Southwest Florida state and community leaders are reacting to Governor Ron DeSantis sternly telling teenagers not to wear masks at a press conference on Wednesday.
The governor was at the University of South Florida in Tampa to talk about cybersecurity. The CDC still recommends masks for the area because of high community transmission.
Reaction to the governor’s comments is heated on both sides. Video of the interaction already has more than 14 million views.
“You do not have to wear those masks. I mean, please take them off, but honestly, it’s not doing anything, and we gotta stop with this COVID theater. If you wanna wear it, fine. But this is, this is ridiculous,” said DeSantis to a group of high school students standing behind him at the podium on Wednesday.
The 18-second clip trended quickly on Twitter. The governor received a lot of support, and even more criticism, including from some of the students and their parents who called DeSantis a hypocrite.
“Because the governor has said before that parents should have the final say over medical decisions concerning their children, not the government. And the governor is certainly the face of state government,” said Aubrey Jewett, a political scientist at UCF.
Despite all the online outrage, Jewett said the exchange likely excited DeSantis’ base even more. As for if the comments will give democrats an opening, “One of the ways that they can get back in the game in Florida, and particularly in this midterm election when Biden’s approval ratings are underwater, is to have DeSantis, make mistakes,” said Jewett.
All three leading Democratic contenders for governor, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, State Representative Charlie Crist, and State Senator Annette Tadeo, took to Twitter calling the governor a “Bully.”
DeSantis did not address the exchange at a news conference on Thursday. Instead, Florida’s Surgeon General Joe Ladapo doubled down on the administration’s position on masks and mask mandates. “It’s hard to find these in Florida, you’ve gotta look hard, but if you know where to look, you can find them,” said Ladapo.
The governor’s office did not reply to a request for comment.
In a tweet on Tuesday, DeSanits’ Press Secretary Christina Pushaw said, “They chose to keep their masks off inside too. If you watched the video, you would have heard he said they have a choice. I know freedom is hard for you progressives to comprehend.”
They chose to keep their masks off inside too. If you watched the video, you would have heard he said they have a choice. I know freedom is hard for you Progressives to comprehend. https://t.co/kxWxfGSy0m
— Christina Pushaw 🇺🇸 (@ChristinaPushaw) March 3, 2022