Florida sheriff bans deputies from wearing masks after refusing to enforce order

A Florida county sheriff has prohibited his officers from wearing masks while on-duty or in the office, despite the fact that the Sunshine State remains the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.

“My order will stand as is when you are on-duty/working as my employee and representing my Office – masks will not be worn," Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods told employees in an Aug. 11 email obtained by the Ocala Star-Banner.

Woods also says in the email that any residents that visit the sheriff's office will also be asked to remove their mask, or leave.

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“We can debate and argue all day of why and why not. 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," Woods said in the email.

In the correspondence, Woods details exceptions to his rule in which officers can wear masks, including working at the courthouse, jail, hospitals or while in close proximity to someone suspected of having COVID-19.

“For all of these exceptions, the moment that enforcement action is to be taken and it requires you to give an individual orders/commands to comply, the mask will be immediately removed,” the sheriff said.

However, the exceptions don't cover officers working special events.

“As for special details and/or any special events (paid or not), masks will not be worn," Woods said. "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's stance underscores the absence of a statewide mandate to wear masks. Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisNames to watch as Trump picks Ginsburg replacement on Supreme Court Key swing-state election lawsuits could help shape the presidential race First death reported from Hurricane Sally in Alabama MORE (R) has encouraged Floridians to wear masks while in public, but he hasn't issued an executive order that requires all residents to do so, unlike many other governors across the country.

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The Ocala City Council passed an emergency provision last week requiring all Ocala residents to wear masks inside businesses, but Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn (R) vetoed the measure on Monday. The council is slated to convene Wednesday to discuss potentially overriding the veto, the Star-Banner reports.

Also in the email, the sheriff stated, “our number of cases so far has proven that the current way we are approaching the issue is working.”

Marion County broke its record for single-day COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday with 13. Florida state officials reported 5,887 new cases on Tuesday and 276 deaths.

When asked about the Sheriff's decision, Marion County Commissioner Carl Zalak told the Star-Banner that he supported Woods's stance.

“I agree with the Sheriff based on his best judgment and I appreciate the way he handled it,” Zalak told the paper.