HOUSTON – Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said Wednesday that he and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo are looking into the possibility of issuing an executive order mandating mask-wearing, similar to the one issued by Bexar County Judge Neslon Wolff Wednesday.
Mask order coming?
In Bexar County, Wolff and San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg issued an order that mandates that “all commercial entities providing goods and services” must implement a health and safety policy within five days, according to a report by KPRC 2′s sister station in San Antonio. The policy “must require, at a minimum, that all employees or visitors ... wear face coverings when in an area or performing an activity which will necessarily involved close contact,” according to the new order.
When Turner was asked if he would consider a similar order, he said he and Hidalgo had both looked at the Bexar County order.
During an interview Wednesday with Waco television station KWTX, Abbott said the Bexar County order was in line with his own executive order.
“We want to make sure that individual liberty is not infringed upon by government and hence government cannot require individuals to wear a mask, however pursuant to my plan, local governments can require stores and businesses to require masks,” Abbott said.
“That is a modification to what he said yesterday,” Turner said when asked about Abbott’s comment.
The Greater Houston Partnership, which is a coalition of Houston-area business owners, supports the idea of a mask order that would require all business employees and customers to wear masks, Turner said.
“We’ll do what we can. I certainly would entertain (an order), I think it’s just that important,” Turner said.
However, while Turner said an order mandating mask-wearing could be issued, enforcing the order would not entail jail time for violators.
When KPRC 2 asked Hidalgo’s office for comment on a possible mask order, her office responded with the following statement:
“We’re unsure of the legality and are checking with the County Attorney’s Office on that. That being said, we strongly urge residents exercise personal responsibility and to wear face coverings to protect themselves and others from this virus. We’re not any safer today than we were in March. There is no vaccine. No cure. We remain very concerned about the trajectory of hospital admissions and want to remind residents that we are at level 2 – Orange – a significant (and) uncontrolled spread of the virus and that residents should minimize all contacts.”
Why is wearing a mask important?
Both Turner and Houston Health Authority Dr. David Persse highlighted the need for people to wear masks as they move out among other people.
“The mask that you wear protects you a little bit. The mask that you wear protects the person next to you a whole lot,” Persse said.
Turner said there were 189 new cases of coronavirus and seven new deaths, bringing the city’s case total to 10,507 and the city’s death total to 169. These numbers exclude Harris County totals which stand at 7,650 cases and 129 deaths. As of Wednesday, the total number of cases between Harris County and Houston stands at 18,157 and deaths stand at 298.
With the upswing in cases and hospitalizations related to COVID-19, Persse said there were three things people could do to protect themselves:
- Wear masks or face coverings
- Stay at least 6 feet away from other people
- Avoid large gatherings and groups
“We want the economy to stay open and for people to go back to school in the fall. But in order for that to happen, how we handle the summer is critically important,” Turner said.
Through March and April, Turner said the Houston-area had successfully flattened the rising curve of coronavirus cases as more people stayed home and adhered to health guidelines.
“Our numbers, relatively speaking, were low. We don’t want to undo the significant progress we made earlier,” he said.
However, since the phased reopening of Texas began, Turner said cases were on the rise again and while closing the economy again was out of the question, adhering to health guidelines was essential to combat the virus.
As part of his Wednesday press conference, Turner also accepted a donation of 500,000 masks from Focus Humanitarian Assistance USA and the Ismaili Council for Southwestern US.
Gov. Abbott said Tuesday that people in their 20s were going to bars and as a result, cases were rising in those groups.
Turner and Persse echoed the sentiment Wednesday and urged young people to take more precautions.
Persse said the number of people going to the ER to get treatment or tested related to coronavirus between the ages of 18 and 44 was up almost 8% in Houston. Turner said young people were more “cavalier” with the seriousness of the virus and as a result, numbers were spiking.
“Now is not the time to go out and behave as if life has returned to normal,” Turner said.
Watch the full press conference below:
WATCH LIVE: Mayor Turner addresses the coronavirus response in the city
WATCH LIVE: Mayor Turner addresses the coronavirus response in the city. LIVE BLOG:https://www.click2houston.com/news/local/2020/06/17/turner-to-address-coronavirus-response-in-houston/Posted by KPRC2 / Click2Houston on Wednesday, June 17, 2020
Follow a live blog of the news conference below: