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Florida Sheriff Prohibits Mask-Wearing for Employees and Office Visitors

Sheriff Billy Woods at unrelated 2018 press conference.

A top law enforcement official in Marion County, Florida is prohibiting masks for his employees, and people who visit their offices. There are some exceptions for working at the courthouse, jail, schools, hospitals, or interacting with people suspected of having COVID-19 or who are vulnerable to complications of the disease, Sheriff Billy Woods wrote Tuesday in an email obtained by The Ocala StarBanner. Even then, employees are supposed to take off their masks when giving orders for law enforcement purposes.

“As for special details and/or any special events (paid or not), masks will not be worn,” he wrote. “Effective immediately the entity that has requested and has hired a deputy for a special detail will be given clear instruction by Darian Tucker at the time of their written request that masks will not be worn (unless one of the exceptions above applies). In addition, if you are the special detail deputy you will again advise the contact person that a mask will not be worn by you.”

Some local law enforcement officials have said that they either don’t want or don’t require their officers to wear masks, so their communication is clear when giving orders. The city council for Ocala, which is in Marion County, recently passed an emergency ordinance requiring masks inside businesses, but Mayor Kent Guinn vetoed it on Monday, arguing it would be too difficult to enforce.

Woods is also prohibiting masks for people who visit the Marion County Sheriff’s Office locations. Anyone stepping into the lobby with a mask will be asked to take it off. He also stated, “in light of the current events when it comes to the sentiment and/or hatred toward law enforcement in our country today, this is being done to ensure there is clear communication and for identification purposes of any individual walking into a lobby.”

Anyone who does not want to take off their mask will be asked to leave.

“If the individual is not comfortable with standing and waiting in the lobby with other individuals, politely ask for their cell number and advise them to stand outside or sit in their vehicle and you will text or call them with their completed transaction,” he said.

Wood said this was not an easy decision, and that he thought about it for two weeks.

“We can debate and argue all day of why and why not,” he said. “The fact is, the amount of professionals that give the reason why we should, I can find the exact same amount of professionals that say why we shouldn’t. Since the beginning of this pandemic the operation of this office has not changed and no wearing of masks has been put in place.”

Experts overwhelmingly attest to the efficacy of masks of many, if not all, fabric types in limiting the spread of COVID-19.

[Image via Gerardo Mora/Getty Images]

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