HOUSTON – Hundreds of protestors expressed their anger toward Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s order requiring all county residents to wear face masks in public. The large group gathered outside the Harris County Administration Building in downtown Houston Wednesday.
The protest, similar to others taking place across the country, highlighted the growing tension between personal liberty and public health in a time of national crisis.
About 200 people carrying signs, flags and bull horns gathered on the sidewalk.
“I’m tired of the government trying to tell us what to do," said protestor Marga Matthews.
The protest was organized by longtime conservative activist Dr. Steven Hotze and attorney Jared Woodfill, the former chairman of the Harris County Republican Party.
They also filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking to block the order requiring all county residents to wear face masks, to wash their hands, and to not touch their faces for 30 days on pain of a one thousand dollars fine.
Their lawsuit contends Judge Hidalgo’s order is unconstitutional and an overreach of her power.
“The order that we’re dealing with right now we believe is an unconstitutional, trampling and infringement on our liberties,” Woodfill said. “This is one individual who is dictating from her office over there on Preston as to what we can or can’t do.”
In opposition, the county attorney says the Texas Constitution gives the judge broad power during an emergency to implement public health measures such as quarantine and the wearing of face masks.
“There’s no constitutional right not to wash your hands; no constitutional right during a pandemic to be allowed to spread a deadly virus to other people," Assistant Harris County Attorney Seth Hopkins said.
“It’s reasonable, during this transition phase, to ask people to cover their mouths. Similar laws were declared constitutional during the 1918 pandemic. They were constitutional then, they’re constitutional today.”
The judge’s order follows recommendations from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention already being followed in Dallas and Bexar counties. Other Texas counties, like Galveston and Montgomery counties are opposing the measure on constitutional grounds.
But medical experts like Dr. Joseph Varon who treat virus victims at the United Memorial Medical Center in north Houston say requiring face masks makes sense.
“Some of my own friends are not happy with this idea.” Dr. Varon said. “This is a measure that may prevent more spreading of the COVID. As it is right now, we’re still in a crisis, we’re still not over this hump. And this will prevent more cases."