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President Donald Trump said Tuesday he has “no problem” wearing a mask and urged Americans to wear theirs, too. The comments are a major change in tone for the president, who spent months resisting wearing a mask in public. (July 21)

AP Domestic

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Florida sheriffs who had attended a conference this week with a COVID-19-infected colleague met Friday afternoon with President Donald Trump. 

Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood reported his positive test just hours before more than a dozen other sheriffs stood with Trump on the Tampa International Airport tarmac.

Chitwood had attended the Florida Sheriff’s Association conference earlier this week in Bonita Springs. Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and law enforcement officers from around the state were also at the conference.

Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno, who hosted the conference and whose agency polices Bonita Springs, stood behind Trump along with 14 other sheriffs as Trump praised them and announced he had received “dozens” of their endorsements. Neither Trump nor the sheriffs wore masks. Two of the sheriffs said they had been rapid-tested for COVID-19 before meeting with Trump.

Marceno said he was tested for COVID-19 before he met with Trump on Friday.

The crowd of several hundred who were close-packed into the front of the holding pen on the tarmac Friday were almost uniformly maskless, according to White House press pool reports. They stood about 15 yards away from the president. 

Trump spoke around 4 p.m. after exiting Air Force One and vowed to support the sheriffs amid calls for police reform in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police.

“As long as I’m president, I will never defund your police,” Trump said with a line of sheriffs standing behind him.

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USA TODAY

DeSantis had attended this week’s conference but was not on the tarmac Friday. However, he was scheduled to attend a Friday roundtable on storm preparedness with Trump. Cody McCloud, a spokesperson with the governor’s office, said DeSantis took quarantine precautions seriously at the conference, but there was no indication he interacted with Chitwood there.

Nanette Schimpf, a spokesperson for the Florida Sheriff’s Association, confirmed Chitwood did attend the conference but said many of the events were canceled.

The association estimates an average of 530 people normally attend the summer conference, which is one of its biggest events. But because of the pandemic, this year’s was far smaller.

“Since this was a smaller business meeting, it was shortened, and attendance was reduced by 75%,” Schimpf said in a text. 

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Chitwood, who was not in Tampa on Friday, told the Daytona Beach News-Journal that at the Bonita Springs conference he had interacted with four or five people on the dais and left the event after giving his speech.

Chitwood said he intentionally sat in the back of a large room and didn’t go near anybody. He said some people in the conference room were wearing masks, which were optional in the ballroom. But he said there was probably about 12 feet between each person and he didn’t wear a mask there.

It’s unknown how many sheriffs attended the conference, but no others have reported any symptoms, Schimpf said.

“I don’t know of anyone else who is sick or feeling ill,” she said.

Schimpf said Friday’s campaign event is not associated with the Florida Sheriff’s Association.

Contributing: Ryan Mills of The News-Press and Naples Daily News, Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon of Florida Today, Carlos Muñoz of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Jim Rosica of the USA TODAY NETWORK – Florida Capital Bureau, and Frank Fernandez and Matt Bruce of the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Follow Devan Patelvon Twitter: @DevanJPatel 

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