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Stacey Abrams, a Democratic candidate for Georgia governor, posted this photo to her campaign's Twitter account before deleting it. (Stacey Abrams campaign )
3 min

Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams said Tuesday night that “excitement” prompted her to pose maskless for a photo last week with a group of elementary schoolchildren — a move that has generated a rash of mostly Republican criticism.

On CNN’s “OutFront,” Abrams explained that she was in the Decatur, Ga., elementary school classroom for a Black History Month reading event on Friday. She said she kept her mask on until she reached the lectern and took it off only because she was reading to students who were “listening remotely, as well.” Abrams added that she was socially distanced from the students and said she told them she would take off her mask for the reading.

“And then the excitement after I finished — because it was so much fun working with those kids — I took a picture, and that was a mistake,” Abrams told host Erin Burnett. “Protocols matter, and protecting our kids is the most important thing, and anything that can be perceived as undermining that is a mistake. And I apologize.”

After posting the photo, Abrams received intense backlash from right-wing critics who oppose mask mandates in schools, including her Republican opponents in the November governor’s race. Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who is running for reelection, in a Saturday tweet said that while Abrams “wants state government mask mandates for Georgians and their children,” it “looks like they wouldn’t apply when she’s attending a photo op.” Former senator David Perdue, who is challenging Kemp in the Republican primary, tweeted that Abrams’s “hypocrisy knows no bounds.”

Abrams’s campaign responded that such criticism is “pathetic, transparent and silly” and “a false political attack.”

GOP rivals seize on Stacey Abrams’s maskless classroom photo as her campaign calls criticism ‘silly’

Abrams is the latest in a long line of Democratic politicians to be criticized for bucking the coronavirus restrictions they’ve supported or implemented. Last week, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a nominee to become the U.S. ambassador to India, was criticized for not wearing a mask in a photo at a football game, in defiance of Los Angeles County rules for big events. He defended himself by saying he wasn’t breathing while he posed for the photo. Other California Democrats, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, have drawn criticism for dining out during shutdowns.

The firestorm around Abrams’s photo comes as several states have committed to relaxing mask mandates as soon as next week. Newsom announced Monday that California’s mask mandate would expire Feb. 15, while New Jersey, Connecticut, and Delaware have announced plans to end statewide mask mandates in schools, The Washington Post reported. Oregon plans to end its mask mandate for indoor public places by the end of March.

Georgia school districts have been allowed to decide whether to impose mask mandates. Some districts have continued requiring masks, while others have begun to ease their rules, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Citing plans to ease mask mandates in New Jersey, Burnett asked Abrams on Tuesday night whether she would recommend Georgia schools relax mask rules if she were elected governor.

Abrams, citing Georgia’s vaccination rates, said her state is not ready to have a “conversation” about dropping mask requirements in certain school districts. If elected, Abrams said, she would “look at the science” and “follow the protocols.” About 53 percent of people in Georgia are fully vaccinated, according to Post tracking, compared with about 64 percent nationally.

Abrams added that the issue of masking in school is “complicated, and we cannot make this about politics or scoring political points.”

Amy B Wang and Reis Thebault contributed to this report.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Where do things stand? See the latest covid numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people.

The state of public health: Conservative and libertarian forces have defanged much of the nation’s public health system through legislation and litigation as the world staggers into the fourth year of covid.

Grief and the pandemic: A Washington Post reporter covered the coronavirus — and then endured the death of her mother from covid-19. She offers a window into grief and resilience.

Would we shut down again? What will the United States do the next time a deadly virus comes knocking on the door?

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

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