Harris County residents will be required to wear face coverings in public beginning April 27

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 residents will be required to wear face coverings while out in public beginning Monday, April 27, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced April 22.

The requirement will apply to residents who are 10 years of age or older and will be in effect for 30 days, or until May 26. Hidalgo said those who are found to not be in compliance with the order will be charged a fine, however she did not specify a fine amount.

"We are making progress but they are digging mass graves in New York; they are going, still, through a very difficult time and we are doing all that we are doing so that we never get there and we continue to make progress," Hidalgo said. "If we get cocky, we get sloppy, we get right back to where we started and all of the sacrifices that people have been making have been in vain. So as we see that hospital admissions curve flatten, let's not get complacent; let's remember that we still have work to do."

Hidalgo listed homemade masks, scarves, bandanas and handkerchiefs as examples of acceptable face coverings to use in place of medical masks or N95 masks, as those are needed for the health care sector.

"The order will make exceptions, of course, for folks with health or mental health conditions that would be exacerbated by wearing a covering," Hidalgo said. "It will make allowances for people exercising alone, for people driving, for people eating."

HIdalgo added that while the order does not apply for children under the age of 10, face coverings are still encouraged for that population as well.

"Face coverings are not a substitute for social distancing," she said. "We still have to continue to keep that distance from one another and we are still under a Stay Home, Work Safe order so we should not be out unless absolutely necessary and if we do this, we will get that curve down to where it needs to be to where we can actually begin reopening things and do so in a way that is sustainable."

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said through a partnership with Lone Star College, the city of Houston would open one face covering distribution site in northwest Houston on April 23, to be followed by others. That same day, Turner said he will announce a plan to provide more than 70,000 face coverings to people in Houston's vulnerable communities, during a press conference at City Hall at 3 p.m.

"The evidence is clear: wearing a face covering will help slow the spread of this coronavirus and can save lives, and wearing a face covering protects other people from you because you do not know if you are a carrier and can transmit the virus," Turner said.

The order has already garnered criticism from Joe Gamaldi, president of the Houston Police Officers' Union FOP Lodge 110. In a letter released April 22 prior to Hidalgo's announcement, Gamaldi said while the HPOU does believe everyone should be wearing masks while in public and is encouraging its officers to do the same, the entity does not approve of Hidalgo's order.

"However, we draw the line at the draconian measures Hidalgo has decided to engage in," the letter reads. "Our officers work every single day to bridge the gap with our community and earn their trust, we will not stand idly by and allow Hidalgo to tear that bridge down with her horrific leadership and echo chamber decision making."

The letter continues to say the HPOU has contacted the Attorney General's Office seeking an opinion on the legality of improving a criminal penalty/fine for anyone not wearing a mask in public.

"Houston police officers are already stretched too thin during the COVID-19 pandemic," the letter reads. "Violent crime is up this year (murders up by 35%), property crime is up (burglaries by nearly 30%), and HPD officers are staffing testing centers across the city. We do not have time to be pawns in Hidalgo's game of attempting to control the actions of law abiding, tax paying individuals of our community."

Hidalgo addressed the letter during the press conference later that day.

"Everything we do, we run first through the health professionals—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," Hidalgo said. "Second, of course, we run it by the lawyers and our attorneys are confident that this falls within our jurisdiction ... major cities, major counties in Texas have already done this."

Gamaldi added that while the HPOU waits for an opinion from the Attorney General's Office, they are reminding officers to use their own discretion regarding enforcement of the face mask order.

As of April 22, Harris County and the city of Houston combined have 5,211 confirmed coronavirus cases. Of those, 3,805 cases are active, 1,326 cases have recovered and 80 cases have resulted in death.

"This is not about winning a game; this is about getting through the season," Hidalgo said.

For more information on how to make a face covering at home, click here. For more information on Harris County's coronavirus case count, click here.

By Hannah Zedaker

Editor, Spring/Klein & Lake Houston/Humble/Kingwood

Hannah joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in May 2016 after graduating with a degree in journalism from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. In March 2019, she transitioned to editor of the Spring/Klein edition and later became the editor of both the Spring/Klein and Lake Houston/Humble/Kingwood editions in June 2021. Hannah covers education, local government, transportation, business, real estate development and nonprofits in these communities. Prior to CI, Hannah served as associate editor of The Houstonian, interned with Community Impact Newspaper and spent time writing for the Sam Houston State University College of Fine Arts and Mass Communication and The Huntsville Item.