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The anti-maskers yelling at grocery store clerks, the angry parents threatening school boards over mask mandates and the conspiracy theorists stocking up on medication to treat worm infections in animals have found a new ally in the upper echelons of Florida’s government.
New state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo represents the pompousness, the wackiness and the disregard for life and community that have become the hallmarks of Florida’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the Herald Editorial Board criticized his predecessor in August for being a no-show as coronavirus cases among children hit record highs, we didn’t know how good we actually had it. Enter Ladapo, appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in September.
During his short tenure, Ladapo has been on a rampage. He issued an order forcing schools to allow students who have been exposed to COVID and aren’t showing symptoms to attend in-person classes — even though asymptomatic people can transmit the coronavirus. Last week, he gave a speech that misconstrued the coronavirus vaccine’s efficacy.
Most recently, Ladapo refused to show simple good manners when a state senator battling breast cancer asked him to mask up in her Capitol office, the Herald reported Sunday. He even made a snarky comment on his way out, telling his aides, “Sometimes I try to reason with unreasonable people for fun,” according to what Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, told the Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau.
On Tuesday, Ladapo released a statement saying he recommended an outdoor meeting to the senator and offered to sit outside in the hallway because he can’t communicate clearly wearing a mask.
“I can’t do that when half of my face is covered,” he wrote.
There were, of course, no apologies for disregarding the request from someone who’s about to undergo cancer treatment —and who was hosting him in her workplace. Please, kindergartners have found a way to communicate with masks. But that was beyond this Harvard-educated former UCLA professor?
The Florida Senate still must confirm Ladapo’s appointment. He was in Polsky’s office to make a pitch for staying on the job, but she described him being smug during their face-off. It doesn’t look like he’s convinced her, or any Floridian who wants a return to normalcy that gives us a sense of security — for example, that other people will respect our wishes and wear a mask in our own home or workplace.
Perhaps Ladapo thinks he can dismiss a Democrat in a GOP-controlled Legislature — and he’s probably right, unfortunately. He’s sure to pass the confirmation process with flying colors . What else would you expect from a Legislature that’s considering withdrawing Florida from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration because of President Biden’s employer vaccine mandate?
We have seen the Florida Legislative go along with every bad policy that comes from the governor’s office, but Senate leadership came to Polsky’s defense. GOP Senate President Wilton Simpson sent a note to his colleagues saying, in part, that, “It shouldn’t take a cancer diagnosis for people to respect each others’ level of comfort with social interactions during a pandemic.” We commend Simpson for this humane stance.
It’s too bad that DeSantis couldn’t get off the masks-don’t-work wagon to join Simpson. The Herald Editorial Board asked the governor’s office to comment on the incident, but was redirected to the Department of Health. The agency, led by Ladapo, sent us a previously released statement that said it was “saddened to hear of Senator Polsky’s recent [cancer] diagnosis.”
“DOH will be addressing this directly with members of the Senate, rather than letting this play out publicly,” read part of the statement.
DeSantis’ office then told us “We share DOH’s position.”
Any display of common sense or courtesy has been difficult to find in Florida’s government. Take Brevard County state Rep. Randy Fine, who shared on Facebook the cell phone number of a local School Board member who pushed for a mask mandate. Jennifer Jenkins says she’s received threats of violence and been the target of false child-abuse complaints. Instead of publicly denouncing such threats, DeSantis has bashed the U.S. Department of Justice for ordering federal law enforcement to address threats against educators and school board members amid the pandemic. We’re appalled, but — at this point — not surprised that this man occupying Florida’s highest elected office would give his tacit approval to such unsettling acts and the people perpetrating them.
Let’s hope the Senate does its due diligence by asking Ladapo tough questions during his confirmation hearing, as requested in a letter signed by more than 100 Florida physicians concerned about his record.
Democrats shouldn’t be the only ones to bring up Ladapo’s past endorsement of hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of COVID-19, which was also peddled by Donald Trump and discredited by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Or Ladapo’s signing of a statement calling for herd immunity during the pandemic. Or his hailing ivermectin, an ant-iparasitic medication, as a COVID-19 treatment. Not only is the medication not approved for such use, it also has led to a spike in calls to poison-control centers in the state.
He has proven he’s not worthy of the $512,000 per year he will earn along with a tenured professorship at the University of Florida.
But in DeSantis’ Florida, Ladapo fits right in.
This editorial was updated to reflect the Florida surgeon general’s response.