Editor’s note: At a news conference at the University of South Florida on Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis seemed irritated that several high school students standing behind him on the stage were masked up. “You don’t have to wear those masks,” DeSantis said. “Please take them off.” He continued: “Honestly, this is not doing anything. We’ve got to stop with this COVID theater. ... So if you want to wear it, fine, but this is ridiculous.” His comments triggered an avalanche of letters to the editor opposed in one way or another to how the governor treated the students. Here is a sample.
Reasons for masks
DeSantis chides students in masks | March 3
When Gov. Ron DeSantis chides students for wearing masks in a cybersecurity news conference and makes fun of them, he is showing them disrespect. Does he know if they have a member of their family who has cancer? Maybe there is a baby at home who can’t get a vaccine yet? Perhaps they have leukemia and were told by their doctor to wear a mask so as to not get sick. Why does he make students feel badly about taking care of their own and their family’s health by wearing a mask? Wearing a mask is not “theater” as he claimed, but instead it is about health! Yet again, DeSantis has made wearing a mask divisive. His statement that “science says masks don’t work” is full of falsehoods. Mask rules were relaxed based on science and because the number of COVID cases have drastically decreased, not because they don’t work. It would be helpful if DeSantis stopped his own “political theater.”
Jackie Kanner, St. Petersburg
I am not ‘acting’
Gov. Ron DeSantis was elected to represent me, not make fun of me. As a taxpaying resident of Florida, I am:
• Living, not “acting” three years after a double lung transplant;
• Living, not “acting” with cystic fibrosis;
• Living, not “acting” with cystic fibrosis-related diabetes;
• Still alive, not “acting” at 59 years old.
Your statement that mask-wearing is “COVID theater” is an affront to me and other similarly situated residents in this state.
Suzanne Joyce, Clearwater
Freedom to mask up
Gov. Ron DeSantis natters on about freedom not to mask. What about my freedom to wear a mask? It certainly is not harming anyone. Will he make a law specifically against wearing a mask? The man is a bully.
Fern Williams, Zephyrhills
The bully at the pulpit
Most of us have experienced bullying in one form or another whether in school, playing sports or at our workplace. It comes in all forms and situations and can be both very emotionally and physically painful. Some bullies we know turned their lives around and were sincerely sorry about the hurt they caused. And then we have others who never changed and still take satisfaction in bullying and intimidation.
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Neil J. Armstrong, Bradenton
I’m out of here
This is an example of one of the reasons I am leaving the so-called “Free State of Florida.” I am embarrassed to say I live here. I thought freedom meant that we could make choices even if they were not in line with the governor’s thinking. Freedom not to wear a mask implies freedom to wear a mask if we choose. Belittling students for their choice is a new low for our governor. He should be ashamed.
Barbara Renzi, Dunedin
Masks actually work
Gov. Ron DeSantis tells high school students to take off their masks. He says they are not needed. Wearing them is just political theater. His office then sends out an announcement stating that there is absolutely no proof that they work.
There is not enough room here to list all the studies that have shown they do work. I would suggest that the governor take a look at Japan. The Japanese believe in them. Japan has a population of 126 million. Florida has a population of 21 million. To date Japan has had 24,000 deaths from COVID. Florida has had roughly 70,000.
Earlier this year he made fun of Australia for their handling of COVID. Australia has a population of 26 million and to date has had 5,300 deaths. There are additional countries that have had similar success. It must be nice to be in countries that value the lives of their citizens .
Jack Smith, Oldsmar
The freest state?
It’s hard to miss the irony in Gov. Ron DeSantis referring to Florida as the freest state in America when he rebuked students for choosing to wear face masks and wants to restrict women from exercising their reproductive rights.
Mary McAlister, Tampa
We doctors wear masks
I am a physician who once again was appalled by our governor’s belief on masks. He tells high school students to take off their masks because they supposedly don’t work. (They do.) If he truly believes what he says, then tell us doctors to remove our masks in the operating rooms because they don’t work. He should try to pass legislation on every hospital in our state to remove masks during surgery because they don’t work and fine those hospitals not following the law.
Armando Fuentes, St. Petersburg
It’s not ‘COVID theater’
This “man child” who is our governor sends many mixed messages. He lauds freedom and parents’ rights when it is convenient. However, he dares to tell students to take off their masks because it was “COVID theater.” First of all, I believe parents had told their children to wear masks and the 70,000 families in Florida who have lost loved ones to COVID would not describe the pandemic as “COVID theater.”
Kathleen Murphy, St. Petersburg
Not his place to judge
How dare Gov. Ron DeSantis bully our students! They chose to wear their masks, and it was not his place to judge them. Freedom means freedom to choose.
Ginger Brengle, Clearwater
Freedom only to agree
At his Tampa news conference, the governor embarrassed high school students who were only doing the right thing by wearing a mask to protect themselves as well as others. They should be encouraged for being responsible, not ridiculed by the governor. His statements about freedoms in Florida are apparently only for those who agree with him.
Brenda Levy, Sun City Center
Students know bullying
In this day and age, there probably isn’t a high school student in the state who isn’t aware of bullying. But from the governor? His demeanor with those kids was nasty and overbearing. He was the biggest adolescent on that stage.
Judy Beck, St. Petersburg
Gov. Ron DeSantis — really? What happened to personal choice and your “freest state in these United States”? I guess that’s only if people agree with you. And to bully high school students? Shame on you. That behavior is unworthy of any public servant, let alone a governor.
Bob Hastings, Land O’ Lakes
Students stood their ground
How about the students’ constitutional right of free speech and the Florida legal right to, in a different kind of way, “stand their ground?”
Neil McMullen, Clearwater
In a word, ridiculous
Gov. Ron DeSantis chiding students to take their masks off is, in his own words, ridiculous. The students who kept them on were exercising the choice to choose, something DeSantis espouses, but apparently does not follow. The students should be applauded for thinking for themselves.
Barry Koestler, St.Petersburg
Total lack of concern
This Tampa Bay Times editorial hits the nail directly on the head and — just to ensure that we, the taxpaying citizens of Florida, didn’t miss the point — the governor made it a point to deride high school students at a news conference at the University of South Florida for wearing health-protective masks during his attempt at a speech. The mind boggles at the blatant lack of concern this person shows for the health and welfare of the good, honest, taxpaying citizens of the state that he was elected to represent and serve.
Kirk Hazlett, Riverview