Marion County sheriff bans masks for deputies, with some exceptions

Author: The Associated Press
A sign urging people to wear masks to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus is posted, Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020, near Art Deco hotels along Miami Beach, Florida’s famed Ocean Drive in South Beach. Florida added at least 276 fatalities to its coronavirus death toll on Tuesday, a new state record. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

A central Florida sheriff says his deputies won’t be allowed to wear face masks except under some conditions, and neither will visitors to the sheriff’s office.

Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods said this week in an email to staff that he had weighed both sides of the issue.

“Now, I can already hear the whining, and just so you know I did not make this decision easily and I have weighed it out for the past 2 weeks,” Woods said. “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.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July asked Americans to wear masks to help stop the spread of the new coronavirus. “There is increasing evidence that cloth face coverings help prevent people who have COVID-19 from spreading the virus to others,” the CDC said.

The sheriff made the announcement on the week that Florida reported 213 new deaths Wednesday. That brought its overall total to 8,898 and its average daily deaths over the past week to 164. That’s down from the state’s peak rate in daily reported deaths of 185 a week ago. The peak rate for New York — a state of comparable population — was more than 760 in mid-April.

Also on Wednesday, there were more than 8,100 new infections reported, for a total of 550,000 cases in the state since the pandemic started.

The number of people treated in Florida hospitals for the disease continued a three-week downward trend, standing at 6,538 in the late morning Wednesday — down from highs of more than 9,500.

Woods, the Marion County sheriff, said exceptions will be made for deputies at jails, schools, courthouses, hospitals, nursing homes and when dealing with someone who is elderly or has COVID-19. In these situations, the mask should be removed when giving orders or commands to comply, the sheriff said.

At the sheriff’s office, masks won’t be allowed so that visitors can be easily identified and there is clear communication with them, the sheriff said.

The sheriff’s decision came as the county’s largest city, Ocala, located about 80 miles (129 kilometers) northwest of Orlando, was debating implementing a face mask mandate. The Ocala City Council passed an emergency ordinance last week requiring people to wear masks inside businesses, but Mayor Kent Guinn vetoed it. The council is considering an override of the veto.

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