Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods on Tuesday told his deputies that they are prohibited from wearing masks while on duty just as Florida set a new daily record for COVID-19 fatalities.
According to the Ocala Star-Banner, Woods wrote in an email to the sheriff’s department on Tuesday that “my order will stand as is when you are on-duty/working as my employee and representing my Office – masks will not be worn.”
Woods’ order also applies to visitors to the sheriff’s office, but makes exceptions for officers in locations where there are people who are at high-risk or suspected of having contracted COVID-19, such as hospitals.
Woods added that deputies working special events are prohibited from wearing masks unless it falls under the exceptions he outlined. Woods then instructed employees to walk away if anyone confronts them about their lack of mask-wearing after they “politely and professionally tell them I am not required to wear a mask nor will I, per the Order of the Sheriff.”
Woods further dismissed assertions by health experts that wearing masks or face coverings will help slow the spread of COVID-19.
“We can debate and argue all day of why and why not,” Woods wrote, according to the Ocala Star-Banner. “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, who participated in a conference call with President Trump and other sheriffs on Tuesday, concluded that email by stating that his mask ban order 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,” Woods wrote, according to the Ocala Star-Banner. ‘However, my orders will be followed or my actions will be swift to address.”
Woods’ order on Tuesday came the same day Florida reported a record high of deaths in a single day from COVID-19: 277. Marion County alone hit a new record on daily fatalities from COVID-19 on Tuesday with 13.
Woods’ order also comes a week after the council of Ocala City, a municipality in Marion County, approved an emergency ordinance requiring people to wear masks inside businesses. However, Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn vetoed the ordinance on Monday, prompting the council to schedule a meeting on Wednesday to consider overriding Guinn’s veto.
When reached by TPM on Wednesday afternoon, Sgt. Paul Bloom, director of Woods’ public information office, declined to comment.