Florida governor Ron DeSantis was caught on camera berating teenagers in his state for wearing masks.
The Republican politician scolded students at Tampa’s University of South Florida when they appeared behind him at a press conference wearing the face coverings.
“You do not have to wear those masks. I mean, please take them off. Honestly, it’s not doing anything and we’ve gotta stop with this Covid theatre. So if you want to wear it, fine, but this is ridiculous,” he told them.
A number of the students followed the governor’s instructions and removed their masks before he spoke.
Florida has seen more than 5.81m Covid cases during the pandemic and 70,247 deaths.
Mr DeSantis, who is seen as a rival to Donald Trump for the GOP 2024 presidential nomination, has been a strong opponent of mask wearing in his state.
He signed a 2021 executive order to withhold state funding from schools that introduced mask mandates, and in February said parents should be allowed to sue school districts if they had a child who “was illegally forced-masked this year in Florida.”
He was at the university on Wednesday to announce a $20 million programme to create cybersecurity opportunities through the school.
“One of the things we’ve tried to do since I became governor was increase Florida’s competitiveness in terms of workforce education,” Mr DeSantis said.
“And that’s really looking to see what’s in high demand. And that’s really a diverse thing, in terms of what’s going on right now.”
Hillsborough School District said it was proud of the behaviour of the seven pupils, all students at Middleton High School in Tampa, who attended the press conference.
“We are excited our students from Middleton High School were highlighted as part of the statewide focus around cyber security education,” said Hillsborough Schools Superintendent Addison Davis.
“Our Cyber Security pathway at MHS has had tremendous success through student’s 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 parents’ 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.”