As COVID flares, FL surgeon general Rivkees is on the way out; who will replace him?

Scott Rivkees departs in late September

By: - August 27, 2021 6:09 pm

Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees at the podium next to Gov. Ron DeSantis and Dr. Shamarial Roberson in March 2020. He has not appeared at another press conference since April 2020. Photo: Facebook video

Rarely seen in public since April 2020, Florida Surgeon General  Scott Rivkees will officially disappear from the Department of Health next month.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ press secretary, Christina Pushaw, confirmed Friday that Rivkees, who was appointed by DeSantis in June 2019, will depart when his contract expires Sept. 20.

Pushaw, in June, told the Florida Phoenix that Rivkees was going to stay on as surgeon general, but provided no other details.

Friday, Pushaw said that Rivkees got a three-month extension from his original contract but would be leaving after that.

“The new Surgeon General has not been announced yet, but that announcement will be forthcoming,” Pushaw told the Phoenix.

Dr. Kenneth Scheppke has been at Gov. DeSantis’ side for numerous press conferences this summer. Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees who is stepping down next month, has not been seen at a press conference since April of last year. Screenshot/The Florida Channel

While Rivkees has not been seen at DeSantis’ side for more than a year, Dr. Kenneth Scheppke, chief medical officer at the Florida Division of Emergency Management and director of emergency medical services at the Department of Health, has appeared with the governor in a series of press conferences announcing the free availability of monoclonal antibodies therapy.

But it’s not clear if Scheppke will replace Rivkees.

Pushaw issued a news statement praising Dr. Rivkees’ work for the state.

“Dr. Rivkees has been integral to the state’s response to COVID-19,” Pushaw states. “During his tenure, over 12 million Floridians have been vaccinated – 66% of Florida’s eligible population, which is above the national average. 86% of Floridians over age 65 have been vaccinated, one of our most vulnerable populations. We have also administered over 18,000 monoclonal antibody therapy treatments in two weeks at state sites to continue protecting the health of those at higher risk of severe illness due to COVID-19.”

Rivkees, who originally faced a tough confirmation hearing, also is employed at the University of Florida. He admitted at an April 2020 news conference that the pandemic would stretch on for many months to come. He was ushered out of the room by DeSantis’ former communications director, Helen Aguirre Ferré. He made few public appearances after that.

But nowadays, DeSantis has acknowledged that COVID-19 is here to stay.

Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Nikki Fried has publicly lamented that the state’s surgeon general has been almost invisible to Floridians for most of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Sidelining our state’s surgeon general in the middle of a pandemic is just one more example of Governor DeSantis choosing partisan politics over science throughout this entire crisis. Florida is the epicenter of this emergency, and our state is in desperate need of qualified leadership,” said Caroline Stonecipher, deputy communications director at Fried’s Office.

“Commissioner Fried is hopeful but not optimistic that the governor will select a non-partisan medical professional who will prioritize saving lives over scoring political points as Florida’s next surgeon general.”

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper.