OCALA, Fla. — A pair of mask mandates in the last few days show how divisive the issue of face coverings is in Marion County. 

The Marion County sheriff told staff that face masks would not be allowed, while leaders in Ocala successfully pushed an order that makes face coverings required in stores, hotels and other businesses, starting August 14. 

What You Need To Know

  • Sheriff gives instructions on how deputies should handle themselves if someone complains

  • There are some exceptions to his order, which he outlines

  • Ocala City Council voted to override mayor's veto, allowing mask mandate

  • RELATED: Read the Ocala Mask Order

Ocala city leaders passed the ordinance last week, but Mayor Kent Guinn vetoed it Monday, saying it would be too difficult to enforce. The city council disagreed, and overrode his veto on Wednesday in a 4 to 1 vote. 

Meanwhile, In a memo to his staff this week, Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods says it is “no longer a debate” and has ordered that none of his deputies are allowed to wear masks, even as the coronavirus numbers continue to climb in the Sunshine State.

“This is no longer a debate nor is it up for discussion.  … So, as for us, my order will stand as is when you are on-duty/working as my employee and representing my Office — masks will not be worn,” he wrote in the memo obtained by Spectrum News.

He instructed his deputies that if someone were to complain to them about not wearing a face covering, they are to say, “I am not required to wear a mask nor will I, per the Order of the Sheriff” and walk away.

Woods also ordered that any person who walks into one of the lobbies of the Sheriff’s Office, including the main and district offices, while wearing a mask will be asked to take it off.  

“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.  All of our lobbies have glass barriers between you and them that the virus cannot magically go thru,” he explained.

If the person does not want to remove his or her mask, the person will be asked to leave the building or the person can give a deputy a contact number and the person can wait outside and wait until a deputy texts or calls him or her.

Woods wrote that for the last two weeks, he carefully thought about his decision.

“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.  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,” he stated in the memo.

Below are exceptions to his order, as directly outlined in the memo that he sent out.

Wearing Exceptions (only pre-approved masks will be worn and yes they are ordering the masks):

  1. When you are instructed to wear a mask by HR when they are following the CDC guidelines for essential workers which is every one of you.

  2. At the Courthouse — This is in compliance to the Fifth Judicial Circuit Chief Judge’s Order and is to be followed only as outlined.

  3. At the Jail — They have their guidelines due to it being a confined environment and distancing is not an option.

  4. At our Public Schools or Private Schools that have it as a mandate for their students (This does not include extracurricular activity ie., Sports games) — Again this is a confined environment where distancing is a limited option.

  5. At all of our Hospitals — This is a given that there are positive cases within their facilities and the very high risk individuals will be present as well.

  6. Patrol (These are the ones that you should keep the mask in your pocket for):
    1. When responding to a Nursing Home or Assisted Living Facility.
    2. When responding to a known Covid 19 address alert from dispatch.
    3. When on a call that involves a High Risk Elderly individual.

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.



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