Florida sheriff bans mask-wearing for employees despite COVID-19 pandemic

Exceptions include at courthouses, jails, schools and hospitals.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2020
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Researchers said politicizing mask-wearing early on only worsened this backlash response, but they're hopeful, with Pres. Trump's recent pivot on the issue, referring Tuesday to mask-wearing as "patriotic," will help.

MARION COUNTY, Fla. -- A Florida sheriff is banning mask-wearing for all police officers and anyone visiting his offices -- despite the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating effect on the state.

Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods wrote that "masks will not be worn" by on-duty employees, according to an email obtained by ABC News. Exceptions include at courthouses, jails, schools and hospitals.

"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 two weeks. ... This is no longer a debate nor is it up for discussion," he wrote.

Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods speaks during a press conference after a shooting at Forest High School on April 20, 2018, in Ocala, Florida.
Gerardo Mora/Getty Images

Woods said for as many health professionals who would vouch for wearing a mask, he "can find the exact same amount of professionals that say why we shouldn't."

His comments stand in stark contrast to overwhelming medical consensus, in addition to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Masks may help prevent people who have COVID-19 from spreading the virus to others. Wearing a mask will help protect people around you, including those at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and workers who frequently come into close contact with other people (e.g., in stores and restaurants). Masks are most likely to reduce the spread of COVID-19 when they are widely used by people in public settings," according to the CDC.

Florida, including Marion County, set a single-day record on Tuesday for the most deaths related to COVID-19.

ABC News contributed to this report.