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Florida governor — who mocked kids for wearing masks — doubles down: ‘Curtain call for covid theater’

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) at the University of South Florida in Tampa on March 2. (Chris O'Meara/AP)

On Wednesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis mocked high school students for wearing masks, leading some to remove them. On Thursday, after a torrent of criticism, he doubled down, sending out a tweet saying, “It’s curtain call for covid theater.”

After the event, parents of some of the students said they were angry at DeSantis’s actions. Dawn Marshall, whose son Eric took off the mask after the governor’s scolding, told WFLA, Tampa’s NBC station: “It’s just shocking that the governor told these kids take off your mask. He pretty much said take off your mask, it’s stupid, and take off your mask your parents don’t matter.”

On Thursday, he pressed on, tweeting: “The political science show cannot go on. It’s curtain call for covid theater.” DeSantis (R) also released a fundraising letter, lamenting the “liberal attack” on him following his Wednesday comments.

This latest episode of DeSantis political drama began at the University of South Florida when the governor announced a $20 million cybersecurity education initiative. Before he started his news conference, he noticed that a group of Middleton High School students who were standing behind the podium to take part in the event were wearing masks.

He scolded them, saying: “You do not have to wear those masks. Please take them off. Honestly, it’s not doing anything. We’ve got to stop with this covid theater. So if you want to wear it, fine, but this is ridiculous.” You can watch the video, taken by WFLA, below.

A few students removed their masks while others left them on. Eric Marshall, a senior, said he felt “a little” pressure to remove his mask. He told WFLA: “It was more of pressure of an adult figure asking me to do something and it’s just like all right.”

DeSantis sent out a fundraising appeal by email on Thursday, according to Politico’s Gary Fineout, that says in part: “While in Tampa, I told a group of students masks were ridiculous, and they didn’t have to wear them if they didn’t want to. Predictably, the leftist propagandists in our media had a meltdown and called me a ‘bully’ for allowing children to breathe fresh air.”

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased recommendations on mask-wearing for much of the country in an attempt to allow individuals to assess personal risk based on their health status and conditions in their community, including case counts and hospital admissions and capacity. The goal is to protect people from severe illness and to prevent health-care systems from being overwhelmed. The move came as many state and local officials had already taken such steps.

What you need to know about CDC new mask recommendations

Hillsborough County, according to the county covid-19 dashboard, has a coronavirus positivity rate of 6.8 percent. Public health experts say that high-quality masks do, in fact, provide significant protection against contracting the coronavirus, despite DeSantis’s claim that masks don’t do “anything.”

DeSantis’s comments were immediately spread on social media — millions of people viewed a video on Twitter. Critics on Twitter said it was hypocritical for DeSantis to push students to take off their masks when he prides himself on supporting “choice” and being the governor of the “freedom state.”

Michelle Todd, host of the “He Said, She Said” podcast and a self-declared moderate, tweeted: “This should’ve been an exciting day for these high schoolers. No hello, nice to meet you from the Governor. Instead a lecture because his props for his announcement didn’t look how he wanted them to.”

Addison Davis, superintendent of Hillsborough County Public Schools, issued a more subtle statement saying that the district was “excited” that Middleton students were highlighted as part of the cybersecurity education initiative. Then he said this: “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.”

DeSantis has been decidedly anti-mask for much of the pandemic, taking steps last year to block school districts from issuing mask mandates and going as far as withholding state funds from districts that defied his orders not to impose masking requirements. He recently said that parents should be given the power to sue school districts if their child was “illegally forced-masked this year.”