When Lafayette Woods, Jr., Jefferson County Sheriff's Office sheriff, found out his staff didn't have face masks, he leaped into action and even enlisted the help of his mother Gwendolyn Woods.

When Lafayette Woods, Jr., Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office sheriff, found out his staff didn’t have face masks, he leaped into action and even enlisted the help of his mother Gwendolyn Woods. The tag-team duo has sewn nearly 100 masks for employees at his office.
“As sheriff, I take the health and safety of our deputies as well as the administrative support staff very seriously,” said Woods. “With the ongoing spread of the coronavirus, it was particularly important for me to ensure that the necessary protections such as personal protective equipment (PPE) were in place to minimize potential exposure to the COVID-19 pandemic and protect staff against health or safety risks on the job.  However, immediate access to consumer or commercial grade PPE’s were a challenge due to the demand caused by COVID-19.”
Previously, health officials urged the public not to wear face masks unless they were sick in an effort to prevent a shortage for healthcare workers or first responders deemed to need them the most as they care for those infected with COVID-19. But, newly released studies prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to suggest people to at least wear a cloth face mask to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. According to the CDC, the virus spreads through people interacting in close proximity to each other by way of speaking, coughing or sneezing.
“The CDC continues to study the spread and effects of the novel coronavirus across the United States,” the agency said.  “We now know from recent studies that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms (“asymptomatic”) and that even those who eventually develop symptoms (“pre-symptomatic”) can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms.”
While out conducting essential business like going grocery shopping, to a pharmacy or even areas of “significant community-based transmission,” health officials recommend Americans wear face masks excluding N95 masks--- used to protect the wearer from airborne particles and from liquid contaminating the face and set aside for healthcare and emergency personnel.
“Because of some recent information that the virus can actually be spread even when people just speak as opposed to coughing and sneezing -- the better part of valor is that when you’re out, when you can’t maintain that 6-foot distance, to wear some sort of facial covering,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director in an interview on “Fox & Friends” last week.
The City of Pine Bluff happened to be the first municipal to have a person test positive for COVID-19 in the state. Since Wed., March 11, 89 more people have tested positive for the virus in Jefferson County with at least one death reported.
“We needed some form of protection for our staff until our formal request made to the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management (ADEM) through the Jefferson County Office of Emergency Management could be fulfilled,” said Woods.  “We didn’t wait until we received requests from staff for masks.  Instead, we recognized the need and acted in a proactive manner.”
With a passion to help others, especially those in need, coupled with her stitching skills, Woods knew his mother was the perfect person to help him sew for a worthy cause.
“I love doing stuff like this,” said Gwendolyn Woods, a retired art teacher. “In fact, I recently had back surgery and I volunteer at the CASA Women’s Shelter and hadn’t been able to get up there. So, this was a good thing for me to jump at.”
After searching unsuccessfully for a face mask in stores, Tonya Harris admits she was glad to know she’d receive one from her boss.
“I felt a sense of relief,” Harris said. “I have checked the stores in our area weekly trying to purchase a mask. The COVID-19 virus is serious and being told there’s no clue when the store will get some masks can be frustrating.”
Crystal Ringo echoed the same sentiments as Harris about the colorful cotton masks they received as a gift.
“With all that is happening around the country and the world, it’s imperative that the sheriff’s office and staff be able to continue to serve our community safely,” Ringo said. “I was grateful that he and his mother thought of us. Masks are hard to come by, but because of them we have one.”