Florida Gov. DeSantis tells high school students to remove ‘ridiculous’ COVID masks

·3 min read

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told high school students on Wednesday to take off their masks and that “we gotta stop with this COVID theater.”

DeSantis was at the University of South Florida in Tampa to announce $20 million in funding for cybersecurity and IT training opportunities. But before he began his news conference, he addressed the Middleton High School students wearing masks behind him.

“You do not have to wear those masks,” he told them. “I mean, please take them off. Honestly, it’s not doing anything and we gotta stop with this COVID theater. So, if you want to wear it, fine, but this is ridiculous.”

CDC guidelines

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines say that counties with low and medium community transmission levels don’t need to wear masks indoors or at all unless the person is considered high risk to severe illness. However, in counties with high transmission, it is still recommended to wear a mask indoors.

Hillsborough County, where the conference was being held and the students are from, has a high community level, the CDC said.

Christina Pushaw, the governor’s press secretary, told the Miami Herald that DeSantis said “’you can wear them if you want’ but there’s ‘no evidence’ masks make any difference.”

“That has been clear for a long time, and the data informed our state’s official guidance,” she said. “After two years of mixed messages and social engineering from health authorities and media, the governor wants to make sure everyone is aware of the facts and data now, so they can feel free and comfortable without a mask.”

COVID protocol

USF’s COVID-19 protocols say the school expects masks to be worn when indoors, but knows “some people will choose to wear masks, others will not. Each individual’s decision should be respected.”

Hillsborough County Public Schools Superintendent Addison Davis said the students were there to be spotlighted, and that mask-wearing is the choice of kids and parents to “protect their health.”

“We are excited our students from Middleton High School were highlighted as part of the statewide focus around cybersecurity education,” she said in a statement. “As always, our students should be valued and celebrated. It is a student and parent’s 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.”


Nikki Fried, Florida’s agriculture commissioner and Democratic gubernatorial candidate, said the governor’s actions were “unhinged.”

“I can’t believe a grown man would bully high school students like that. He’s clearly unhinged,” she said in a statement. “The governor talks a lot about freedom, but only if he gets his way. That’s not freedom, that’s dictatorial and unacceptable.”

Many on social media said DeSantis “admonished” and “bullied” the students.

“Kudos to those who didn’t let him bully them into removing their masks,” one person wrote.

Another Twitter user wrote, “Bullying tone. Who knows if they are immunocompromised or around folks who are. I still wear mine because of this specific concern.”

Others praised the governor for his actions.

“I want to cry. [DeSantis] is so based! And he spoke to those young adults with straight-talk and the respect they deserved...not as if they were children,” one person wrote.