That was the requirement spelled out in an August 11 email to the department from Sheriff Billy Woods of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.
The mandate came as the City of Ocala, Florida put a required Mask Mandate Ordinance in place in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. The Ocala City Council passed an emergency ordinance last week, requiring masks inside businesses. Though the city’s mayor vetoed the ordinance on Monday, the City Council overrode the veto on Wednesday.
“Now, that ordinance exempts government entities and leaves the decision to the figure heads,” Woods explained in the email, obtained by CNN. “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.”
Woods then listed out a few exceptions when masks need to be worn: at the courthouse, schools, hospitals and while on patrol and responding to a nursing home or involving a “High Risk Elderly individual,” he said in the email.
And the order doesn’t just extend to those on the payroll — anyone walking into a sheriff’s office, either the main office or a district one, will be asked to remove their mask, Woods wrote. If they don’t, they will be asked to leave.
His reasoning? Clear communication, he said in the email.
“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,” he wrote.
The email doesn’t specifically list out why deputies should not wear masks, but Woods does write that he can “already hear the whining” — insinuating that his decision may not be a popular one.
“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 writes. “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.”
Woods signs off the email with a “Be Safe!”
There have been more than 550,000 coronavirus cases in Florida, with almost 9,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Marion County set a single-day record on Tuesday for the most coronavirus deaths, with 13 reported, according to the Ocala Star Banner.
Nationally, police officers have been seen not wearing masks, listing a myriad of reasons as to why — though health officials including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise the face coverings to prevent the spread of coronavirus.