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DeSantis asks students to remove masks and 'stop with this Covid theater'

The Republican governor and potential 2024 presidential candidate has long been an opponent of Covid mitigation measures.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis asked students to remove their masks at an indoor event Wednesday, claiming they were "not doing anything."

DeSantis, a Republican who has been a vocal critic of masks and vaccination mandates throughout the coronavirus pandemic, scolded students who were standing behind a lectern at the University of South Florida in Tampa, where he announced funding for cybersecurity education, according to video provided by NBC affiliate WFLA.

“You do not have to wear those masks,” DeSantis said. “I mean, please take them off. Honestly, it’s not doing anything, and we’ve got to stop with this Covid theater. So if you want to wear it, fine, but this is ridiculous.”

A visibly annoyed DeSantis then began his official remarks about cybersecurity.

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published early last month found that people who consistently wear high-quality masks, such as N95s or KN95s, in indoor public settings were much less likely to contract Covid compared to those who don't wear masks.

Last week, the CDC announced that most people are safe going without masks indoors. The guidance leaned less on the number of Covid-19 cases as a key measure and instead gave more weight to hospitalizations and local hospital capacity.

DeSantis, who is seen as a potential presidential candidate in 2024, has endeared himself to conservatives with his outspoken opposition to Covid restrictions.

In July, he prohibited local school districts from requiring students to wear masks even as the nation, particularly Florida, was fighting a resurgence of the coronavirus with the delta variant.

Image: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference at the University of South Florida on March 2, 2022, in Tampa, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at a news conference at the University of South Florida in Tampa on Wednesday.Chris O'Meara / AP

Later in the year, DeSantis followed through on threats to fine city and local governments $5,000 for every employee who was required to get vaccinated to maintain employment.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Florida had more than 5 million confirmed Covid cases since the start of the pandemic, according to an NBC News analysis.