Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was heard chastising students at the University of South Florida, before giving a speech on Wednesday March 2. The 43-year-old Republican made his aversion to face masks, used to protect against the COVID-19 virus, known as he approached the podium. He reprimanded the students who were standing behind him for wearing face masks, and asked them to take them off.
— WFLA NEWS (@WFLA) March 2, 2022
In the clip, DeSantis approached the microphone, and pompously reprimanded the students who would stand behind him for wearing their masks. “You do not have to wear those masks. I mean, please take them off. Honestly, it’s not doing anything, and we’ve got to stop with this COVID theater,” he said. Before he began his speech, he conceded that students could wear their masks if they chose, but he didn’t seem happy about it. “So, if you want to wear it, fine, but this is ridiculous,” he told them, before going into his speech about cybersecurity education. While some students did take off their masks at DeSantis’ command, at least three students kept their masks on.
To think, @GovRonDeSantis was so distracted and exasperated by the masks he couldn't even say "hello"!
The only thing "ridiculous" here Governor is you. Bullying students because you don't like the "optics" of responsible behavior. And you want to be president. https://t.co/OhZ1rWTrcB
— Michael Steele (@MichaelSteele) March 2, 2022
Ron DeSantis demonstrating perfectly that people promoting "medical freedom" actually want to force others not to wear masks, regardless of their medical situation. https://t.co/p3oVn8Y5DC
— Matthew Sheffield (@mattsheffield) March 2, 2022
What a disgusting bully. How dare he address students in such a demeaning way?! https://t.co/bimfmF9kb0
— Katie S. Phang (@KatiePhang) March 2, 2022
The governor received backlash on Twitter, with many calling him out as a hypocrite for telling students what to do while claiming that Americans should be free to decide whether to wear masks. Others were simply perplexed by his rude tone. Former RNC Chairman Michael Steele seemed shocked that DeSantis didn’t even greet the students. “To think, @GovRonDeSantis was so distracted and exasperated by the masks he couldn’t even say ‘hello’! The only thing ‘ridiculous’ here Governor is you,” he wrote.
The governor’s office pointed towards DeSantis’ final mention telling students they could keep the masks on if they chose, while also reiterating his stance on personal freedoms in a statement to local CBS affiliate WFLA. “As the governor said, ‘you can wear them if you want’ but there’s ‘no evidence’ masks make any difference,” his press secretary told the news station. “That has been clear for a long time, and the data informed our state’s official guidance. Following Florida, the CDC has even stopped recommending mask wearing for most Americans. After two years of mixed messages from health authorities and the 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.”
DeSantis gained notoriety throughout the COVID pandemic for his lax regulations on mask-wearing and vaccine requirements, including an executive order to block mask requirements in schools. He’d also signed a bill that prevented businesses from requiring patrons to show their proof of vaccination in May 2021, per The Tampa Bay Times. It’s worth noting that while the University of South Florida doesn’t require masks, it does recommend them. “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,” the school’s COVID protocols page says.