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Houston mayor, law enforcement emphasize education with new statewide mask order

Although the mandate carries penalties for violation, some local officials say they’ll prioritize education.

HOUSTON — Governor Greg Abbott’s new statewide mask order took effect Friday over the lunch hour.

Although the mandate carries penalties for violation, some local officials say they’ll prioritize education.

“It is a step in the right direction,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner on Thursday, moments after learning about the order. “I agree with that step, and I certainly applaud (Gov. Abbott) for taking that step.”

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Friday afternoon, a member of Mayor Turner’s staff told KHOU 11 police in Houston will focus on education with this new order, including giving out masks, as they have with previous local orders.

A spokesperson with Precinct One Constable Alan Rosen’s office told KHOU 11 that’s the approach their office has taken during the pandemic and expect to with this latest order. It’s one that official said works nearly every time and saves lives.

Gov. Abbott’s order took effect 12:01 p.m. Friday. Roughly 15 minutes later, an alert went out to phones to alert people about the changes.

The mandate applies to counties with more than 20 COVID-19 cases. Those Texans must wear a face mask inside buildings that are open to the public and outdoors when it’s not possible to keep at least six feet away from people they don’t live with.

Residents are exempt if they're 10 years old or younger, eating or drinking, or have a medical condition that wearing a mask could worsen. They can also opt out during outdoor activities like exercising.

Texans are encouraged -- but not required -- to wear masks during religious services or at polling places unless required by that county.

Gov. Abbott also gave mayors and county judges the power to limit outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people.

“Part of the recommendations I made was people restricting their activities of a social gathering greater than 10, so it is quite consistent with that,” Mayor Turner said on Thursday. “I agree with that.”

Breaking the rules the first time will mean a warning, then a fine of up to $250 fine every time after that. Violators cannot be thrown in jail.

Joe Gamaldi, President of the Houston Police Officers Union, called the measure “draconian,” writing on Twitter, “Everyone needs to wear a mask, but don’t put us in this position.”

When asked to elaborate by a KHOU 11 employee, Gamaldi replied, “We will be called by other citizens to enforce this, which we have to respond to, which takes away already limited resources. Then we will be responsible for issuing said $250 ticket…as I said we do not have the time to deal with this nor should we be asked to.”

KHOU 11 reached out to Harris County Sheriff’s Office and Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office on Friday but had not heard back as of airtime.