‘This is no longer a debate’: Marion County sheriff bans deputies from wearing face masks

MARION COUNTY, Fla. — Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods has ordered his deputies to not wear face masks.

Woods said in an email to the agency that deputies are not to wear face coverings while on patrol except for specific situations.

The exceptions when deputies are permitted to wear face masks include when they are inside the courthouse, at the jail, inside a school, at a hospital or responding to a call at a home where someone has COVID-19 or is a high-risk elderly person or at a nursing home.


“For all of these exceptions, the moment that enforcement action is to be taken and it requires you to give an individual orders/commands to comply, the mask will be immediately removed,” Wood said.

He gave specific instructions to deputies should they encounter complaints about his order.

“If at any time you are confronted by any individual complaining, berating you or just being a difficult individual, you will 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,” Woods said.

READ: Florida reports 213 more coronavirus-related deaths, almost 9K new cases since yesterday

He also said any member of the public visiting a sheriff’s office building will be required to remove their face mask.

“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.

He said the lobbies have glass barriers between employees and members of the public “that the virus cannot magically go thru.”

READ: Marion County sees increase in COVID-19 cases

Woods said if someone does not wish to remove their mask, they can provide their phone number so a deputy or employee can call them.

“This is no longer a debate nor is it up for discussion,” he said.

So far, Marion County has reported 6,798 cases of COVID-19 with an increase of 130 cases on Wednesday.

In his email, Woods did not outline what if any disciplinary actions deputies who do not follow his policy may face. But he said, “my orders will be followed or my actions will be swift to address.”

“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. “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.”

Channel 9 reached out to law enforcement offices across Central Florida to compare their mask policies. The Orlando Police Department, Orange County Sheriff’s Office and Sumter County Sheriff’s Office all have mask requirements.

Ocala Police Department, Lake County Sheriff’s Office, Volusia County Sheriff’s Office and Seminole County Sheriff’s Office all encourage but do not require employees to wear masks. However, Lake does require masks at the jail.

None of the above agencies prohibit employees from wearing masks.

Stay tuned to Channel 9 Eyewitness News for updates.

Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.