Why has this Florida sheriff banned the use of masks?

Marion County Sheriff coronavirus masks
Photo via mcsoflorida/Facebook

In many communities, face coverings remain a controversial topic. That apparently is the case in one area of central Florida, where the Marion County sheriff has announced that his deputies and visitors to his office will not be allowed to wear masks. 

In an email to his staff, Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods said the decision came after two weeks of consideration, the Associated Press reported on Aug. 11. 

“We can debate and argue all day of why and why not,” Woods said. “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.”

It appears that Woods believes that masks impair police officers from clearly communicating with their community, which he says is imperative during a time when there is “hatred” toward the police. 

“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 said.

Both the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say masks are instrumental in preventing the spread of COVID-19. 

“Masks are most likely to reduce the spread of COVID-19 when they are widely used by people in public settings,” the CDC says on its website. “The spread of COVID-19 can be reduced when masks are used along with other preventive measures, including social distancing, frequent handwashing, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces.”

Now that the novel coronavirus has been around for more than eight months, several researchers have published studies proving the effectiveness of masks. One study from Texas A&M found that masks reduced the number of infections by more than 78,000 in Italy from April 6 -May 9 and by more than 66,000 in New York City from April 17-May 9.

According to CNN, Woods’ email arrived in inboxes the same day that the Ocala’s city council issued an emergency mask mandate ordinance. The ordinance was controversial; after it initially passed in early August, the mayor vetoed it, and then the city council overrode the veto on Aug. 12.

Woods’ orders do allow some exceptions. In his email, he said officers may wear masks at the courthouse, schools, hospitals, and while on patrol and responding to a nursing home or a situation involving the elderly. However, he clarified that officers must remove masks when giving orders.

When visitors enter the police station, they are required to remove their face coverings for easy identification and clear communication, according to the AP. 

According to data collected by the New York Times, on August 12, Florida—still one of the nation’s coronavirus hotspots—reported 212 new coronavirus deaths and 8,109 new cases. Marion County has reported more than 1,000 new cases in the week before Woods’ decision and almost 7,000 in total. In the past week, nearly 30 people died in Marion County from COVID-19, and the county set a record for deaths from the virus on Aug. 11. Over 100 have died since the beginning of the pandemic. 

Woods is not the only police officer who thinks masks may impede the police from doing their job effectively. The Washington Post reported that officers are still not required to wear masks in major cities with mask mandates, including Philadelphia and New York City. 

Read more on coronavirus face coverings:

Sources: AP, CDC, WHO, Science Daily, CNN, Washington Post

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