Harris County mandatory mask mandate draws criticism

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo signed the order Wednesday.

"We need everyone to understand we’re in this for the long haul," Hidalgo said. 

Hidalgo said a face-covering means anything like a mask, scarf or bandanna is acceptable. Those who refuse this order risk getting fined up to $1,000.

RELATED: Face coverings or masks required in public in Harris County

"To be clear this is not a recommendation. This is something that we have to do for the sake of our safety, of our lives and our economy. Because if we don’t do this, we won’t see those cases come down. If we’re not prepared to wear masks, once we begin lifting the order, that spread is going to come right back," Hidalgo said. 

Hidalgo’s order joins other major cities in Texas like San Antonio and Dallas, who issued similar mandates earlier this week. 
Although face coverings have become a relatively normal sighting during the COVID-19 pandemic, the order sparked controversy -- particularly from Hidalgo's counterparts in Galveston and Montgomery County, who assured their constituents they will not follow suit.

RELATED: 'Stay Home-Work Safe' order for Harris County extended through April 30, amended to allow religious services

"I will not issue an order mandating the wearing of face coverings or masks in public places anywhere in Montgomery County. I do not find a statutory or legal basis that would allow me or anyone else in government to issue an order requiring citizens to wear a mask in public," said Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough.

"My general counsel is crystal clear. It’s unconstitutional and it will get you sued," said Galveston County Judge Mark Henry. 

In a Facebook post, Henry also issued this statement. 

"Galveston County will not be issuing any orders mandating citizens to wear masks or face coverings in public. America was built upon the fabric of individual liberty and freedom. It’s important now more than ever that we stress personal responsibility.


Covering your face while in public is being recommended by national and local health authorities. While we encourage that you consider these recommendations for your own safety and the safety of others around you, I will not be mandating it because I believe it is unconstitutional to do so.

Just as critical as getting our economy back up and running, it is important that elected officials uphold their oaths to defend the Constitution and ensure individual freedoms remain intact during and after this pandemic.

I look forward to Gov. Abbott’s directives and orders in the days and weeks ahead to get our state and county back open while focusing on public health and our economy."

Echoing those stark remarks is Joe Gamaldi, President of the Houston Police Officers Union.

In a tweet, Gimaldi says law enforcement officers are already stretched too thin dealing with an increase of violent crimes and property crimes.

However, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo did not appear as strongly opposed. Instead, Acevedo offered the department’s cooperation to enforce the facial coverings order with a 3-prong approach.

"We’re going to approach this just like we did all the other orders that came out from the city and the county and that’s to start with education, secondly, voluntary compliance and thirdly, only as a last resort, would be an enforcement action," Acevedo said. 

Ultimately, health officials say face coverings in addition to social distancing measures will play an essential part in limiting a resurgence as more portions of the state prepare to reopen.

"The more precautions we are taking, the better in relation to transmission of the infection," said Firas Zabaneh / Director of system infection prevention and control at Houston Methodist
Hidalgo’s order will last for 30 days and expire on May 26th. 

Exceptions will be made for people with underlying health or mental issues, who's conditions may be exacerbated with a face covering. People exercising, eating or driving will also be exempt.