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Harris County Mulls New Mask Order, as Coronavirus Surges in Houston and Across Texas

Officials in Harris County could issue a new directive on face masks today, as new cases of coronavirus continue to surge in Houston and across Texas.

Texas Hits Another Coronavirus Record

Texas reported 3,516 new coronavirus cases on Thursday evening, topping the previous record of 3,129 reported on Wednesday. The Lone Star State is one of 10 nationwide – mostly in the south and west — currently experiencing record-high seven-day averages of new infections.

The Houston Metro Region set a new hospitalization record for the sixth straight day on Wednesday, with 1,458 people admitted with the virus. The Texas Medical Center has already warned that it could run out of ICU beds in just two weeks if the current rate of transmission continues.

Texas Governor Gutted Previous Harris County Mask Order

COVID-19 mostly spreads by airborne transmission.  Earlier this month, a study published in Lancet reported that the combination of social distancing and masks does appear to reduce transmission of the novel coronavirus. Research from Cambridge and Greenwich universities found widespread use of face masks could even prevent a second wave of the disease.

In April, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo issued a directive ordering all residents to wear masks outside their homes. But Governor Gregg Abbott effectively gutted the order when his directive for reopening Texas barred local governments from penalizing anyone refusing to wear a mask.

Some Texas Counties Mandate Masks for Businesses

With coronavirus cases rising across Texas less than two months after the state embarked on Governor Abbott’s ambitious reopening plan, Bexar County – which includes San Antonio – decreed that all businesses must require patrons to don masks by Monday or face a $1,000 fine.

Many observers were understandably shocked when the Governor voiced approval for that mandate.

“Government cannot require individuals to wear masks,” Abbott told KWTX in Waco. “However, pursuant to my plan, local governments can require stores and business to require masks.”

Hidalgo County has since issued a similar mask order, and Dallas and Travis counties are reportedly looking at their options. Yesterday, Judge Hidalgo indicated her office was working with the Harris County attorney to draft a new mask order that could come as early as today.

“If this is an option, we’re absolutely going to run it down,” Hidalgo said,

In the meantime, she advised Harris County residents to continue wearing masks voluntarily whenever social distancing isn’t possible.

Did Texas Reopen Too Early?

Texas began implementing Governor Abbott’s multi-phase reopening plan on May 1st, when retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, malls, museums, and libraries were allowed to open at 25% capacity.  Most other businesses were permitted to resume operations at 50% capacity on June 3rd. Bars and restaurants were able to go to 75% capacity last weekend.

Texas has seen new coronavirus cases skyrocket since the Memorial Day Weekend. The Governor has blamed the rising case count on various factors, including increased testing. But the state’s rate of coronavirus hospitalizations is also up more than 60% since Memorial Day, and the fatality rate has begun to trend upward in recent days – both indicators of increased COVID-19 transmission.

Not surprisingly, Abbott’s critics contend that Texas simply reopened too early.

“Greg Abbott believes in ‘individual responsibility’ for everyone except when it’s his turn to take some,” Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro tweeted earlier this week.

“You opened up bars too early, blocked cities from requiring face masks, and failed to put enough testing and contact tracing in place. Poor leadership.”

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Our Undefeated Houston Personal Injury Lawyers are monitoring the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in Harris County and across Texas and will continue to post updates as new information is made available.

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