MARION COUNTY, Fla. - Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods is making national headlines after forbidding his deputies and visitors to the sheriff's office from wearing face masks, according to a memo he released. This after Florida reported its largest single-day jump in deaths yet on Tuesday.
FOX 35 obtained the memo on Wednesday. In it, Sheriff Woods says that "effective immediately, any individual walking into any one of our lobbies (which includes the main office and all district offices) that is wearing a mask will be asked to remove it."
He added that “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.”
The email concluded with Woods saying “this 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. However, my orders will be followed or my actions will be swift to address.”
Left photo by Getty Images
The sheriff did list some exceptions to where deputies must wear masks, including "while working at the courthouse, the jail, in public schools, in hospitals and in dealing with people suspected of being infected with COVID-19 or at high risk of complications from the disease."
If an employee is asked why they are not wearing a mask, the memo states that the employee should politely tell them they are not required to wear one and walk away.
The sheriff's office currently employs around 900 people.
The full memo can be read below:
“As most of you are aware the City of Ocala is trying to put a Mask Mandate Ordinance in place. Although the Mayor vetoed that ordinance yesterday it will more than likely be overruled on the next City Council meeting with a super majority vote. Now, that ordinance exempts government entities and leaves the decision to the figure heads. So, as for us, my order will stand as is when you are on-duty/working as my employee and representing my Office – masks will not be worn. The following are the exceptions and guidelines to be followed:
"Wearing Exceptions (only pre-approved masks will be worn and yes they are ordering the masks):
- "When you are instructed to wear a mask by HR when they are following the CDC guidelines for essential workers which is every one of you.
- "At the Courthouse – This is in compliance to the Fifth Judicial Circuit Chief Judge’s Order and is to be followed only as outlined.
- "At the Jail – They have their guidelines due to it being a confined environment and distancing is not an option.
- "At our Public Schools or Private Schools that have it as a mandate for their students (This does not include extracurricular activity ie., Sports games) – Again this is a confined environment where distancing is a limited option.
- "At all of our Hospitals – This is a given that there are positive cases within their facilities and the very high risk individuals will be present as well.
- "Patrol (These are the ones that you should keep the mask in your pocket for):
- "When responding to a Nursing Home or Assisted Living Facility.
- "When responding to a known Covid 19 address alert from dispatch.
- "When on a call that involves a High Risk Elderly individual.
"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.
"As for special details and/or any special events (paid or not), masks will not be worn. Effective immediately the entity that has requested and has hired a deputy for a special detail will be given clear instruction by Darian Tucker at the time of their written request that masks will not be worn (unless one of the exceptions above applies). 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.
"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. From that point on it will be my burden and responsibility to take care of the person and answer their problem, complaint or their question.
"Effective immediately, any individual walking in to any one of our lobbies (which includes the main office and all district offices) that is wearing a mask will be asked to remove it. 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. All of our lobbies have glass barriers between you and them that the virus cannot magically go thru. If a person does not wish to remove the mask they will be asked to leave. If the individual is not comfortable with standing and waiting in the lobby with other individuals, politely ask for their cell number and advise them to stand outside or sit in their vehicle and you will text or call them with their completed transaction.
"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. 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. Since the beginning of this pandemic the operation of this office has not changed and no wearing of masks has been put in place. With just at 900 employees, our number of cases so far has proven that the current way we are approaching the issue is working. This 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. However, my orders will be followed or my actions will be swift to address.
The Florida Department of Health says that wearing a cloth face covering and social distancing is the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
On Wednesday, Florida health officials reported 8,109 new cases and 212 more deaths on Wednesday. The statewide total for COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic is now at 550,901, resulting in 8,765 deaths.
Tune in to FOX 35 Orlando for the latest Central Florida news.