Florida surgeon general defends not wearing a mask in meeting with immunocompromised lawmaker

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The surgeon general of Florida, appointed by Gov Ron DeSantis, is facing criticism less than one week into the job  (Spectrum News)
The surgeon general of Florida, appointed by Gov Ron DeSantis, is facing criticism less than one week into the job (Spectrum News)

Florida Surgeon General Dr Joseph Ladapo is defending his refusal to follow an immunocompromised state senator’s office mask policy as necessary by arguing he cannot communicate effectively while wearing a face covering.

The Sunshine State’s top public health official drew widespread scorn and condemnation last week after state senator Tina Polsky, a Palm Beach County Democrat, revealed that she had been forced to ask him to leave a meeting in her Tallahassee office because he refused to wear a face mask despite being informed that she is immunocompromised as a result of treatment for breast cancer.

According to the website Florida Politics, Dr Ladapo had requested the meeting in anticipation of his confirmation process by the Florida Senate. When she asked him to put on a mask in accordance with her office’s policy, he offered to meet with her outside, but she declined.

“I told him several times, `I have this very serious medical condition.’ And he said, ‘That’s OK,’ like it basically has nothing to do with what we are talking about,” she explained.

In a statement posted to his Twitter account on Monday, Dr Ladapo said he “would never knowingly be disrespectful to anyone”, and admitted that Ms Polski had the right to set a mask policy in her office.

Dr Ladapo – whom Governor Ron DeSantis tapped to be Florida’s surgeon general last month – said he refused to comply with Ms Polski’s request because it would have left him incapable of communicating with her.

“Having a conversation with someone while wearing a mask is not something I find productive, especially when other options exist. It is important to me to communicate clearly and effectively with people. I can’t do that when half of my face is covered,” he explained.

The Harvard-educated physician, who came to Mr DeSantis’ attention through his promotion of hydroycloroquine – an anti-malaria drug which former president Donald Trump and other Republicans promoted as a treatment for Covid-19 despite Food and Drug Administration studies showing it was both ineffective and unsafe for that use – is also an opponent of vaccine mandates and has questioned the efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines.

Such contrarian opinions, plus his sterling academic and medical credentials, put him in the good graces of Mr DeSantis, who like Dr Ladapo is a Harvard graduate and has positioned himself as a rising star in the Republican Party by bucking scientific consensus on the best ways to prevent spread of the coronavirus, such as by encouraging the use of monoclonal antibody therapy as an alternative to vaccination, and by banning mask and vaccine mandates in schools and private businesses.

According to an analysis by The New York Times, Florida’s deaths per 100,000 residents was the third-highest in the nation earlier this month, with the state’s daily death average of 239.7 leading the country.

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