‘I’m surprised:’ Marion County residents react after sheriff tells deputies not to wear masks

Exceptions include deputies responding to hospitals, nursing homes

MARION COUNTY, Fla. – Upon entering Marion County’s Sheriff’s Office, visitors will notice a new sign on the door, saying anyone entering the facility must remove their mask.

In fact, all employees and deputies are told not to wear masks while on the job.

“It doesn’t bother me, there must’ve been some thought put into that decision, said Tan Johnson, who showed up to the sheriff’s office Wednesday.

Others like Yezie Pinto and her husband, showed up with a mask on.

“I’m surprised,” Pinto said. “I think that’s a personal opinion for each person if they decide to wear a mask or not.”

Pinto said she wasn’t asked to take off her mask while inside, but deputies don’t have a choice, according to a recent email Sheriff Billy Woods sent out.

In the email, he mentions the Ocala mask mandate exempts government entities, and that when his deputies are on-duty working as an employee representing his office, masks will not be worn.

The email goes on to say he has been weighing the decision for two weeks with the same amount of professionals giving him reasons why they should wear a mask and why they shouldn't. The email ends with "Be Safe!"

There are some exceptions, including deputies who are responding to hospitals, nursing homes and schools.

All of this comes on the heels of a mask mandate In Ocala. On Wednesday, council members held a special meeting with a majority overriding the mayor’s veto to the mask ordinance mandating businesses to require employees and patrons to wear face coverings when social distancing cannot be maintained.

Public comment had residents on both sides of the argument.

"I beg you to override this veto. A mask mandate is not a matter of pride, but a matter of safety," said one resident.

“I’m not wearing a mask and I’ll tell you right now, if you pass the ordinance, I’m not wearing a mask,” said another resident during public comment.

Some residents even brought up concerns over the sheriff’s ban on masks for his deputies.

“When I hear about the sheriff not wearing masks or allowing his deputies to wear a mask then it’s a little bit disturbing because I can get stopped for a ticket and this officer can be carrying COVID they caught from a previous person, then boom -- I’m exposed to it,” an Ocala resident said.

With council members overriding the veto, the mask ordinance goes into effect immediately. After a warning, businesses that do not comply may face a $25 fine.

During the special meeting, Ocala council members said after speaking to some residents, they do expect to make some changes to that mask ordinance.

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