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'We have no choice' | Harris County issues mask mandate for schools, childcare centers

Harris County Judge Hidalgo announced the mask mandate on Thursday. It's in effect for public schools, non-religious private schools and licensed child care centers.

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced Thursday that a mask mandate has been issued for all county schools and childcare facilities.

The decision comes as COVID-19 cases are climbing in the Houston area.

"Effective immediately, all people shall wear a face covering over their nose and mouth when in a public school, non-religious private school or licensed child-care center within Harris County, regardless of vaccination status," Hidalgo said in a memo.

To see which schools fall within the county, click here.

Hidalgo said she recently spoke with school administrators, educators and parents, and "many have expressed urgent concerns regarding state restrictions blocking their ability to require masks to protect students, teachers and staff on their campuses."

In the memo, Hidalgo said an alarming number of children with COVID-19 were entering the hospital system, including those without underlying health conditions.

The Harris County Health Authority issued the order, which is effective immediately.

Read the order here:

Effective immediately upon signing, the Local Health Authority for Harris County hereby imposes the following control measures on all public and non-religious private schools (“School System”) offering instruction to students in any and all grades from pre-Kindergarten through grade 12 and on all Licensed Child Care Centers offering child care and education (“Child Care Centers”) in Houston and Harris County, for the 2021-2022 school year:

School Systems and Child Care Centers within Harris County shall follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations for universal indoor masking and require all students (age 2 and older), staff, teachers, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a face mask indoors while on school property and school buses.

Please note that face coverings are a secondary strategy to getting vaccinated and should be undertaken with other mitigation efforts. Face coverings are not a replacement for vaccinations or, for those who cannot get vaccinated due to age or disability, social distancing, frequent handwashing, and self-isolation when sick. All people should follow CDC recommendations for how to wear and take off a mask. All teachers, staff, students and visitors to School Systems should keep up the following habits while in a School System:

  • Washing hands before you leave home and when you return
  • Staying at least six feet away from others
  • Avoiding touching nose or face
  • Not using disposable masks more than three times
  • Washing reusable cloth masks regularly to prevent the spread of the virus

School Systems and Child Care Centers shall notify the student’s parents or guardians when the school learns that a student was in close contact, as defined by the CDC, with a COVID-19 positive individual on campus or during a school-related event. Unvaccinated individuals who are determined to be in close contact with a COVID-19 positive person shall quarantine for 14 days after their last contact with a person who has COVID-19, as recommended by the CDC. Students, staff, teachers, and visitors shall remain off campus and not attend any school-sponsored events during their quarantine period. Fully vaccinated individuals should get tested 3-5 days after their exposure even if they don’t have symptoms and wear a mask in indoor public spaces for 14 days. Fully vaccinated individuals need not quarantine.

CDC Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools

CDC Guidance for When to Quarantine

Nothing in this order prevents a person in control of a site from requiring additional precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

If any subsection, sentence, clause, phrase, or word of this Order or any application of it to any person, structure, or circumstance is held to be invalid or unconstitutional by a decision of a court of competent jurisdiction, then such decision will not affect the validity of the remaining portions or applications of this Order.

The Harris County Local Health Authority will file this Order with the Harris County Clerk’s Office. Harris County will post this Order on the Internet. All Harris County officials and employees are authorized to do any and all things necessary or convenient to accomplish the purpose of this Order.

I believe this directive includes appropriate control measures based on the current COVID-19 situation in Harris County, the higher risk for spread of COVID-19 in schools, and the challenge of keeping students, teachers, administrators, and school personnel safe from COVID-19.

This Order is intended to and shall be construed and interpreted to be consistent with all laws of the State of Texas.

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