TAMPA, FLA. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis warned a group of high school students for wearing face masks at an indoor news conference Wednesday, saying it’s time to stop what he calls “COVID theater.”
The Republican governor approached the students and asked them to remove their masks while waiting for him at a press event at the University of South Florida in Tampa. The school is located in an area where the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends wearing a mask indoors due to the high risk of COVID-19.
“You don’t have to wear those masks. I mean, take them off. Honestly, it doesn’t do anything. We have to stop with this COVID theater. So if you want to wear it, fine, but this is ridiculous,” he said, sighing and shaking his head.
DeSantis, a fierce opponent of the anti-virus and vaccine mask mandate, is running for re-election and is seen as a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate. His opposition to mask wearing and Coronavirus vaccinations have attracted national attention, and his administration has banned the wearing of masks in schools, often when the governor and his Republican supporters say parents should control control their children’s health care choices.
One of the students, 14, Kevin Brown Jr., a high school freshman, told the Associated Press he was caught off guard by DeSantis and felt pressured to remove his mask.
“I was a bit surprised by his tone,” Brown said of the governor, adding that he chose to wear a mask because there were a lot of people without masks around and he was wary of contracting COVID- 19.
Brown’s father, Kevin Brown Sr., told WFLA-TV that he would advise DeSantis to “stop bullying children.”
“I told him it was his choice, so he made that choice and the governor has no right to tell no kids or anyone they may or may not wear a face. mask. He doesn’t have that right,” Brown Sr. told the broadcaster.
In a statement, Hillsborough County Public Schools Superintendent, Addison Davis, said school officials were delighted to introduce their students to the governor’s press conference about funding an initiative. cybersecurity education, and commend students for how they acted.
“The choice of students and parents is to protect their health in the way that feels most appropriate. We are proud of the way our students represent themselves and our school district. ,” Davis said.
DeSantis’ office did not immediately return an email seeking comment. His spokeswoman, Christina Pushaw, tweeted defending the governor’s comments, writing, “I mean, someone had to say that, after 2 years of propaganda that terrorizes and manipulates young people. Breathe freely, feel safe and happy. ”
Although the CDC late last month relaxed its mask-wearing guidelines, the agency still recommends wearing masks indoors in areas it considers high-risk. Hillsborough County, where the university is located, is considered high risk by the CDC.
The incident drew criticism from DeSantis on social media. U.S. Representative Frederica Wilson, a Florida Democrat, tweeted, “Shame on you, Governor DeSantis, for berating students who choose to wear masks and call the pandemic ‘theater’ #COVID is happening.”