OCALA, Fla. – Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods still refuses any request for interviews regarding policy banning face masks but a member of his team says there’s been a minor change to his mask order.
A sign telling visitors of the Marion County Sheriff's Office to remove their mask is gone. Now there's a new sign, reminding visitors of the eight-person capacity in the lobby adhering to social distancing guidelines.
While visitors are now able to wear their mask, the internal policy for Sheriff’s Office employees still holds.
In a statement the Marion County Sheriff's Office said:
"So the issue at our district offices was always security. So, with that in mind, visitors that choose to wear a mask may be asked to remove it for the cameras as they enter and then replace the mask."
Woods gained national attention last week after he sent out an internal email that said masks will not be worn for employees and deputies on duty with some exceptions, like deputies responding to nursing homes, hospitals or working at the jail.
The sheriff’s Office is located in Ocala - where a mask mandate is in place for all indoor businesses.
"Sheriff Woods has made some decisions that is corrective to what was originally put out," said Commissioner Michelle Stone during Tuesday's board meeting.
Commissioners said the Sheriff spoke with the Chairman about the changes Friday. The sheriff's office said in a statement:
“Sheriff Woods said that as they face such a fluid situation dealing with COVID-19, a starting point had to be established and their goal has always been safety and security. Their temporary policy regarding the wearing of masks by MCSO employees will continue to be fluid as we all move forward in dealing with COVID-19. In looking at their temporary policy, you will see that more than half of MCSO deputies will wear masks based on their job assignments and specific situations. This was not necessarily reported in the news. Only a small snapshot of the temporary policy was reported. Currently, Sheriff Woods is in communication with the Surgeon General of Florida so that he can make the clearest decisions and adjustments to any temporary policies designed to protect the public and MCSO employees.”
This became a hot topic for public comment during the commissioner's meeting.
“By barring his deputies from wearing masks, Sheriff Woods is putting them as well as all of the county residents at risk for contracting the virus. Law enforcement is not immune from contracting the coronavirus,” said resident Geeta Minocha. “Cut funding from the sheriff’s department until Sheriff Woods withdraws his ridiculous and harmful order and agrees to enforce all mask mandates in Marion County.”
Commissioner David Moore defended the sheriff.
“I totally disagree with that. We need to defend our law enforcement, not defund ... it doesn’t hurt the sheriff, it hurts the deputies on the street. If anything we need to look for ways to increase funding for law enforcement,” said Moore. “He would never put our deputies in the way of harm intentionally. He had a good heart, he loves Jesus Christ, and he’s doing his best. So when they come up attacking our sheriff, no, I’ll back up our sheriff and law enforcement.”
"I disagree with that totally... Sheriff's deputies are not immune to the virus. There's no way you can say he's not done something to intentionally bring them harm," said another resident.
Even with the mask order, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office said more than half of it’s employees are in the exception category, wearing masks based on their assignments or circumstances.