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Florida is a coronavirus hotspot, yet a sheriff banned face masks in his office

Published Aug 12th, 2020 7:05PM EDT
Coronavirus cases
Image: Worawat/Adobe
  • The number of coronavirus cases in Florida has stayed stubbornly high during the coronavirus pandemic in the US, while at the same time opposition within the state to basic health guidance has also remained robust.
  • Along those lines, one Florida sheriff in recent days actually banned the wearing of face masks in his office.
  • Earlier this week, Florida also broke its number of deaths recorded in a single day from the coronavirus.

Florida has proven to be a bafflingly stubborn outlier throughout most of the coronavirus pandemic in the US thus far, with frustratingly high levels of coronavirus cases and deaths and a correspondingly high presence of anti-maskers and other people who routinely flout public health guidance and other behaviors known to curb the spread of COVID-19. Just this week, for example, we saw the state on Tuesday break its record for the most coronavirus deaths reported in a single day (276), bringing the total number of coronavirus deaths the state has reported thus far to 8,553, according to Florida’s department of health. Meantime, the 5,886 new reported cases of the virus brought the state’s cumulative case total to almost 543,000 as of the time of this writing — more than double the number of coronavirus cases reported in all of France as of Wednesday afternoon, according to Johns Hopkins University.

In case you’re wondering what accounts for these trends in Florida, episodes like the one we reported on previously (involving an insane viral video of anti-maskers yelling at local lawmakers) provide some context. So does the new revelation that Billy Woods, a sheriff in the central Florida locality of Marion County, has actually banned the wearing of face masks in his office, an edict that applies to both sheriff’s deputies as well as visitors to the office.

“Effective immediately, 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,” Woods wrote in a memo obtained by the Ocala Star Banner.

Even though masks are one of the few tools we have at the moment to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, along with regular handwashing and social distancing, Woods tried to argue that there’s some nebulous safety concern that outweighs the benefit of wearing a mask. Specifically, he pointed to rising anger around the country against police officers as a reason to not allow anyone to come into his office with a face mask on. “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,” his memo continues.

Dr. Gregory Kirk, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University, told NBC News this week that he’s convinced the lack of a coherent, uniform national policy around face masks has been catastrophic during the pandemic. “People have died because we haven’t had consistent messaging on mask-wearing,” he said. “I don’t think that’s really up to debate.”

And for some further context around the situation Florida is still facing, consider that the state has (as of the time of this writing) a coronavirus positive test rate of 17.3%, according to Johns Hopkins’ coronavirus tracker. Compare that to a state like New York, which responded early and aggressively to contain the coronavirus, and which has a positivity rate under 1%.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.

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