Is It Legal to Wear a Mask in Public in Virginia?

Woman wearing mask in Virginia grocery store

The Centers for Disease Control and the Governor of Virginia are strongly advising everyone who needs to venture out in public during the coronavirus pandemic to wear a face mask to reduce the risk of contracting or spreading the virus.  The United States Surgeon General went as far as creating a video demonstrating how to make your own DIY mask at home due to the low supply of masks across the country.  But is it legal to cover your face in public in Virginia?

Generally, Virginia law criminalizes the wearing of masks in public.  Virginia Code § 18.2-422 prohibits anyone over age 16 from wearing any mask, hood, or other device that hides a substantial portion of the face or conceals the identity of the wearer, if this is done with the intent to conceal one’s identity.  You may be surprised to learn that this offense is punishable as a Class 6 felony with a punishment range of up to five years.

But there are exceptions to the prohibition on face masks in public.  Virginia law allows the wearing of masks in public for persons:

  1. wearing traditional holiday costumes;
  2. engaged in professions or activities requiring protective masks, such as doctors, nurses, and carpenters;
  3. engaged in a theatrical production or masquerade ball; or
  4. wearing a mask for bona fide medical reasons upon:
  1. the advice of a licensed physician and while carrying an affidavit specifying the medical necessity; or
  2. the declaration of a state of emergency by the Governor in response to a public health emergency where an express waiver of this section is made.

Put simply, it is not illegal in Virginia to cover one’s face in public for a legitimate medical reason, including to protect oneself and others against the spread of COVID-19.  Virginia State Police has also issued guidance on its social media pages clarifying this distinction: it remains unlawful to wear a mask with the intent to conceal one’s identity, but not for a bona fide medical reason.

So go ahead and wear that surgical mask or DIY medical mask if you can get ahold of one.  But maybe don’t walk into a bank wearing a ski mask and gloves.

5 Comments
Randall, Thank you for your comment - we appreciate your input!
by GSPC September 21, 2020 at 09:10 AM
Mary, Thank you for your comment. At this time, the executive orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be in effect because the pandemic has not ended. That may change in the future as things return to normal, hopefully sooner rather than later! Regarding your second question, yes, it is legal for businesses to require customers to wear masks while on their private property.
by GSPC September 21, 2020 at 09:09 AM
If there is no evidence of a pandemic would you agree that the executive order no longer applies? And, if the governor is only recommending masks ( since he is no ones PCP) businesses posting the mask wearing would be illegal? Yes or no
by Mary Heard September 12, 2020 at 08:24 AM
The governor has made an express waiver of this section, back-dated to March 12 and effective until September 8, 2020.
by jdl July 22, 2020 at 02:28 PM
Contrast this with the medical and scientific consensus that mask do not prevent the spread of influenza-like viruses or respiratory illnesses transmitted by droplets and aerosol particles? No study exists that shows a benefit from a broad policy to wear masks in public Mask wearing does nothing to stop the spread and may be a significant contributor to increasing infection of ones self due to containment of expired pathogens already in the body.
by RANDALL SIMMONS July 17, 2020 at 08:24 AM
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