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Sheriff Jones discloses ‘immense’ change of heart about pandemic

The sheriff’s stern warning about COVID-19 comes after years of antagonism.
Sheriff Richard Jones addresses masks during COVID update
Published: Jan. 24, 2022 at 6:59 PM EST
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HAMILTON, Ohio (WXIX) - Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones is singing a different tune these days about COVID-19, saying his attitude has changed “immensely.”

The stetson-wearing, cigar chomping sheriff is a well known firebrand for his causes, often crafting overtly political press releases on matters not directly related to his county and frequently moonlighting as an interviewee on cable news programs including Fox and Friends.

He billed himself in 2020 as a national spokesperson on law enforcement issues from illegal immigration to police funding due to his self-described proclivity for “tell[ing] it like it is.” Around the same time, he offered to help pack the bags of celebrities who vowed to leave the country upon President Donald Trump’s hypothetical reelection.

So too with the pandemic. He balked on enforcing 2020′s statewide mask and curfew mandates—”I am not going to be the mask police,” he quipped—and in 2021 he issued a statement saying he would not enforce any sort of vaccine mandate. (No such mandate was ever considered.)

But that was then, and this is now.

The sheriff posted a video to Facebook on Friday explaining to Butler County residents the toll of the pandemic on his department.

“I’ve had three employees in the [sheriff’s office] in the last 12 months that have died from COVID,” he said. “I’ve had several that are not at work. And I have some that are still affected by what they’ve had. So pay attention.”

Jones said he felt “obligated” to bring the message to the public’s attention as an expression of solidarity in the ongoing fight against COVID.

It’s a fight that isn’t over yet, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control. The data show Butler County’s case incident rate and reproduction number are among the highest in Ohio amid the omicron surge.

The data also show hospitalization and ICU admission rates for omicron are lower than the original strains, especially among fully vaccinated individuals. But the variant casts a comparatively greater pall in Butler County, whose vaccination rate of 55 percent lags Hamilton County’s rate of 62 percent as well as the Tri-State rate of 57 percent.

Jones spoke to the omicron-fueled surge on Friday, saying already this year 60 of his employees have tested positive after 80 tested positive in all of 2020 and 2021 combined.

“Anybody that tells you that here in Butler County or maybe in other parts of the country that it’s not bad... it’s bad right now,” he said.

The sheriff implored residents to wear a mask, avoid large gatherings and get vaccinated.

“I know we all have fatigue,” he said. “But we have to get through this. And right now in Butler County, it’s off the hook. So we’ve got schools canceled. We’ve got meetings canceled. A lot of things are canceled. There’s a reason for that. Schools aren’t going. They can’t get bus drivers. They can’t get teachers in some places. There’s more kids infected with it.”

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