DeSantis, a staunch opponent of virus masks and vaccination mandates, approached the students and asked them to remove their masks while waiting for the Republican governor during the press conference at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
“You don’t have to wear these masks. I mean, please take them off. Honestly, it doesn’t matter. We have to stop with this COVID theater. So if you want to wear it, d Okay, but that’s ridiculous, he said, heaving an audible sigh and shaking his head.
DeSantis is up for re-election and is considered a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate. His opposition to masks and vaccines has garnered national attention, and his administration has banned mask mandates in schools.
DeSantis’ office did not immediately return an email seeking comment. His spokeswoman, Christina Pushaw, tweeted in defense of the governor’s comments, writing “I mean, someone had to say this, after 2 years of propaganda that has terrified and manipulated young people. Breathe free, feel free. safety and be happy.”
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The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention late last month relaxed its masking guidelines, but still recommends masks indoors in areas it considers high risk. Hillsborough County, where the college is located, is considered high risk by the CDC.
The incident sparked criticism of DeSantis on social media. U.S. Representative Frederica Wilson, a Democrat from Florida, tweeted, “Shame on you, Governor DeSantis, for berating students who choose to wear masks & for calling the ongoing #COVID pandemic a ‘theatre’.”
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