mask up

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo makes masks mandatory in businesses

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo makes masks mandatory in businesses

Lina Hidalgo face mask
Harris County businesses must ensure customers and staff wear masks.  Lina Hidalgo/Twitter

As COVID-19 cases slam local hospitals, masks are now mandatory in Harris County businesses. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo signed a mandatory mask order on June 19. The directive states that local businesses must ensure that all employees and customers wear masks and extends to all cities and unincorporated areas.

Businesses must have a plan that requires anyone 10 years of age or over to wear a mask when on premises. “It gives businesses a tool they’ve needed but don’t have,” said Hidalgo at a June 19 press conference with Mayor Sylvester Turner. “The idea is to see this as a no shirt, no shoes, no mask — no service.”

Coverings can be a face mask (including medical and N-95), scarf, bandanna, or handkerchief.

“Harris County, we may be running out of time,” said Hidalgo. “It is so crucial that all of us modify our behavior.” She noted that while hospitalizations are still stable and hospital beds are available, “just because there is a bed for you now doesn’t mean we want you there.”

“This is not a free pass to avoid social distancing,” she added. “At the end of the day, success is as much in your hands — or more so — than it is ours.” She also added that she expects “some to sabotage this effort.”

As of June 19, Harris County has seen 7,835 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 3,055 active cases and 215 new cases, according to its dashboard. Some 4650 have recovered; 130 have died, according to Harris County’s dashboard. The current threat level is Level 2, per Harris County’s new Stay Safe threat level assessment meter.

Meanwhile, Mayor Sylvester reported 970 new cases in Houston.

The ruling is similar to orders in Dallas and Austin and comes after Turner joined eight other Texas mayors in asking Abbott for power to impose face mask rules.

As CultureMap Dallas notes, masks have been a contentious issue since early May, when the Texas Attorney General's Office issued a letter to cities across the state claiming that cities and counties can't impose civil or criminal penalties for failing to wear a mask in public.

Hidalgo’s June 19 order harks back to her directive on April 22, requiring Harris County residents to wear masks or potentially face a $1,000 fine. That ruling was quickly nixed by Gov. Greg Abbott, who has been reluctant to enact a state-wide order, leaving the decision up to individual counties instead.

As they stop droplets from being transmitted from the mouth, face masks combined with other preventive measures, such as frequent hand-washing and social distancing, help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, according to the Mayo Clinic.

As of June 17, the COVID-19 infection rate in the greater Houston area reached just under 25,000 cases, according to the Texas Medical Center and CultureMap news partner, ABC13. Nearly 1,300 patients are now in ICU beds across Houston, which is less than two hundred fewer than the total normal ICU capacity.

This is a breaking news story; CultureMap will update as news develops.