Mask rules: Ballad, governor urge more caution


Ballad Health has asked elected leaders in towns, cities and counties across its Virginia and Tennessee service area to get tough on requiring and enforcing the use of face masks.

Meanwhile, Gov. Ralph Northam said this week that state-level enforcement of existing indoor mask requirements is going to get tougher.

In a Monday letter to elected local leaders, Ballad noted that the previous week, “the number of patients admitted in our facilities with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was doubling every seven days.”

From July 6 to Monday, the number of patients admitted to Ballad facilities grew from 17 to 45, the health system noted. “That’s why we are reaching out to implore you to enact a mask mandate for each city and county within our service area, to coincide with Governor Northam’s executive order and face covering requirement in Virginia.”

During his Tuesday daily press briefing, Northam reminded business owners that they can decline to serve customers who do not comply with the commonwealth’s requirement to wear a face mask in stores and certain other indoor public spaces. Owners can call police for trespassing if a noncompliant customer refuses to leave, he said.

When the mask requirement was announced, Northam emphasized that it would be enforced by public health departments, not police.

The governor said Tuesday that the state health commissioner is sending a letter to regional health district leaders reminding them of their authority to enforce mask use, physical distancing and other measures.

Also, he said, health officials and other state officials will conduct unannounced visits to businesses as needed to monitor enforcement. The state health department is sending out 100 inspectors to ramp up enforcement, Northam noted, but their main focus will be the Hampton Roads area.


The state health department recently added new details to its online COVID-19 statistical reporting, including data specific to Southwest Virginia.

It should be noted that the department defines Southwest Virginia as stretching east all the way to the edge of the Lynchburg area.

The Southwest Virginia data as of the end of Wednesday included:

• Total cases by date reported: From the first reports in March to now, daily new case reports gradually increased starting in June, but not exceeding 200 cases per day. There were spikes on June 29 and July 11 that have tapered off.

• Total cases by date of symptom onset: The trend is generally similar to date reported.

• The numbers of people tested and getting positive test results has, for the most part, steadily increased in the region.

• Number of people hospitalized: The chart is almost flat from mid-April to now, with numbers staying below about 200 at any given time.

As of Wednesday, Wise County had reported a total of 49 reported positive virus cases since the pandemic began, with three deaths. Norton had reported a total of four cases. Russell County has reported a total of 27 cases, with 51 total in Buchanan County. Lee County reported a total of 26 cases while Scott County reported a total of 20.

Since the pandemic began, Virginia has reported a total of 71,570 confirmed cases and 2,861 “probable” cases, with 1,903 confirmed deaths and 104 “probable” deaths.