Miami: A Florida sheriff ordered his officers to not wear face masks — and banned the safety gear from his office — even as the southern US state has hit record daily coronavirus death tolls.
Sheriff Billy Woods, of central Florida's Marion County, emailed deputies Tuesday to tell them of the new mask prohibition, according to local paper the Ocala Star Banner, citing the message.
"My order will stand as is when you are on-duty/working as my employee and representing my Office – masks will not be worn," the email read.
The sheriff allowed for certain exceptions, including for officers who work in prisons, schools, hospitals or with people suspected of being infected with the virus.
Woods added that his order was due to "the current events when it comes to the sentiment and/or hatred toward law enforcement in our country today."
Woods seemed to be referring to protests against racism and police violence that swept across the country during the spring and early summer.
He also said that visitors to the sheriff's office would not be allowed to wear masks for the same reason: "for identification purposes of any individual walking into a lobby."
Mask-wearing is not compulsory in Florida — only recommended — but the state is one of the most severe hotspots of the epidemic in the US. The state registered 212 coronavirus deaths on Wednesday after 276 on Tuesday.
In total, 8,765 people have died of COVID-19 in Florida, out of more than 550,901 cases in the state of 21 million.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), like much of the scientific and medical community, have recommended the use of face masks to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.
Woods said in a Facebook post that he and other US law enforcement officials had spoken on the phone to President Donald Trump, who himself did not wear a face mask in public until months into the pandemic.
Several Facebook users commented on Woods's post, deriding the sheriff's message.
"It's one thing not to require mask wearing, but to explicitly ban it? That takes a special kind of stupid," one said.
Americans come from all over the country to retire in sunny Florida, and about a third of the 355,000 residents of Woods's Marion County are older than 65 — the population most vulnerable to coronavirus.
Woods's office did not respond to AFP's request for comment Wednesday.