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'This is ridiculous': DeSantis asks students to take off their face masks

The governor, who called the students' mask-wearing "COVID theater," shook his head.

TAMPA, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis let a group of students know how frustrated he is with people wearing face masks.

DeSantis was at the University of South Florida to announce a $20 million award for cybersecurity education during a news conference Wednesday and as he approached the podium, he looked to the group and told them to take off their masks.

"You do not have to wear those masks. I mean, please take them off," he was heard saying. "Honestly, it's not doing anything, and we've gotta stop with this COVID theater. 

"So if you want to wear it, fine, but this is ridiculous," he continued, sighing into the microphones. 

The governor shook his head while turning to face the crowd prepared for his remarks. Some of the students removed their masks.

DeSantis went on to announce the state awarded $20 million to create new opportunities in the field of cybersecurity. 

"Masks are optional in Florida universities, and this event took place at USF. Everyone who attended had the choice to wear a mask or not, like anyone else in the state, but we want to make sure all Floridians — especially young people, many of whom have been unduly pressured and coerced by schools and employers to wear masks — are informed about the lack of evidence for masks," the Governor's Office wrote in an email to 10 Tampa Bay.

Hillsborough County Public Schools Superintendent Addison Davis offered the following statement on the interaction: 

“We are excited our students from Middleton High School were highlighted as part of the statewide focus around cybersecurity education. Our Cybersecurity pathway at MHS has had tremendous success through students earning industry certifications, participating in internships, and leading the way in computer systems and information technology. 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.”

The governor has made known of his distaste toward the use of masks throughout the coronavirus pandemic, with him in the past fighting mask mandates in schools across the state despite guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Florida's new masking guidance advises against face coverings in "a community setting." The reason the state gives is "a lack of evidence that masks, and particularly cloth face coverings, prevent the transmission of COVID-19."

The CDC last week released updated guidelines in terms of where to wear masks depending on the number of hospital beds in use, hospital admissions and the total number of new COVID-19 cases in an area.

Hillsborough County, where USF is located, has a "high" COVID-19 community level, and it's recommended that masks be worn indoors while in public.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to remove the reference the students attended middle school. Some attended Middleton High School in Hillsborough County, and the University of South Florida said some college students were in attendance, as well.

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