Currently, COVID-19 cases are increasing in Harris County and across the state of Texas (as well as in many other states).
In an effort to slow down the rate of infection, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued an order to make face masks mandatory for a period of 30 days.
“We have to use every tool in the toolbox,” Judge Hidalgo said. “If we get cocky, we get sloppy, then we’re right back to where we started and all of the sacrifices people have made will have been in vain.”
Unfortunately, not all authorities were on board with the order.
So, where does that leave things for Harris County residents now? Will they be fined for getting caught without a face mask or not?
Overview of Judge Hidalgo’s order
The executive order issued by Judge Hidalgo, which was announced on April 27th and lasted for a period of 30 days, required all residents of Harris County age 10 and older to wear facial coverings in public places.
Here is a breakdown of the order:
- In addition to face masks, coverings may include scarves, bandanas and homemade masks.
- Medical masks, like N-95 masks and respirators, are not recommended (should be used by first responders only due to need).
- Masks may be removed while exercising, driving, dining alone, at home with family or roommates or other situations where risks of infecting are minimal.
- Face coverings must be provided to employees whose work is essential and requires contact with the public as well as coworkers.
- Fines for those who don’t wear masks in public could be up to $1,000.
More recently, Judge Hidalgo issued another order requiring the staff of businesses that offer goods and services to wear masks in order to protect customers and employees. This latest order will go into effect on Monday, June 29.
According to the order:
“…all commercial entities in Harris County providing goods or services directly to the public must develop, post, and implement a health and safety policy. The Health and Safety Policy must require, at a minimum, that all employees or visitors to the commercial entity’s business premises or other facilities wear face coverings when in an area or performing an activity which will necessarily involve close contact or proximity to co-workers or the public.”
Many not on board with the judge’s order
There wasn’t much widespread support for enforcing the order issued by Judge Hidalgo.
Many Houston police officers didn’t believe that enforcing this order was legal and described it as draconian.
Art Acevedo and Ed Gonzalez, Houston Police Chief and Harris County Sheriff, respectively, both said that in spite of the order, they were not making their officers issue tickets or citations for not wearing face masks.
However, according to Police Chief Acevedo, if a business owner asks you to leave because you’re not wearing a face mask and you refuse, you could be charged for trespassing.
Official word on fines for not wearing facemasks in Harris County
Texas Governor Greg Abbott came forward and said that officials cannot penalize residents for not wearing masks in public.
At a recent press conference, Gov. Abbot said:
“We strongly recommend that everyone wear a mask. However, it’s not a mandate. And we make clear that no jurisdiction can impose any type of penalty or fine.”
He added the following:
“My executive order, it supersedes local orders, with regard to any type of fine or penalty for anyone not wearing a mask.”
So How did Judge Hidalgo react to Gov. Abbott superseding her executive order with a new one?
“In practical terms, the governor’s order doesn’t change much because, like every order we’ve issued so far, we’d made it clear that the priority was education,” she said.
So the official word on face masks in Harris County is that they are encouraged, but no tickets, fines or citations will be issued for not wearing one.
But… if a business owner requires one and you don’t comply, you can be charged with trespassing.
Per Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, “If you run into someone in a uniform… he’s not going to give you a ticket, he’ll offer you a mask.”
If you or a loved one have been charged with a serious crime in Houston, then receiving a ticket for not wearing a face mask is probably the least of your worries. Contact Houston criminal defense attorney Matthew Sharp for expert, knowledgeable representation and to get the best results in your case.