TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Taking shots at the latest round of federal mask policies for tourists and travelers, Gov. Ron DeSantis spent part of his time in Okaloosa County on Thursday highlighting Florida’s stance against mandates of any kind, and fighting what he called destructive policies. The comments come days after a federal lawsuit was filed by a variety of Republican lawmakers against new mask guidance for airplane passengers.
“Think about this, you go on an airplane and if you just want to sit there and read a magazine without a mask, they say that’s the worst thing in the world. But if the person right next to you pulls the mask down and fake sip on water for two hours, they don’t have to wear the mask. Give me a break, this is theater, this should not be extended, it should’ve never been done in the first place,” DeSantis said. “No masks for two hours on a flight if you’re nibbling on crackers, is fine. But no mask if you’re reading a magazine is somehow some major threat to health.”
Two federal lawmakers from Florida have signed onto a lawsuit against the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to end the latest federal mask requirements for air travel. Commentary from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis echoed a similar sentiment.
U.S. Reps. Brian Mast (R-Treasure Coast) and Bill Posey (R-Brevard) were among 17 congressmen to sue over the updated policy. While Mast and Posey were the only two federal lawmakers from Florida to sign onto the lawsuit, DeSantis heavily criticized the policy at an event in Okaloosa County, repeating his previous slogan of calling masking “COVID theater.”
The term was first used by the governor in a previous event in Hillsborough County at a University of South Florida campus, where he told a high school student that he didn’t have to wear a mask, called it “ridiculous” and said everyone had to “stop with this COVID theater.”
The term later became a campaign slogan for his reelection bid, with the governor’s reelection campaign posting the video of the incident to Twitter. On Thursday in Okaloosa, DeSantis painted the issue as the federal government choosing a strategy that was not based on science, and saying he’d “love to see the study” that says masking on a flight to “read a magazine” is dangerous but not masking while eating “is fine.”
The new flight policy was published on March 10. Following CDC recommendations, the Transportation Security Administration said they would be extending the mask requirement for public transport another month, through April 18.
“We said we’re going to put our kids first, we have no tolerance for COVID theater in Florida… Think about this, you go on an airplane and if you just want to sit there and read a magazine without a mask, they say that’s the worst thing in the world,” DeSantis said in Okaloosa. “But clearly now, this is a farce, they need to repeal the transportation mandate, let people fly and let them breathe normally. We’ve gotta stop with the theater, there’s more people that would want to fly but they know that they don’t want to do this.”
Mask and vaccine policies related to COVID-19 from the federal government are no stranger to DeSantis’ ire, or policy shifts that directly push back upon them. Recent changes in COVID-19 guidance from the Florida Department of Health explicitly contradicts the CDC, even being referred to as an effort to “buck” the federal agency’s rules.
Soon after the announcement of bucking the CDC, FDOH also released new vaccination guidelines, recommending against COVID-19 vaccinations for children if they were “healthy.” For Florida’s governor, the policy disagreement comes down to freedom for parents to choose how to care for their children, and the added difficulties he believes the masking policy will create for travelers, especially with young kids.
“You have families, where if the airline is going to hassle the family about masking a 2-year-old or a 3-year-old, it’s not an easy thing to do,” DeSantis said Thursday. “Trust me I know, we would never do that to my kids, but it’s hard enough keeping them in order. Then you put that on there? I mean, give me a break.”
As far as the masking policies DeSantis said he wanted to see proof of mask efficacy from the federal government, the CDC does have a webpage with references to dozens of studies which evaluate the use of masks and which are used by the agency to inform their policy decisions.
Still, the politics of the moment are not restricted to just Florida’s lawmakers in Congress, as COVID-19 response remains a heavily politicized and polarizing issue for Americans.
The lawsuit Mast and Posey signed onto was put forward by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.). The lawsuit was also signed onto by Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz), Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.), Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.), Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio), Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Rep. Alex Mooney (R-W. Va.), Rep. Barry Moore (R-Ala.), Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.), and Rep. Chip Roy, (R-Texas).
Boebert is no stranger to headlines for fiery pushback on the federal government, having recently taken criticism alongside Greene for heckling President Joe Biden during his State of the Union address. Announcing her support and signing-on to the lawsuit, Boebert took to Twitter to criticize the CDC and TSA policies.
“In honor of the TWO-YEAR ANNIVERSARY of 15 Days To Slow The Spread, I’ve joined 16 of my colleagues in suing the CDC to END the mask mandate on airplanes. It should be a personal choice, not an unscientific mandate!” Boebert tweeted.
DeSantis, in his commentary in Okaloosa, said he hopes the mask mandates are repealed, because it’ll help Florida, which he said set a domestic tourism record in 2021, with even more travelers than before the COVID-19 pandemic.