Virginia’s “Anti-Mask” Law & Coronovirus

Virginia, like many states, has an “Anti- Mask Law“.

It shall be unlawful for any person over 16 years of age to, with the intent to conceal his identity, wear any mask, hood or other device whereby a substantial portion of the face is hidden or covered so as to conceal the identity of the wearer.

Virginia Code § 18.2-422

This law would be probably remain ‘little-known’ and infrequently referenced, but for the global pandemic, and ensuing guidelines mandating the wearing of masks. Very quickly a ‘must not’ became a ‘must do.’

Virginia’s law, like other “Anti-Mask Laws” was designed in part to target the Ku Klux Klan, and their notable white hoods.

Virginia’s law is actually quite severe. A violation can land you a Class 6 Felony– with up to five years in prison. This is pretty dramatic, especially considering all of the legitimate uses for masks. Luckily, the law has actually contemplated these uses, and provides practical exceptions, such as:

(i) wearing traditional holiday costumes;

(ii) engaged in professions, trades, employment or other activities and wearing protective masks which are deemed necessary for the physical safety of the wearer or other persons;

(iii) engaged in any bona fide theatrical production or masquerade ball; or

(iv) wearing a mask, hood or other device for bona fide medical reasons upon (a) the advice of a licensed physician or osteopath and carrying on his person an affidavit from the physician or osteopath specifying the medical necessity for wearing the device and the date on which the wearing of the device will no longer be necessary and providing a brief description of the device, or (b) the declaration of a disaster or state of emergency by the Governor in response to a public health emergency where the emergency declaration expressly waives this section, defines the mask appropriate for the emergency, and provides for the duration of the waiver.

Virginia Code § 18.2-422

So the situation we find ourselves in now appears to be quite well covered- much as our faces should be.

Notably, simple cold weather is left off of this list. In reality you are unlikely to get in serious trouble for keeping to yourself and covering your face on a frigid winter day. And the law does require the “intent to conceal [your] identity.” If approached though, just know that an Officer has every right to ask you to remove such a face-covering, and require you identify yourself.

So, you are safe in your Halloween costume, and safer still in the variety of face masks that may be worn to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

This is just one example of how current events can bring laws -new and old- into play in different ways. That is one reason, among many, it is important to have a knowledgeable and local attorney ready to advise and assist you when it matters.

More on Mask Laws and Coronavirus, at the Wall Street Journal: Here.