Florida Sheriff Bans Deputies, Visitors from Wearing Masks amid State's Record COVID-19 Deaths

Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods of Florida has banned his deputies from wearing a face mask to work amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The new order was enacted on Tuesday and it also prohibits any visitors to the sheriff’s office from wearing a face covering.

"My order will stand as is when you are on-duty/working as my employee and representing my Office – masks will not be worn," Wood wrote in an email to his department dated Aug. 11, obtained by The Washington Post and the Ocala Star-Banner.

“We can debate and argue all day of why and why not," he added. "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."

He continued, "This is no longer a debate nor is it up for discussion. Please keep in mind this entire pandemic is fluid and constantly changing the way things are done. However, my orders will be followed or my actions will be swift to address."

Woods has made some exceptions to his ban for officers who are working at the courthouse, the jail, in public schools, in hospitals and while dealing with people suspected of being infected with COVID-19 or at high risk of complications from the disease.

As for deputies working special detail or events, they will not be allowed to wear a mask unless the event falls under one of the exceptions.

“As for special details and/or any special events (paid or not), masks will not be worn. 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,” Woods wrote.

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Woods also told his officers that should anyone confront them for not wearing a mask, to send them his away.

"Politely and professionally tell them I am not required to wear a mask nor will I, per the Order of the Sheriff," he wrote. "From that point on it will be my burden and responsibility to take care of the person and answer their problem, complaint or their question."

Woods' ban came on the same day Florida set a new single-day record for coronavirus-related deaths with 277 new deaths statewide reported on Tuesday, per the Tampa Bay Times. In Marion County alone, 13 new deaths were reported on Tuesday.

The order also comes as the Ocala City Council attempts to pass an emergency ordinance requiring people to wear masks inside businesses. Their ordinance was vetoed by Mayor Kent Guinn last week and they plan to meet on Wednesday to consider overriding the veto.

Meanwhile, County Commissioner Carl Zalak told the Star-Banner that he supports Woods’ new ban. "I agree with the Sheriff base on his best judgment and I appreciate the way he handled it,” the commissioner told the outlet.

As of Wednesday, Florida has reported 542,784 cases of the coronavirus and 8,552 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a New York Times database.

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