Stacey Abrams apologizes for maskless photo op at school, says she wouldn't lift mandate for kids
The maskless Democrat faced intense backlash for appearing alongside masked children
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams issued a mea culpa for appearing maskless at a Georgia elementary school, posing in photos where everyone but her was following local COVID protocols.
"I took a picture and that was the mistake," Abrams told CNN's Erin Burnett on Tuesday. "Protocols matter and protecting our kids is the most important thing and anything that can be perceived as undermining. That is a mistake and I apologize."
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Abrams explained that she had her mask on but only took it off to read the book to the children, some she said were listening remotely, though photos obtained by Outkick show she kept her mask off for numerous photos in addition to the one that went viral over the weekend.
However, when asked if she believes it's time to lift school mask mandates as Democratic governors have announced this week, Abrams suggests now is not the time.
"COVID hygiene is going to be a point of debate for a very long time and we can only follow the science and follow our circumstances," Abrams told Burnett. "Unfortunately, in Georgia, we're not at a place where that conversation is ready because we have one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country."
"I think each governor has to evaluate what's happening where they are, we have to look to the CDC. But we also have to recognize that we are shifting from pandemic to endemic some states are going to get there faster than others," Abrams said. "My responsibility, if I am lucky enough to be the next Governor of Georgia, is to look at the science, to follow the protocols and to set the right example. And right now, that example is that we wear masks whenever possible but we recognize that we can't be a hardline about this because situations change and we have different moments where we have to make decisions."
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"But in this instance, I would say that as governor of Georgia, my job will be at that time to look at the science, to look at the situation and to make the best decision to protect our kids," she added.
The Democrat went on to say that the mask mandates "make sense" when teachers have limited resources to stop the spread of COVID, but stressed that despite "that moment" when she wasn't wearing a mask, the mask debate is "complicated" and it shouldn't be made about politics.
Abrams visited Glennwood Elementary School outside of Atlanta this past week to kick off the third annual African American read-in, where she met with young students and teachers.
The principal, Dr. Holly Brookins, took to Twitter after the visit to post four pictures on her Twitter account of Abrams' visit, which included three pictures of Abrams without a mask, despite the Decatur City Commission reinstating a mandatory masking ordinance last month.
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The picture that went viral was Abrams sitting on the floor with her legs crossed and smiling without a mask on while the dozens of children and adults behind her were all wearing masks. Abrams quote tweeted the picture and told Brookins that her visit was "spectacular, delightful, and outstanding."
Abrams deleted her tweet and Brookins appears to have deactivated her Twitter account.
Before the candidate issued an apology, her campaign released a defiant statement attacking Abrams' critics.
"It is shameful that our opponents are using a Black History Month reading event for Georgia children as the impetus for a false political attack, and it is pitiful and predictable that our opponents continue to look for opportunities to distract from their failed records when it comes to protecting public health during the pandemic," the Abrams campaign said in a statement to Fox News.
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Fox News pressed Abrams on if she has any regret over not wearing a mask, but responded: "We will let our statement speak for itself."
"Stacey trusts science and supports masking in schools as it's the current CDC recommendation," Lauren Groh-Wargo, a spokeswoman for Abrams, tweeted. "She wore a mask to the event, and removed it at the podium so she could be heard by students watching remotely and for photos, but only with folks who were masked."
Yet photos first released by OutKick suggest that Abrams kept her mask off for most of the visit.
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Fox News' Cameron Cawthorne and Tyler O'Neil contributed to this report.
Outkick and Fox News share common ownership.