Woods, the sheriff of Marion County in central Florida, made the no-masks decree in an email to staffers on Tuesday. He insisted he took the risks of spreading COVID-19 into his decision.
“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 in the email, according to Ocala.com.
Woods made the decision despite the overwhelming recommendation of epidemiologists and other health experts who say face masks and social distancing are key ways to slow the spread of the coronavirus, according to The Washington Post.
“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,” he said in his email.
Exceptions will be made for deputies at jails, schools, courthouses, hospitals and nursing homes, and for interactions with those who are elderly or have COVID-19.
Woods said visitors to the sheriff’s office also won’t be allowed to wear masks so they can be easily identified and there is clear communication, The Associated Press reported.
Woods told deputies to tell citizens who complain about the lack of a mask to ”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,” according to WFTV-TV.
The timing of the no-mask decree couldn’t be worse:
Marion County ― population 370,000 ― has had nearly 6,800 confirmed coronavirus cases and 104 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to NPR.org.
Ironically, Marion reported a single-day record of 13 deaths on Tuesday, the same day the sheriff declared deputies could not wear masks.
In addition, 43 sheriff’s office employees and more than 200 inmates at the Marion County Jail have tested positive for the coronavirus so far.
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