Florida has been fighting the battle against COVID-19 for months and continues to have one of the highest numbers of total cases in the United States. Counties have mostly been in control of the enforcement of social distancing and reopening policies as different areas of the state have been more affected than others.
On Wednesday, Aug. 11, Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods announced via an email that he would be prohibiting county deputies from wearing any sort of facial mask while on duty.
In the email, Woods said his deputies cannot wear masks while on duty. Employees working inside the sheriff’s office must also adhere to this policy while working.
Woods further emphasized that if any person tries to question why his deputies are not wearing masks while on duty, they should respond by saying they are not required by the sheriff’s office or the county to wear a mask and are simply following the sheriff’s orders. They are then instructed to walk away, thereby ending the conversation.
“We can debate and argue all day of why and why not,” Woods 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 we shouldn’t.”
The email also said visitors to the sheriff’s office cannot wear masks upon entering the building. The reason visitors were asked not to wear masks was so they could be more easily identified. If visitors insisted upon wearing a mask and would not take it off, they would be asked to leave. This portion of the order was later changed around Tuesday, Aug. 18.
According to a statement made by the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, visitors may now wear masks inside but may be asked to take them off for identification and security camera purposes as they enter. They may put their masks back on after going through security.
As of Wednesday, Sept. 2, the CDC reported Marion County as having a total of 8,496 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Florida currently has the third-highest number of cases in the past seven days of all 50 states and has the second-highest number of total cases following California. Marion County makes up about 1.3% of the state’s total cases.
At a recent commissioner meeting, residents and commissioners of Marion County commented on the sheriff’s mask order.
Resident Ketha Menocha said the sheriff’s order was putting both citizens and deputies vulnerable to the virus and called for a defunding of the department until the sheriff rescinded his order and enforced wearing masks.
Commissioner David Moore stood by the sheriff and his decision during the meeting.
“He would never put our deputies in the way of harm intentionally,” Moore said. “He had a good heart, he loves Jesus Christ and he’s doing his best. So, when they come up attacking our sheriff, no, I’ll back up our sheriff and law enforcement.”
Woods indicated that he plans to make no further changes to his mask order. “This is no longer a debate nor is it up for discussion,” he stated. “Please keep in mind this pandemic is entirely fluid and constantly changing the way things are done. However, my orders will be followed or my actions will be swift to address.”
Featured image: Face masks used to catch bacteria and prevent the spread of coronavirus. Unmodified photo by NurseTogether used under a Creative Commons License. (https://bit.ly/2FYA06T)