Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods prohibited his deputies from wearing masks at work.
The order, which also applies to visitors to the sheriff’s office, carves out an exception in some locations, including hospitals.
Woods disputes the idea that masks are a consensus approach to battling the pandemic.
“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,” Woods wrote .
The majority of epidemiologists and other health experts say face masks and social distancing are key to slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
Police nationwide have faced scrutiny over inconsistent use of masks by officers. Many large departments only suggest officers wear masks. Woods is among the first law enforcement officials to outright ban masks for his deputies, though.
The Ocala City Council passed an emergency mask order last week, but Mayor Kent Guinn (R) vetoed it, citing in part a refusal by Ocala Police Chief Greg Graham to enforce the rule.
“My chief and I have talked about it. We will never write a fine. We’re just not going to do it,” Guinn said.
The city council plans to meet to consider overriding the veto, so Woods told his deputies to stop wearing masks in most cases. Officers can still mask up in areas including the courthouse and county jail, but they must immediately take off the face coverings afterward. Deputies working special events are also forbidden from wearing masks.
“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.
Should anyone challenge a deputy about wearing a mask, Woods wrote, “politely and professionally tell them I am not required to wear a mask nor will I, per the Order of the Sheriff.”
Woods, who participated in a phone conference with President Trump and other sheriffs ended his missive by making it clear that he would brook no dissent.
“This is no longer a debate nor is it up for discussion,” he wrote. “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.”