Following the lead of its neighbor in Washington D.C., Virginia may begin to require masks in businesses beginning next week.

Gov. Ralph Northam said on Friday that he wasn’t ready for a facial covering policy announcement but said he has been discussing policy ideas with state leaders. Northam noted that access to masks could be an issue for some people and also said that discussions about how to enforce a policy were ongoing.

Masks are tools to protect people from the droplets spread when someone sneezes, coughs, or talks. Scientists have said that masks are not particularly helpful in preventing catching COVID-19 but they are effective in preventing spreading the virus if someone has it.

As businesses continue opening up and there are more opportunities for Virginians to overlap as they exit various stages of self-isolation, masks may become part of the “new normal” Virginians and Americans have become accustomed to before treatment for COVID-19 becomes available.

Virginia’s progress in increasing testing capacity since it entered phase one on May 15 has remained stagnant. After conducting more than 9,500 tests earlier in the week, the Virginia Department of Health didn’t keep the momentum going into the weekend.

On Friday, the department announced it returned 6,543 new tests to check for active signs of COVID-19 and reported it logged 813 new cases and 37 new deaths Friday, bringing the statewide totals to 34,950 cases, 4,145 hospitalizations and 1,136 deaths. Total figures include 1,742 probable cases, 28 probable hospitalizations and 36 probable deaths.

The state’s positivity rate — the percentage of tests conducted that return showing a positive case of COVID-19 — increased slightly from Thursday to 14.7%. The state has conducted 223,433 tests to detect active COVID-19 cases and 249,940 tests in total — including antibody tests.

Northam said that as most of the state approaches the first opportunity to see if it is ready for phase two next week that the regions that chose to remain closed — Northern Virginia, Richmond and Accomack County — are now set on a different timeline than the rest of the state.

By opting out of entering phase one with the rest of the commonwealth Northam said he is now considering the commonwealth in two blocks — those that are in phase one now and those that aren’t.

Moving forward, the state will remain locked into one of those tracks, Northam said. The floor established by the phase one requirements will stay in effect across the commonwealth regardless of how individual areas are coping with the virus. The restrictions can be increased, Northam said, but the state will continue to move forward as a block.

The Lord Fairfax Health District, which includes Warren, Shenandoah, Page, Frederick and Clarke counties as well as the City of Winchester, ranks No. 10 in the state with 1,031 cases, No. 11 with 96 hospitalizations and No. 7, tied with two other districts, with 37 deaths. Total figures include 134 probable cases, two probable hospitalizations and two probable deaths.

The district has conducted 2,288 tests to detect active viruses and 2,815 tests total, leading to a 14.7% positivity rate for detection tests.

Local cases

The local health district reports the following:

• Shenandoah County: 358 cases, 34 hospitalizations and 12 deaths.

• Frederick County: 249 cases, 20 hospitalizations and three deaths.

• Page County: 172 cases, 20 hospitalizations and 19 deaths.

• City of Winchester: 121 cases, seven hospitalizations and one death.

• Warren County: 110 cases, 12 hospitalizations and two deaths.

• Clarke County:  21 cases, three hospitalizations and no deaths.

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