Is it a Crime to Wear a Face Mask in Public to Protect Myself from the Corona Virus Pandemic?

Under the Code of Virginia, it is “unlawful for a person over the age of 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, to be or appear in a public place, or upon any private property in this Commonwealth without first having obtained from the owner or tenant thereof consent to do so in writing. Any violation of this code section is punishable as a Class 6 felony.”

However, there are several clear exceptions under the statute for:

(i) Persons wearing traditional holiday costumes;

(ii) Persons involved 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) Persons engaged in any bona fide theatrical production or masquerade ball; or

(iv) Persons wearing a mask, hood or other device for bona fide medical reasons upon

  • the advice of a licensed 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
  • 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.

Overall, if you are wearing a mask in public in order to protect yourself from the current COVID-19 pandemic (as opposed to wearing it for the purpose of concealing your identity to commit a crime), then you are acting in accordance with Virginia law. Likewise, doctors, nurses, paramedics, and other first responders wearing masks while serving the public are also exempt from this code section. As a result, you should not worry about being charged with a felony offense for wearing a face mask during this serious public health crisis.