HOUSTON – Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo officially announced that she will require county residents to wear masks or face-covering in public in a joint news conference with Mayor Sylvester Turner on Wednesday.
New mask order
Hidalgo said she would be signing an order requiring people to wear some form of face-covering that will go into effect Monday and remain in effect for 30 days.
According to Hidalgo, she is putting the order in place to help keep people safe as officials work to reopen the county, but masks are not a replacement for social distancing.
“If we get cocky or sloppy, we get right back to where we started and all the sacrifices that we have been making will be in vain," Hidalgo said.
Hidalgo said the latest research says that even people who are not symptomatic can be carrying the virus. Face masks protect the community from that transmission.
Here is what to know about the order:
Who is required to wear a mask?
Anyone 10 years or older should wear a face covering that covers his or her nose and mouth. Hidalgo said she encourages parents to try and get their kids to wear a face-covering but understands sometimes that may not be feasible.
When is the order applicable?
This order is applicable when you are in public or when you are with people who do not live with you, according to Hidalgo.
What if I can’t wear a mask?
Hidalgo said the order will make exceptions for people with health or mental health conditions who have difficulties wearing facial covers.
Are there any other exceptions?
Other exceptions will also include people who are driving, eating or exercising alone.
What if I don’t have a mask?
Hidalgo said she is not asking people to wear a medical mask. She said everyone has materials at home that can be used to make a mask, for example, bandana, an old t-shirt, a scarf, a handkerchief or anything else that can be used to cover your nose and mouth.
There are instructions on readyharris.org for people who wish to make their own mask.
Why is it going into effect Monday and not immediately?
Hidalgo said she wanted to make it effective Monday so people have time to get or make a mask. However, she asked who already has a mask to please wear it. Don’t wait until Monday.
“I know this takes some getting used to, but these are small but powerful actions ...we have made too much progress to backtrack now," Hidalgo said.
According to Turner, he wants the city to get to the point where it can have masks or coverings to distribute to those who need it. Turner said he will be announcing a plan to distribute 70,000 masks to the vulnerable community on Thursday. The distribution from City Hall will take place at some point after Thursday’s announcement.
Dr. David Persse, with the Houston Health Department, said that having facial coverings or masks for people who are not ill is incredibly important. The mayor and other entities will be distributing masks, but Persse urged people to help their neighbors who may not be able to go out and get a mask.
Hidalgo said there is a $1,000 fine associated with the order. She believes law enforcement will use their discretion but she wanted to make the order enforceable by law, so a fine had to be put in place.
“This is about personal responsibility,” Hidalgo said. “This is not a recommendation it is a requirement, that is why we wanted to make it enforceable.”
This virus is different from others, Persse said. The most important number to watch is the hospitalization numbers because in order to save lives the area needs to make sure that if someone needs a hospital bed that there is one available for them.
Persse said the peak is not an event or an occurrence. It is a phenomenon that occurs when all the efforts by the community equal the force of the virus.
“We saw that this virus can be very forceful ... If we give it an opportunity, it will be forceful here. The virus is not gone. If we give it an opportunity, it will take it," Persse said. “Measures like judge’s order and things that have been done under leadership have been successful, we need to keep up with measures.”
Dr. Umair Shah with Harris County Public Health urged people to not litter.
“Don’t ruin our community,” Shah said. “Properly dispose of gloves and masks. Want to make sure to keep the sanctity of our community.”
Watch the full news conference below:
Houston and Harris County leaders provide an update on response to the coronavirus pandemic.Posted by KPRC2 / Click2Houston on Wednesday, April 22, 2020