Florida Sheriff Bans Deputies and Civilians From Wearing Masks in His Department

Even though the state of Florida saw a record-high single-day number of deaths from coronavirus earlier this week, one sheriff in the state decided that his deputies do not need to wear masks in most cases, and is banning civilians from wearing facial coverings in his offices.

In spite of evidence saying otherwise, Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods insists that masks don’t prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“We can debate and argue all day of why and why not,” Woods said in a memo to employees of his department this week. “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 insisted he made the decision after having “weighed it out for the past 2 weeks.” He also granted exceptions to allow deputies to wear masks, in places like jails, courthouses, schools, hospitals, and other situations where wearing facial coverings might make sense. However, his order still requires deputies to remove their masks even in those situations when they’re giving orders to others.

Florida has been one of the hardest-hit states in terms of COVID-19 infections, ever since it joined a number of other states across the country in reopening its economy prematurely this spring. More than 8,685 residents have died in the state from the disease so far, with a single-day record of 277 deaths being reported on Tuesday alone.

As of Tuesday, 542,792 individuals in the state have contracted the disease since the start of the pandemic. Florida is currently seeing a positivity rate of 17 percent; according to the World Health Organization, a community should maintain a positivity rate of 5 percent or lower for more than two weeks before it considers easing social distancing measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Woods’s comments asserting that there isn’t a consensus on masks flies in the face of a number of studies that say otherwise. While a doctor here or there may agree with his statement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put those ideas to rest in a statement issued on July 14.

“There is increasing evidence that cloth face coverings help prevent people who have COVID-19 from spreading the virus to others,” the agency said at that time.

CDC Director Robert Redfield emphasized the point at that time as well. “Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus – particularly when used universally within a community setting,” Redfield said.

An overwhelming body of evidence also demonstrates that masks or facial coverings in places which have mandated they be worn have helped to slow the spread of the disease. One study published in the journal Health Affairs, for example, estimated that between 230,000 and 450,000 cases of coronavirus were prevented in places where rules on wearing masks were implemented between the dates of April 8 to May 15.