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County mandates masks; Governor refuses statewide order

LEFT: Judge Hidalgo wearing a mask. Harris County and Houston have issued orders requiring masks for businesses, employees and customers.Violating Businesses are subject to $1000 fines. RIGHT: Governor Abbott wears a face mask on Tuesday at a press conference, where he urged voluntary wearing of masks and social distancing, but refused to issue an order making them mandatory.

As hospital admissions for COVID-19 continue to climb across the county, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo signed an order requiring businesses to generate, post, and implement health and safety policies which include, at a minimum, a requirement that workers, customers or visitors wear face coverings. The order took effect on Monday, June 22, 2020 and runs until Tuesday, June 30, 2020.

The order directs all commercial entities providing goods or services to require that all employees or visitors to a business premise wear face coverings in areas that involve any proximity to co-workers or the public. Face coverings may include homemade masks, scarfs, bandanas, or a handkerchief. Commercial entities must post the health and safety policy in a conspicuous location sufficient to provide notice to employees and visitors of all health and safety requirements.

“There’s no magic wand government can wave to make this virus go away, but we can take steps to ensure that we provide our community with the guidance and tools it needs to fight back,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. “This isn’t just the right thing to do for our health and safety, it’s also good for business. We owe it to our community to ensure that those who do have to go out can have the confidence in knowing that the businesses they are patronizing are looking out for their customers, workers, and community as a whole.”

To support the development of health and safety policies, Harris County is making available a sample health and safety policy and additional guidelines for businesses. Businesses that fail to develop, post, and implement a Health and Safety Policy are subject to a $1,000 for each violation.

EXCEPTIONS TO FACE COVERING ORDER

• You must wear a face covering at all times while in businesses or on commercial property, except:

• When eating or drinking;

• Face coverings should be worn to restaurants, but can be removed while eating/drinking.

• When you are exercising or doing physical activities; or,

• When wearing a face covering poses a mental, physical, safety or security risk (i.e. someone who has trouble breathing).

This week, Harris County ICU bed usage reached its highest level ever during the pandemic, and admissions continue to rise with an increasing rate. To help inform the public regarding the threat and action residents should take, Judge Hidalgo unveiled a public threat level system designed to help residents understand the threat level from COVID-19. The system, informed by the latest data from local health authorities, research institutions, and public health experts, informs a color-coded level indicator for residents displaying the level of COVID-19 threat. Consistent with the latest threat data, the current level of the advisory system is set to Level 2 (orange): minimize all contacts.

Mayor Turner expresses concern

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said that he thought we moved too quickly, too fast, in opening the city, county and state to normal operations.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 positive hospital patients in Harris County and Houston has tripled since May 31, only a month ago.

Turner at a press conference reported that the city had 1700 new Covid19 cases to report since the previous day.

Health professionals are concerned about having enough bed space and equipment to treat the increased numbers of cases, and have begun assigning adults to childrens’ hospitals to free up space.

Texas had 5000 new cases for the first time in one day last week, and expect this to increase again.

Abbott sees problem, but won’t issue restrictive order

In an interview on Bryan television, Abbott stated that “The coronavirus is serious. It’s speading.”

He acknowledged that action should be taken, but that it needed to be voluntary, not mandatory.

“To state the obvious, COVID-19 is now spreading at an unacceptable rate in Texas, and must be corralled.”

“There remain a lot of people in the state of Texas who think that the spread of COVID-19 is not a challenge,” he said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, nationally know infectious disease expert and an advisor to the president, told lawmakers in Washington last week that “the next couple of weeks are going to be critical” in Texas and other states that are trying to curtail an alarming spike in new cases.

Both Abbott and Fauci have emphasized that the simple wearing of face masks, washing hands often, and keeping a social distance away from others are effective means to curtail the virus.

In spite of this, Abbott has not wanted to issue a mandatory order for these measures, but did allow local governments to implement them within businesses, as done by Harris County.

Abbott said, “Closing down Texas again will always be the last option.”

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