Harris County commissioner calls for discussion of 'face covering' order, legal penalties at April 28 meeting

Harris County residents will be required to wear face coverings when out in public for at least 30 days beginning April 27. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Harris County residents will be required to wear face coverings when out in public for at least 30 days beginning April 27. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Harris County residents will be required to wear face coverings when out in public for at least 30 days beginning April 27. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle is requesting a discussion at an April 28 Commissioners Court meeting over the "Use of Face Coverings" order issued by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo earlier this week.

The order, set to go into effect April 27, requires Harris County residents ages 10 and older to wear face coverings in public through May 26 or risk paying a fine of up to $1,000. Exceptions are provided for certain activities, such as exercising alone or being alone in a separate, single space, such as a car.

In a letter sent to the other county commissioners, Cagle requested adding an item to the court's April 28 agenda to discuss and possibly modify the order, changing it from an executive order to an advisory order and removing the penalties for noncompliance.

Cagle, through a spokesperson, declined to comment further on his request April 24. In his letter to commissioners, he questioned whether the order should be crafted to appeal "to the better angels of our nature to promote the health and well-being of all rather than the fear of legal penalty."

Hidalgo's order—and the fine, specifically—has garnered criticism from other groups, including the Houston Police Officer's Union. The constitutionality of the order has also been challenged in a lawsuit filed against Hidalgo in a state district court.

Tomball Mayor Gretchen Fagan wrote a letter to Hidalgo April 23 asking her to modify the order so that wearing a face covering was "strongly recommended" instead of required by law.

"Attempting to force people through the threat of enforcement action will likely have negative consequences, and from a practical standpoint will either not be enforced, or be unenforceable if attempted," Fagan wrote.

In an April 22 press conference announcing the order, Hidalgo said the order had been run by the county's legal team and expressed confidence in its legality. She noted similar orders had already been passed in other Texas cities.

Hidalgo also said the order was crafted with the backing of the medical community in Harris County. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends—but does not mandate—the use of cloth face coverings, which is says help slow the spread of COVID-19.

"Everything we do, we run first through the health professionals," Hidalgo said. "We wouldn't be doing this if the health professionals weren't telling us that this is necessary and this will make a difference and, following that advice, we've saved over 45,000 lives."

Through a spokesperson, Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia declined to comment on the agenda item in advance of the April 28 meeting. A request for comment sent to the office of Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis did not receive an immediate response.

A spokesperson for Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack said the commissioner plans to support Cagle in his request.
By Shawn Arrajj
Shawn Arrajj serves as the editor of the Cy-Fair edition of Community Impact Newspaper where he covers the Cy-Fair and Jersey Village communities. He mainly writes about development, transportation and issues in Harris County.


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