PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY, Md. (WJLA/CNN) - Twenty-five police officers in Maryland will be on paid leave for the rest of the pandemic, not because they caught COVID-19, but because of their facial hair.
A year ago, Prince George's County Police Chief Hank Stawinski broke with long-standing tradition and allowed his officers to grow beards.
The order has now been rescinded temporarily at the request of the county health officer, who says beards aren't compatible with protective face masks.
"We have to follow the CDC guidelines because it protects the officer,” said the county’s health officer, Dr. Earnest Carter. “It protects his family and it protects the public.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have even posted a cartoon-like chart to make the point: beards and masks aren't compatible. Specifically, beards are not compatible with the N95 mask that every officer of the police department has been issued.
"You can't have stubble. It has to fit on your clean-shaven face,” said Carter.
Twenty-five officers claimed a medical exemption when the order went out, some saying they have a condition called PFB, which prevents them from shaving.
Chesahna Kindred-Weaver, a dermatologist, says it’s a very real problem for men with curly beards.
“Unfortunately, their skin treats the tip of the hair like a splinter, so it’s an inflammatory reaction, but worse off,” Kindred-Weaver said. “The patients really feel like they have several splinters in their face.”
Stawinski sent a letter to those bearded officers which explained that since they can't shave, they'd have to park their cars and go on sick leave. And the officers’ union threatened to sue.
“What the guys were upset about is the fact they were going to have to use their own leave,” said Angelo Consoli, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89.
After hearing the concerns, the chief agreed that the 25 officers would go on paid health and safety leave.
The union dropped its complaint and the officers were sent home until the health emergency is over.