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

 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.'
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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.'

"If you want to wear it, fine, but this is ridiculous." Gov. Ron DeSantis told masked Middleton High School students visiting the governor's appearance at USF.

Gov. Ron DeSantis admonished a group of high school students for wearing medical masks at his Tampa appearance Wednesday, saying it was time to stop “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.

As he approached the microphone, he told Middleton High School students standing behind the podium 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.

The governor has drawn attention for his fierce opposition to coronavirus masks to protect against COVID-19. His administration has banned mask mandates in schools; he has said it should be a parents' choice on whether a child wears a mask in class.

During the appearance, DeSantis pointed out that masks were not mandatory in Washington, D.C., 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.)

Afterward, 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 defense of 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 federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last 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 for the coronavirus.

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

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