Updated 3:30 p.m. Apr 27
In press conference this afternoon, Gov. Greg Abbott announced a plan to reopen Texas beginning this Friday, May 1, after his "stay home" order expires.
While Abbott strongly encouraged Texans to wear face masks, he said there was not to be any mandate. His order supersedes all local orders, basically nullifying Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo's order, which was put in place this morning, on May 1.
Earlier today, Hidalgo had said she made the order enforceable, like seatbelt laws and laws regarding handicap parking, to emphasize the importance of the order and to signal that it must be followed. Violating the order would be punishable by up to $1,000. However, Hidalgo said that she did not expect to hear about citations being issued. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner had all said that the order would not be enforced.
Now, according to the governor, the order basically cannot even exist.
In response to the order, Mayor Turner tearfully cautioned Houstonians to continue to wear face coverings, practice good hygiene, and social distance. "The virus is still prevalent," he said this afternoon. The numbers are favorable, but every day there are new cases of COVID-19 in Houston, and the total count was 3,358 on Monday.
"We're not out of the range."
However, in spite of the governor's announcement, Acevedo said private businesses, such as stores, movie theaters, and grocery stores, can still require patrons to wear face masks. "In this state, property rights are very important," he said.
Updated 4:40 p.m. Apr 23
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo ordered all residents to wear some sort of face covering in public this afternoon during a joint press conference with Mayor Sylvester Turner. "We have to use every tool in our toolbox," she said.
The latest research says that people can carry and transmit the virus while showing no symptoms. "We are making progress, but they are digging mass graves in New York," Hidalgo said. She said she did not want Harris County in that situation. "Wearing a face covering protects other people from you," Turner said. "Most people will not know they are sick and will have no symptoms."
The order will be in in place for 30 days, beginning Monday, April 27, and will apply to any person over the age of 10. Read the full order here.
People exercising alone, driving, and eating do not have to wear a mask. Residents who have medical conditions or mental health conditions where the mask might actually inhibit health are also exempt.
This is about personal responsibility, but there is a fine for not wearing a mask, Hidalgo said. Police have been told to use their discretion on enforcing the order, but the failure to comply to the order would be punishable by up to $1,000. However, Mayor Turner on April 23 announced that Houston police have been directed to not give out citations for non-compliance to the order. Instead, police will give out free masks to those in need.
But, Hidalgo clarified, "Face coverings are not a substitute for social distancing." The order refers to face coverings, not face masks, she said. People are not required to wear surgical masks or N95 masks. Residents may wear a mask, handkerchief, bandana, or scarf. Go to readyharris.org to find out to make a covering at home. Or, check out our tutorial on how to make a no-sew face mask.
Last week, Hidalgo warned Harris County residents that a new normal would include masks, gloves, and social distancing. “Folks should expect to see precautions everywhere,” Hidalgo said.
Mayor Turner has previously stated multiple times that he would only sign off on such an order if the city had enough masks to supply anyone who might not otherwise have access to one. He said he will make an announcement on an initiative to help get more than 70,000 masks to people in need on Thursday, April 23.
Harris County is late in the game for mandatory face mask orders. Travis County declared the order on April 14, with Dallas and Bexar counties soon following. Other Texas cities, including Fort Worth and Laredo, have implemented similar orders.
As of noon April 21, Texas had 20,196 cases of COVID-19, with 24.64 percent of those cases coming from Harris County. Yesterday, the county saw 100 more cases, Hidalgo announced. She was disheartened to see so many new cases, she said, as the county is still doing well at containing the outbreak better than some other areas of the country.
Both Turner and Hidalgo, along with Dr. David Persse, head of the Houston Health Department, have stated that Houston and Harris County have not yet hit the peak in cases. All three have stressed the importance of remaining vigilant throughout this month. "If we get cocky, if we get sloppy," Hidalgo said, "we go back from where we came."
“Let me encourage people to do social distancing, to keep staying home," Turner said. "The face coverings are important, I cannot put enough emphasis on that, especially throughout the month of April.”
Hidalgo did not say if she will extend the stay-at-home order, which is slated to end April 30.