Florida's far-right Governor Ron DeSantis has risen in popularity among conservatives for his frequent rejection of public health guidances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed nearly 1 million Americans.
The governor has worked to ban mask mandates in schools and to prevent private businesses from verifying vaccine statuses of their customers. Though Florida ranks third in the nation for COVID-19 deaths, conservatives have hailed DeSantis' pandemic policy as a success and praised the Sunshine State as the "Free State of Florida."
This week, DeSantis held a press conference at the University of South Florida (USF) announcing funding for cybersecurity programs there.
Ahead of the presser, he berated a group of students behind him for wearing masks.
NEW: @GovRonDeSantis annoyed with USF students—
"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."https://t.co/7j1Pb2hV53 @WFLA pic.twitter.com/ZIOyTHLOh3
— Evan Donovan (@EvanDonovan) March 2, 2022
A visibly annoyed DeSantis told them:
"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."
In the wake of the highly transmissible Omicron variant that swept the nation earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data that found cloth masks—a ubiquitous symbol of the pandemic—to be the least effective in protecting against COVID-19, while N95 and other respirator masks were most effective.
Now, in the latest stage of the pandemic, mask mandates are easing across the country, though millions of Americans still personally choose to wear masks in certain situations.
What's more, it's been confirmed that the students DeSantis berated weren't USF students, but students of nearby Middleton High School.
In a statement to WFLA, representatives of the school said:
"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."
Social media users' responses to the Governor's outburst were far less diplomatic.
The Republican Party is just a cavalcade of obnoxious, classless, boorishness and bullying. One right after the other with no reprieve. https://t.co/XPHgQ0hTIX
— Ron Filipkowski (@RonFilipkowski) March 2, 2022
Ron DeSantis just yelled at students for wearing masks. This is not a leader. This is a bully. A petulant child. Shameful.pic.twitter.com/tu9gyY1DPh
— MeidasTouch.com (@MeidasTouch) March 2, 2022
It's their little smirks that get me. Regardless of how you feel about various safety precautions at this moment, it's a fact that we're all existing in a time when an estimated 6 million people have died across the world from Covid over the past 26 months. https://t.co/oZhteH0EE8 pic.twitter.com/ec0QsMr5WM
— Chris Geidner (@chrisgeidner) March 2, 2022
this is desantis worried that his fox news base will see him with kids wearing masks behind him. that's the key. https://t.co/fb6l9eaZHa
— Oliver Willis (@owillis) March 2, 2022
Ah yes, every press conference should start with the speaker dressing down the supportive kids standing behind him.
Is the guy in the blue button down his press person? I'd recognize that "I can't believe my boss is doing this ISN'T IT GREAT AND NORMAL AND FUN" smile anywhere. https://t.co/Gbird5jkTO
— jess mcintosh (@jess_mc) March 2, 2022
Conservatives, including DeSantis, have frequently claimed they have no issue with mask-wearing as long as individuals are allowed the choice to go with or without one.
Though DeSantis qualified the students could wear the masks if they wanted, some found his shaming hypocritical.
The party that screams about personal freedom is upset when you exercise it smh https://t.co/geAfCZP71G
— Zero Cool 💻 (@TheWayWithAnoa) March 2, 2022
They say it's all about the government COMPELLING people to do things, but they're actually performatively incensed at other people making their own choices. Stop being assholes.https://t.co/LWYMujA4O4
— StandWithUkraineHat (@Popehat) March 2, 2022
Incredible predictable how conservative ideology goes from "hey it should be my choice; dont tell me what to do!" to "We are *abolutely* gonna tell you what to do once we have the power to do it." https://t.co/641RF3sY50
— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) March 2, 2022
Meanwhile, DeSantis' spokesperson, Christina Pushaw, is promoting and praising the clip on her Twitter account.