Face masks are the new must-have fashion accessory in Harris County with a new order from Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo Wednesday that takes effect Monday.
The order requires all persons over the age of 10 to wear a cloth face covering when in public. She said homemade masks and bandanas meet the requirement; medical-grade masks should be reserved for medical workers.
Hidalgo said people are encouraged to begin wearing masks immediately, but the order does not go into effect until Monday. “We wanted to make the order effective on Monday so folks have a chance to get a mask, to make a mask.”
“In terms of the penalty, there is a fine,” she said. “Previous orders that we’ve issued had jail time in them.”
Hidalgo said that was because those applied largely to businesses, which might choose to simply pay the fine and stay open. “To my knowledge we haven’t had to use that,” she said.
“For this one, this is about personal responsibility. The biggest downside if you don’t do it is that you can spread the virus to other people. You can and will lead to death.”
“Law enforcement will be using their discretion,” she said.
She said a fine was included in this order to make it clear it is a requirement, not a recommendation.
When asked about potential conflict between her desire to continue social distancing measures and Gov. Greg Abbott’s plans to begin a phased reopening of the economy, she reiterated her comments from the previous day that she has worked closely with the governor and said she does not see any orders coming down from the state that “we’re not ready for.”
Gov. Abbott has indicated he will announce measures Monday in regard to re-opening the economy, in addition to his previous announcement allowing some discretionary medical procedures to resume and the measure, effective Friday, allowing most retail businesses to resume selling products on a to-go basis with curbside, drive-up or home delivery of products ordered online or by phone.
His order does not re-open businesses requiring physical contact like hairdressers or nail salons, or reopen gyms, health clubs, bars or dining room
service at restaurants.
Chambers County Judge Jimmy Sylvia announced Wednesday that he has lifted the curfew imposed on his county. He previously ordered a 24-hour curfew for persons under the age of 18 and a nighttime curfew for all persons.
Chambers County public information officer Ryan Holzaepfel said both curfews have now been lifted. All other orders remain in full effect.
There were no corresponding curfews in Harris County.
Holzaepfel said Chambers County has no plans at this time to require face coverings.
On Wednesday, Harris County Public Health announced there have been 5,211 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the county. Of those 3,805 cases are active. Another 1,326 people have recovered, and another 80 have died.
There have been 60 confirmed cases in the Harris County portion of Baytown.
The Highlands-area ZIP code, 77562, has had five confirmed cases. The Crosby-area ZIP code, 77532, has had 18 confirmed cases.
Chambers County has had 39 confirmed cases. Of those, 21 people have recovered and two are hospitalized. There are no reported deaths.
Most of the Chambers County cases, 27, have been in the western part of the county that includes Mont Belvieu, Old River-Winfree, Cove, Beach City and part of Baytown.
Statewide 21,069 cases have been reported, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Of those 1,678 people are in the hospital, about 7,341 have recovered, and another 543 people have died.
Guide to the mandatory mask order
Goes into effect 12:01 a.m. Monday and will continue until 11:59 p.m. May 26.
For everyone over the age of 10
Where do you wear it?
• Public places including pharmacies, grocery stores, public transit or work areas where it is difficult to maintain the recommended six feet of social distance.
What qualifies as a mask?
• Face coverings may be a homemade mask, scarf, bandana or handkerchief as long as it covers the nose and mouth
You must wear a mask at all times except:
• Eating or drinking
• Exercising or doing physical activities outdoors
• You are alone in a single space, indoors or outdoors
• You are home with other family members who live with you
• When covering your face poses a mental, physical, safety or security risk unless it puts your health at risk