HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) — Harris County’s mandatory mask order goes into effect today, and if you still need a mask, opportunities are still available to get one for free.
Between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m., masks will be handed out at the Tejano Center on 2950 Broadway.
From 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., the following three locations, which will be drive up only, will offer masks.Carverdale Community Center – 9920 Porto Rico RoadFreed Park Community Center – 6186 Shadyvilla LaneWhite Oak Conference Center – 7603 Antoine Drive
At 11 a.m. Mount Hebron Missionary Baptist Church at 7817 Calhoun Rd. will host a mask giveaway.
Between 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., you can stop by the Community Family Center on 7524 Avenue E.
Starting at 1 p.m. in Atascocita, Rosewood Funeral Home will also hand out masks.
You can also see the map below of times and places for mask giveaways.
Harris County issued the mandatory mask order last Wednesday, which quickly drew opposition from community leaders, ranging from how it will be enforced, to how the order should be handled individually.
The county, which accounts for nearly a quarter of the more than 21,000 COVID-19 cases in Texas, is mirroring mandates set already by San Antonio and Dallas, among other major cities in the state.
Under the order, residents 10 years old and older will be required to wear a covering. The order will last for 30 days. Coverings can be a mask, scarf, bandanna or handkerchief.
The masks or coverings must cover the nose and mouth, but the coverings are not limited to medical or N-95 masks. The only exceptions to the rule will be when exercising, eating, drinking, if you’re alone in a separate place, or at your home.
“We have to use every tool in the toolbox,” said Hidalgo. “If we get complacent, people will die. Those are the stakes.”
Health officials say the masks are needed to stop the spread of germs as much as possible.
“We know anywhere between 25 to 35% of the people who are infectious are asymptomatic. They’re not showing any symptoms, they’re not coughing, no tightness of chest, no fever, but they are still infectious. And so they can infect someone else. So the purpose of the mask is to protect other people from you,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said.
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Hidalgo said the mask order will be enforced by a $1,000 fine.
However, HPD Chief Art Acevedo and Mayor Turner said the focus will still be on education, and a fine will be a last resort.
While the order is focused on further flattening the curve of cases in the Houston area, opposition came swift in the hours after the announcement.
During the regularly scheduled Houston City Council meeting, one council member questioned the necessity for the mandate, which would apply to the city, and whether it should apply across all residents regardless of circumstance.
“I don’t like being put into this position. If (Judge Hidalgo) asks me to put on a hazmat suit, do I have to put on a hazmat suit?” asked Councilman Greg Travis, who used his own breathing condition as an example. “Some things should be left to people because they know their individual conditions and individual situations.”
Meanwhile, the question of enforcement was brought up by Joe Gamaldi, the president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union.
While he admits to using a mask everyday, Gamaldi spoke up about the police department’s thinning personnel, much of whom have been stricken by the virus or under quarantine.
“Everyone should be wearing a mask in public. I wear one everyday,” Gamaldi tweeted. “But making not wearing one punishable by law, and asking our officers to enforce it, will do irreparable damage to our relationship with the community. We are already stretched too thin without having to enforce this.”
Everyone should be wearing a mask in public, I wear 1 everyday. But making not wearing 1 punishable by law, and asking our officers to enforce it, will do irreparable damage to our relationship with the community. We are already stretched too thin without having to enforce this. pic.twitter.com/BwxEJgHvkq
— Joe Gamaldi (@JoeGamaldi) April 22, 2020
The HPOU later tweeted a longer response to the mandate, labeling the order as “draconian” and impossible to enforce when murders are up 35 percent.
HPOU response to @LinaHidalgoTX draconian mask order: “Now we want to be very clear, HPOU believes everyone should be wearing a mask in public, in order to protect themselves from the virus and we are encouraging all of our officers to wear a mask. However, we draw the line…” pic.twitter.com/XbphfNYHii
— Houston Police Officers’ Union (@HPOUTX) April 22, 2020
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In addition, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick ripped Hidalgo over the recent moves that he called overreaching.
“On the same day Harris County Commissioner’s Court plans to close the $60 million-dollar pop-up hospital at NRG Park, because it wasn’t needed, Judge Lina Hidalgo orders anyone over the age of 10 to wear a mask in public,” said Patrick. “Her abuse of the use of executive orders is the ultimate government overreach. These kind of confused government policies fuel public anger – and rightfully so.”
Earlier this month, Laredo announced every resident older than 5 years old must wear some sort of mask when going out in public. That includes when going to the store or even pumping gas. Those who don’t could also be fined $1,000.
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