Judy Mayfield and two of her friends decided to drive into downtown Fredericksburg Friday afternoon after exploring the gardens at historic Chatham Manor just across the Rappahannock River.
They were wearing masks when they stopped first at Hyperion Espresso on William Street to get something to drink, and then as they strolled Caroline Street to get some exercise and do a little retail therapy.
“It’s to protect my dear friends and myself,” said Mayfield, who lives in Spotsylvania County. “To me, it’s the polite thing to do.”
As of Friday, it is also the law, as Gov. Ralph Northam’s order went into effect requiring people over the age of 10 to wear masks when shopping indoors, unless they have a medical condition that makes that dangerous.
To gauge compliance with the order, Free Lance–Star reporters checked out downtown Fredericksburg and major shopping areas in Stafford, Spotsylvania, King George, Caroline and Orange counties around lunchtime and counted how many shoppers entered certain stores wearing masks over a 30-minute period. That unofficial survey found seven out of every eight shoppers were complying with the governor’s order.
While most stores posted signs urging shoppers to wear masks, only one of those observed—Home Depot at Harrison Crossing in Spotsylvania—had employees at the entrance to monitor compliance with the order.
Here’s what reporters found at the various locations:
From 12:10 p.m. to 12:40 p.m. at the Walmart store in Central Park, 122 shoppers came in the grocery entrance wearing masks and 16 came in without masks or any other sort of face covering. Those who entered without masks were not turned away or asked to put one on.
A few who didn’t have masks on were wearing fabric or some sort of bandanna around their necks, but never pulled it up to cover any part of their face.
Ricky Lewis of Spotsylvania County was one of the customers who wore a mask. He said he thinks Northam’s requirement to wear masks in stores is the safe way to go, and that those who aren’t protecting themselves and others aren’t being smart.
Tantan Silas of Spotsylvania was shopping at Walmart without a mask, though a companion shopping with him did wear one. Silas said that he has trouble breathing while wearing a mask, but added that he probably wouldn’t wear one even if that wasn’t the case, because he doesn’t think they are needed.
Downtown Fredericksburg was a harder spot to get an accurate count because of the number of stores, their easy availability and the more leisurely nature of the shopping. About half the roughly 70 people walking or working outside businesses in the 800 block of Caroline Street between 12:15 and 12:45 p.m. were wearing masks, although some appeared to be carrying them in their pockets.
April Peterson, co-owner of River Rock Outfitters and president of Fredericksburg VA Main Street, said she was initially concerned about what would happen, but was relieved that everyone who’d come into her store by mid-afternoon was wearing a mask.
“All our customers who’ve been coming in are very understanding of the governor’s executive order, and the fact that in order for me to keep my doors open, I’ve got to abide by that executive order, “ she said. “They’ve all come in 100 percent wearing face masks. “
Kathy Propes, who owns Oldies but Goodies Antiques and Collectibles on Caroline Street, said she saw something similar at her store.
“We aren’t asking them to wear a mask,” she said. “They’re just coming in with them.”
Meanwhile, Kathy Knapp said most of the people buying asparagus, strawberries and other fresh produce from her at the C&T stand set up outdoors next to Hurkamp Park were wearing masks. Those who weren’t appeared to be people who were out for a walk and just happened to notice that the stand was there, she said.
She said she hasn’t had any problems with telling customers to put on a mask, but she has had to remind people that they’re no longer allowed to touch the produce until she’s rung up their purchase.
“It’s a habit, like licking your finger to open a plastic bag,” she said.
—Rob Hedelt and Cathy Jett
At the Lowe’s at Stafford Marketplace off State Route 610 in North Stafford, 71 customers wearing face masks entered the store from 11:20 a.m. to 11:50 a.m. Eight customers did not wear masks, but there was no employee monitoring the entrance and no one was turned away.
Troy Wright of Stafford was one of the mask wearers at Lowe’s. He said he’d been wearing a mask while shopping since before the governor issued his order.
“If it makes people feel a little bit more comfortable, I’m fine with it,” he said.
At the Target at South Gateway Drive off U.S. 17 in southern Stafford County, 62 customers entered the store wearing face masks from 12:09 p.m. to 12:30 p.m. Thirteen customers did not wear face masks. There was a social-distancing reminder sign posted inside the main doors, but there was no checkpoint and no customers were turned away.
As he approached the entrance barefaced, Victor Vega of Stafford realized he had left his mask in his vehicle and did an about-face to retrieve it.
“The governor is using caution and due diligence, but I’m not sure that it’s exactly necessary at this point,” he said. “I’m absolutely, most definitely ready for things to reopen again. I realize the need for caution, but I think some of it might be overkill.”
—James Scott Baron
At the Harrison Crossing shopping center off State Route 3 in Spotsylvania, all but 12 of the 141 patrons who approached the Home Depot from 12:50 to 1:20 p.m. wore masks.
A large orange sign at the main entrance alerted visitors, in English and Spanish, that they needed to wear a mask to shop at the store. A couple of employees stood at the front door to make sure people wore masks before entering.
The 12 who were not wearing masks were asked if they had one. All but a few returned wearing one.
At the Target store at Cosner’s Corner in Spotsylvania, 127 shoppers came into the main entrance wearing masks or some other sort of face covering between 1 p.m. and 1:30 p.m., with another 22 coming in without a mask or face covering. As at the Central Park Walmart, some of those were wearing fabric or a bandanna around their necks but never pulled it up.
—Scott Shenk and Rob Hedelt
From 11:35 a.m. to 12:05 p.m., 41 patrons wore masks to go shopping at the Food Lion in the Lake of the Woods shopping center along State Route 3. Ten visitors wore no face coverings.
Orange signs on the entrance doors alerted visitors that they needed to wear a face covering in accordance with the statewide ordinance. A few people returned to their vehicles to get a mask, but none appeared to be turned away for not wearing one.
One man who did not wear a mask wasn’t overly concerned about the virus and said he didn’t run into any issues shopping without a mask.
“Nobody said nothing to me,” said the Spotsylvania resident, who didn’t want to give his name. “These are different times, trying times,” he said, but added that he was skeptical about information being reported about the virus.
One local couple who wore masks at the grocery store said they’ve been doing so ever since the pandemic broke out.
“You’d be stupid not to,” said the man, 66.
His wife, also 66, said they both have health issues and are wearing the masks for their own and others’ safety.
“We do it because we chose to do it,” she said.
At the Food Lion shopping center in Bowling Green from 11:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., 87 people were counted entering the grocery store, Family Dollar and Subway. Seventy-four were wearing masks and 13 were not.
Tiara Thompson sported a red bandana on her face and Shawna Richardson wore a mask. Thompson said before the executive order was issued she only wore a mask at work, not in public. Richards said Friday was her first time wearing a mask in public, as well.
Both said part of the reason for wearing a mask was to avoid confrontation with workers that may have tried to enforce the executive order.
Upon entering Food Lion there’s a sign that reads “Due to an executive order, customers must wear a cloth face covering or face mask in order to enter.”
“It’s just being considerate,” Richards said. “It’s irritating a little bit, but it’s not that big of a deal. It’s better than having to argue with people.”
Whitney Peterson entered Food Lion with a young child and neither had on a mask. Peterson said she hasn’t worn a mask because “germs are everywhere,” and her family is cautious about washing their hands, keeping to themselves and covering their mouths.
“I don’t think that the masks help,” Peterson said.
But Peterson added she rarely watches the news and didn’t know of the executive order. She said she will comply from now on.
At nearby Roma’s Italian Restaurant, a sign on the glass states the governor’s orders, but tells customers they don’t have to wear the mask while eating or if they have a medical condition. The sign also stated restaurant employees will not question customers about refusing to wear a mask because of a health privacy law and Fourth Amendment protections.
”Therefore, if we see you without a mask, we will assume you have a medical condition and will welcome you inside to support our local small business,” the sign reads.
At the Food Lion shopping center off State Route 3 in King George, all but five of the 78 people who went into the store between 1:35 and 2:13 p.m. were wearing masks, although a couple of the mask wearers left their noses uncovered.
The supermarket has a sign urging customers to wear masks, but no one seemed to be enforcing it. A Food Lion cashier estimated that “95 to 97 percent” of the customers were complying with the mask edict.