Gov. Abbott hosted a press conference April 27 where he announced the next steps in his plan to reopen businesses across the state. At the end of the conference, said his order supersedes any order passed by a county judge, including Harris County's face coverings order.
"We strongly recommend that everyone wear a mask," Abbott said. "However, it's not a mandate, and we made clear that no jurisdiction can impose any type of penalty or fine."
Harris County's order, as passed, states that violators can be hit with fines of up to $1,000. In a statement issued after Abbott's conference, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said the county will amend the order to keep it in compliance with the governor's. She said she did not think Abbott's comments changed much in practical terms.
"The fine was there as a signal of how vital mask wearing is, and in many ways, the community got that message," Hidalgo said. "It’s been disappointing to see folks politicize public health, and I hope this means they'll go back to focusing on health and safety instead of politics. As we have in the past, we will amend this order to conform with the governor’s.”
In a press conference that took place prior to Gov. Abbott's announcement, Hidalgo said she did not expect law enforcement to issue citations, but the language of the order was needed to make it enforceable. She compared the face coverings order to the Stay Home-Work Safe order and the order closing bars and restaurants, both of which included enforcement measures, such as fines and jail time. Hidalgo said as far as she knew, police have not issued any citations or arrested any people for violating those orders.
"If you don’t wear a mask, it’s not about you. It’s about the people around you," Hidalgo said. "You might get somebody sick. This is something serious, and that’s why we need to make clear that it’s not optional. We would ask, 'Please'; we tried that two or three weeks ago. Most people did, but not enough."
In a series of tweets April 27, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said his office did not plan on issuing tickets.
"We're going to continue to use discretion and messaging for our compliance," Gonzalez said. "But keep in mind, if a private business requires masks, then, that's within the law as well."
At @HCSOTexas we are not planning to give tickets or anything. We want to keep people safe and give people the benefit of the doubt. Most people understand the seriousness of #COVID19, will look at things through a public health lens, and use good judgment. I am very impressed
— Ed Gonzalez (@SheriffEd_HCSO) April 27, 2020