The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and public health experts are encouraging Americans to wear face coverings in public to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
However, employees of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office are no longer allowed to wear masks while on the job, according to new a new policy unveiled on Tuesday.
In an email that was dated August 11, Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods said his employees and visitors to the office cannot wear masks. He said, “My order will stand as is when you are on-duty/working as my employee and representing my Office – masks will not be worn.”
However, Woods provided exceptions for employees who work in the jail, the courthouse, and public schools.
“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,” he clarified.
But he said employees may not wear masks for “special details and/or any special events (paid or not).”
If confronted by someone about not wearing a mask, Woods instructed employees to “politely and professionally tell them I am not required to wear a mask nor will I, per the Order of the Sheriff.”
He added, “From that point on, it will be my burden and responsibility to take care of the person and answer their problem, complaint, or their question.”
And for anyone visiting the department’s office, Woods said, “Any individual walking in to any one of our lobbies (which includes the main office and all district offices) that is wearing a mask will be asked to remove it.”
He explained the rationale behind this portion of the order, “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 defended his order by arguing that there is not a census that masks are effective, “I can find the exact same amount of professionals that say why we shouldn’t. Since the beginning of this pandemic, the operation of this office has not changed, and no wearing of masks has been put in place.”
County Commissioner Carl Zalak told the Star-Banner that he supports the order, “I agree with the Sheriff base on his best judgment, and I appreciate the way he handled it.”
Woods’ order comes just days after the county set its record of 13 coronavirus deaths.