. I'm not hanging out in stores for very long, I can wear a mask for the few minutes that I am inside. Once I exit the store, I take off my mask in the fresh air. Easy.

Doc Samson

Why is this breaking down along political lines? Gee, I wonder...

Bernie Mac

People that are afraid should stay home. People that are high risk should stay home. It is the considerate thing to do. A mask will not stop the spread. It only gives the fearful a false sense of security. Probably does more harm than good.


Enforcement should not be an issue. People wanting to be good citizens and good neighbors to help contain the spread will wear a mask.


Correction - her husband has cancer


Please wear your mask to protect others. Friends are on edge because he husband has cancer. They have two school age kids. Your simple mask wearing could help her family. It is a sign of graciousness.

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