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DeSantis tells masked Tampa high school students: time to end 'COVID theater'

man in suit speaks to students wearing masks in front of a green background
Florida Governor's Office
Gov. Ron DeSantis told Middleton High School students attending his Wednesday press conference at the University of South Florida in Tampa they could take off their masks, calling it 'COVID theater.'

"We've got to stop with this COVID theater," Gov. DeSantis told masked Middleton High School students visiting USF Wednesday. "So if you want to wear it, fine, but this is ridiculous."

Gov. Ron DeSantis admonished a group of high school students for wearing face masks during a Tampa appearance Wednesday, saying it was time to stop what he called “this COVID theater.”

DeSantis was at the University of South Florida to announce proposed funding for the expansion of cybersecurity education programs in Florida schools.

But as he approached the microphone, he told Middleton High School students there for the indoor event that they could take their masks off.

"You do not have to wear those masks. I mean, please take them off," DeSantis said, motioning to the students as some of them laughed.

"Honestly, it's not doing anything and we've got to stop with this COVID theater. So if you want to wear it, fine, but this is, this is ridiculous," he continued, sighing heavily before putting his binder on the podium and beginning the event.

A number of the students removed their masks; others kept them on during the 30-minute news conference.

During the conference, DeSantis pointed out that masks were not mandatory for Tuesday night's State of the Union speech by President Joe Biden, a frequent DeSantis critic. (All people who attended the State of The Union agreed to undergo a COVID-19 test.)

Afterwards, as news of DeSantis' comments began spreading on social media, Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent Addison Davis released a statement:

"It is a student and parents' choice to protect their health in a way they feel most appropriate," Davis said. "We are proud of the manner in which our students represented themselves."

DeSantis' spokeswoman, Christina Pushaw, tweeted in defenseof the governor’s comments.

“I mean, someone had to say it, after 2 years of propaganda that terrified and manipulated young people. Breathe free, feel safe and be happy,” she said on Twitter.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announcedlast week that it was relaxing its indoor masking guidelines for areas not considered "high risk."

However, Hillsborough County and other parts of Florida remain in the high-risk category.

USF updated its mask policy for the spring semester in Dec. 2021.

It currently says:

Masks: USF expects masks to be worn when indoors, especially in a crowded setting. Some people will choose to wear masks, others will not. Each individual’s decision should be respected.

Mark Schreiner is the assistant news director and intern coordinator for WUSF News.