Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Wednesday ordered residents to cover their faces in public starting next week.
“We have to use every tool in the toolbox,” Hidalgo said in a press conference announcing the 30-day order. “If we get complacent, people will die. Those are the stakes.”
Hidalgo said the purpose behind the order was to show that wearing a mask in public — whether that be a surgical mask, scarf, bandana, or an old t-shirt — was not a recommendation but a requirement. Local leaders in other metro areas such as Austin, Dallas, and Laredo have already implemented similar measures.
The order has generated outrage from the GOP, including Rep. Dan Crenshaw who warned it would lead to “unjust tyranny” and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick who called it “the ultimate government overreach.”
Steve Hotze, a rightwing Houstonian who leads an anti-LGBT hate group, is holding a virtual rally Thursday to protest the order.
Much of the criticism against the order centers around the fact that it carries a punishable $1,000 fine and up to 180 days in jail.
In her press conference with Mayor Sylvester Turner, Hidalgo said law enforcement will use discretion and have been instructed to focus on educating residents. Hidalgo said that past orders to address the pandemic — like one issued last month closings bars, clubs, and limiting access to restaurants — needed to carry the threat of jail time because some businesses were willing to pay the $2,000 fine just to stay open, accelerating the spread the virus. She said that to her knowledge, no one has actually gone to jail because of the order.
“There’s some folks that will tell you seat belts are too draconian, and we still have those,” Hidalgo said, responding to a quote by the lieutenant governor.
“This is not a police state,” Hidalgo continued. “We’ve never had folks posted up outside trying to catch people, this is not about trying to find folks who are not wearing a mask and have them pay a fine, it’s about laying down the marker as to what we’re doing.”
A short timeline of Harris County’s pandemic orders
March 24: Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announces a “stay home-work safe” order, closing most businesses and prohibiting public gatherings.
March 31: Hidalgo extends stay-at-home order to April 30.
April 22: Hidalgo announces 30-day public mask requirement, set to begin April 27.