Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods believes that there is no real evidence that wearing a mask lessens the spread of COVID-19.
On August 11, the same day Woods had a phone conference with President Donald Trump, Woods sent out a memo to his employees ordering them not to wear masks. Additionally, residents will not be allowed to enter any MCSO property while wearing a mask.
“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,” Woods wrote.
Woods said if a person has to wear a mask then they can stay outside and call from their phone.
In the letter, Woods states, “Now, I can already hear the whining.” The letter goes on to read, “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 CDC and the WHO disagree with the sheriff and stated that law enforcement officers are not qualified, healthcare professionals.
In an email to Ocala Post, the CDC wrote, “People should cover their mouth and nose with a mask when around others because a person could spread COVID-19 to others even if they do not feel sick. The mask is meant to protect other people in case the mask wearer is infected. Everyone should wear a mask in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. Masks should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.”
Woods’ letter, states, “This is no longer a debate nor is it up for discussion. My orders will be followed or my actions will be swift to address.”
Woods wrote, “If at any time you are confronted by any individual complaining, berating you or just being a difficult individual, you will politely and professionally tell them ‘I am not required to wear a mask nor will I, per the Order of the Sheriff’ and then walk away from them.”
The memo notes several exemptions where masks will be worn, which include, the jail, in hospitals, schools, and when dealing with people suspected of being infected with COVID-19 or those who are considered high risk of complications from the disease.
Woods said that while wearing a mask in accordance with the exceptions if at any time orders must be given for someone to comply that the mask will be removed.
Woods also said that by his order, deputies will not be allowed to wear a maks at events where there may be large crowds.
“As for special details and/or any special events (paid or not), masks will not be worn. If you are the special detail deputy you will again advise the contact person that a mask will not be worn by you.”
On August 5, the City of Ocala, in a 4-1 vote, passed an emergency measure to force citizens to wear face masks. On Monday, August 10, Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn announced that he vetoed the ordinance. Then, on Wednesday, August, 12, the Ocala City Council overturned Mayor Kent Guinn’s veto.
The City Council disagrees with Woods’ decision.
According to the health department, Marion County has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases and broke a record on Tuesday. So far, 104 people have died in Marion County.
More than 200 inmates at the jail have been infected. Along with 36 jail employees and seven other MCSO employees. This includes road deputies.
Despite the fact that a nurse employed by MCSO died from COVID-19 after contracting it at the jail, Woods said at 900 employees the number of cases so far has proven that his current way of approaching the issue is working.
Reader Tanya Cummings disagrees. She wrote, “So because only one of his employees died it’s OK by the sheriff’s standards? I guess life is expendable to him? I am sure the family of that nurse agrees with the sheriff…NOT! One death is too many.”
Reader Erica Grove, wrote, “I support the sheriff and voted for him during the last election, but it is my opinion that my tax dollars pay for the deputies who patrol the streets and I feel they should have a choice.”
The Marion County Health Department said that Woods did not consult them or ask for professional healthcare advice before he implemented his ban on masks.
Woods is the only sheriff in the state to keep employees from protecting themselves. Many of the surrounding counties have mask requirements for law enforcement when dealing with the public. The Ocala Police Department recommends face masks but does not require them to be worn.
Many deputies are upset that they do not have a choice to protect themselves, but the sheriff said it is not up for discussion.
WFTV reported that Woods refused to go on camera to discuss the issue.
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