Comments by Governor Ron DeSantis (R-FL) have stirred controversy after he told students to remove their masks. He specifically referred to wearing masks as “COVID” theater.
DeSantis said in a video, “You do not have to wear those masks. Please take them off. Honestly, it’s not doing anything. We’ve gotta stop with this COVID theater. So if you wanna wear it, fine, but this is ridiculous.” DeSantis shakes his head in frustration before starting the press conference at the University of South Florida.
DeSantis was visiting the University of South Florida campus to talk about the $20 million in funding for cybersecurity training. The video showed at least two students removing their masks after the governor’s request. The students were from Middleton High School in Tampa, Florida.
The Hillsborough County School District Superintendent Allison Davis said in a statement, “As always, our students should be valued and celebrated. It is a student and parents’ choice to protect their health in a way they feel most appropriate. We are proud of the manner in which our students represented themselves and our school district.”
The governor has outlawed mask mandates in Florida schools. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has since released a new mask guidance and no longer recommends indoor mask wearing for most people in places where the COVID-19 level is considered low or medium [USA Today].
Many bashed DeSantis for “berating” and “bullying” the teen students into taking off their masks. One of the students, 14-year-old 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 little bit surprised at his tone,” Brown said of the governor, adding that he chose to leave his mask on because there were many unmasked people around and he was wary of getting COVID-19. Brown’s father, Kevin Brown Sr., told WFLA-TV that he would advise DeSantis to “stop bullying kids.”
“I tell him it’s his choice, so he made that choice and the governor has no right to tell no kid or no one who they can or can’t wear a mask. He doesn’t have that right,” Brown Sr. told the TV station [AP].
Responding to this criticism, DeSantis told “Tucker Carlson Tonight” that mask mandates create a “two-tiered society,” especially in the workplace, where he noted restaurant workers are often required to cover their faces while their patrons are permitted to breathe freely.
He added that Florida is a “free state” and there is no medical or scientific reason for children to mask-up. “I think it needs to be said because people have been lied to for two years,” he said.
“They talk about, ‘Oh, by letting someone have a choice to take off their mask and welcoming that choice’ — that that’s somehow bullying. Bullying is locking kids out of school, which they did. Bullying is forcing kids to wear masks for eight hours a day, which they did for two years, and are only stopping now because the politics changed.”
“I say every time we go, if we’re at a big event and the servers are wearing it, they should be liberated from those masks. It is political theater. They’re doing it for the appearance. They’re not doing it because it’s having any meaningful medical impact” [Fox News].