As America wages an intellectual war between personal freedom and personal protection, Harris County is expected to make an absolute announcement in favor of the latter.
Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo confirmed, at a joint press conference with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner on Wednesday, April 22, that all residents are required to wear masks in public or be fined up to $1,000 by law enforcement. This follows similar orders in Dallas and San Antonio, where violations could also result in a $1,000 fine or jail time.
"We have to use every tool in the toolbox," Hidalgo said, "because if we get complacent, people die." Hidalgo added that the extra measures have saved 4,500 lives, according to Rice University and are needed, as those who don't show symptoms could still be carriers. "These are all small, but powerful, actions," she noted.
Under this new directive, residents 10 and older will be required to wear a covering — a mask, scarf, bandanna, or handkerchief — starting Monday, April 27. Hidalgo said the Monday deadline is to give residents time to procure masks. "If you have your mask today, please wear it," she added.
The order will last for 30 days, and is not enforced for those who are alone in a car or who have health conditions that would be exacerbated by a mask.
The mask order comes as the total number of COVID-19 cases in Harris County, including the city of Houston, is at least 5,000 according to public health officials. That includes 41 new cases and one new death.
Hidalgo also stressed the need for testing. "Getting tested is not something to be afraid of," she said. "It's a heroic action."
Turner said, "the evidence is clear," that wearing a face covering saves lives. He announced a plan to provide 70,000 face masks to those in "vulnerable communities."
Earlier this month, Laredo announced every resident older than 5 years old must wear some sort of mask when going out in public, as ABC13 reported. That includes when going to the store or even pumping gas. Those who don't could also be fined $1,000.
Then Willacy County said violators may face a $1,000 fine if they're caught not wearing a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic. No word, yet, if Harris County will impose similar penalties.
This is a breaking news story; CultureMap will update as news develops.