UPDATE: Gov. Greg Abbott put an end to the fines that were imposed by the Harris County Judge for not wearing a mask. Click here for the story.
HOUSTON (Covering Katy News) - If you don't always wear a face mask and you live in the Katy area it is time to get very familiar with where the boundaries are that separate Harris County from Fort Bend and Waller Counties or you could face a $1,000 fine. Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo's mask order is now in effect and you could be fined if you're caught violating her order. Fort Bend and Waller Counties don't have similar orders in place that require wearing a mask.
The Katy area is spread over Harris, Fort Bend and Waller Counties. The boundaries that separate the counties run through neighborhoods where one house is in Harris County and a neighboring home is in Fort Bend or Waller. It's also possible to visit a grocery store that's not in Harris County, and finish your shopping a short distance down the road at another store that is in Harris County. Many people don't know when they've entered Harris County, and the possibility of getting fined will rest on knowing exactly where you are while traveling around the Katy area, should you not be wearing a mask.
Residents 10 and older must cover their noses and mouths. Masks are often difficult to purchase so Hidalgo's order allows people to use a bandana or other type of homemade mask. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends covering the mouth and nose when in areas like grocery stores where customers can't easily stay 6 feet apart.
“We have to use every tool in the toolbox,” Hidalgo said at a press conference.
The mask rules will last 30 days unless the order is extended by Hidalgo, which is not unlikely given that other COVID 19 precautions have been routinely extended.
Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, called Hidalgo’s order “the ultimate government overreach.”
“These kind of confused government policies fuel public anger — and rightfully so,” Patrick posted on social media.
Lack of clarity on the penalties for violating Hidalgo's order has been a source of confusion.
A draft of Hidalgo's order had mentioned a punishment of up to 180 days in jail. That draft was also posted on line, but a spokeswoman for the judge said that not wearing a face covering could only lead to a $1,000 fine, not jail time, the Texas Tribune reported.
The Houston Police Officers’ Union called the order “draconian.”
“Everyone should be wearing a mask in public, I wear 1 everyday,” union president Joe Gamaldi said in a tweet. “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.”
Asked about the pushback, Hidalgo said, “There's always going to be a minority voice. … People are entitled to their opinions. “This is not a police state,” she said. “But we needed to make clear it’s not a recommendation, it’s something we have to do for sake of our safety, our lives and our economy.”
Attorney General Paxton, a Republican, has instructed police officers to "use discretion" as they carry out Hidalgo's order.
Hidalgo's order will make exceptions for people with health conditions that would be exacerbated by wearing a covering and will make allowances for people driving, eating and exercising alone, Hidalgo said.