Harris Co. mask order official and comes with $1,000 fine

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Harris County issued a mandatory mask order Wednesday, which has already drawn opposition from community leaders, ranging from how it will be enforced, to how the order should be handled individually.

Judge Lina Hidalgo made the order official during her briefing. You can watch the briefing, which includes Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, right now in the video above.

The county, which accounts for nearly a quarter of the more than 21,000 COVID-19 cases in Texas, is mirroring mandates set already by San Antonio and Dallas, among other major cities in the state.

Under the order, residents 10 years old and older will be required to wear a covering, starting Monday, April 27. The order will last for 30 days. Coverings can be a mask, scarf, bandanna or handkerchief.

The masks or coverings must cover the nose and mouth, but the coverings are not limited to medical or N-95 masks. The only exceptions to the rule will be when exercising, eating, drinking, if you're alone in a separate place, or at your home.

"We have to use every tool in the toolbox," said Hidalgo. "If we get complacent, people will die. Those are the stakes."

Hidalgo said the mask order will be enforced by a $1,000 fine.

While the order is focused on further flattening the curve of cases in the Houston area, opposition came swift in the hours after word got out Wednesday morning.

During the regularly scheduled Houston City Council meeting, one council member questioned the necessity for the mandate - which would apply to the city - and whether it should apply across all residents regardless of circumstance.

"I don't like being put into this position. If [Judge Hidalgo] asks me to put on a hazmat suit, do I have to put on a hazmat suit?" asked Councilman Greg Travis, who used his own breathing condition as an example. "Some things should be left to people because they know their individual conditions and individual situations."

Meanwhile, the question of enforcement was brought up by Joe Gamaldi, the president of the Houston Police Officers' Union.

While he admits to using a mask everyday, Gamaldi spoke up about the police department's thinning personnel, much of whom have been stricken by the virus or under quarantine.

"Everyone should be wearing a mask in public. I wear one everyday," Gamaldi tweeted. "But making not wearing one punishable by law, and asking our officers to enforce it, will do irreparable damage to our relationship with the community. We are already stretched too thin without having to enforce this."



The HPOU later tweeted a longer response to the mandate, labeling the order as "draconian" and impossible to enforce when murders are up 35 percent.



WATCH: ABC13's Miya Shay offers a look at types of masks generally worn during pandemic
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Miya Shay explains more about the Harris County mask order and provides a demo.



In addition, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick ripped Hidalgo over the recent moves that he called overreaching.

"On the same day Harris County Commissioner's Court plans to close the $60 million-dollar pop-up hospital at NRG Park, because it wasn't needed, Judge Lina Hidalgo orders anyone over the age of 10 to wear a mask in public," said Patrick. "Her abuse of the use of executive orders is the ultimate government overreach. These kind of confused government policies fuel public anger - and rightfully so."

Earlier this month, Laredo announced every resident older than 5 years old must wear some sort of mask when going out in public. That includes when going to the store or even pumping gas. Those who don't could also be fined $1,000.

Then Willacy County said violators may face a $1,000 fine if they're caught not wearing a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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