Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo speaking about vaccine concerns, along with Gov. Ron DeSantis. October 21, 2021. Credit: Screenshot, Florida Channel
Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, amid mounting criticism of his refusal to wear a face mask during a meeting with a state senator undergoing treatment for breast cancer, issued a written statement on Tuesday defending his behavior.
“I attempted in good faith to find some way for us to communicate that would respect each of our preferences,” the doctor wrote on Twitter.
“Having a conversation with someone while wearing a mask is not something that I find productive, especially when other options exist. It is important for me to communicate clearly and effectively with people. I can’t do that when half of my face is covered.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis has yet to comment directly about the incident last week in Sen. Tina Polsky’s Capitol office, when Ladapo appeared for an appointment to discuss his Senate confirmation but refused to don a mask even after Polsky informed him of her health problems. After some back and forth, she asked him to leave.
Polsky, a Democrat representing parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties, has begun treatments for breast cancer that could compromise her immune system.
However, the governor’s press office said via email that DeSantis wouldn’t back off his support for Ladapo, who shares the governor’s skepticism of the utility of masks and vaccines in restraining transmission of the coronavirus.
“The governor stands by Dr. Ladapo’s qualifications for this role and is not withdrawing his nomination,” Press Secretary Christina Pushaw wrote.
On her own Twitter feed, Pushaw praised Ladapo’s “great statement.”
Attacks on Ladapo that followed the first report of the encounter on the Florida Politics news site over the weekend continued on Tuesday.
They included editorials in the Miami Herald, which wrote that 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” and that he “refused to show simple good manners” during the episode.
The Orlando Sentinel also called upon the Senate to refuse to confirm Ladapo.
“What kind of person — what kind of physician — refuses such a simple request from a cancer patient in the midst of a pandemic caused by a highly contagious and deadly airborne virus?” the newspaper wondered in an editorial. “An arrogant, self-absorbed crank, that’s who.”
“Ladapo’s calculated refusal to wear a mask in the presence of a senator fighting a deadly disease reflects his hostility to reasonable COVID-19 precautions and his DeSantis-like zeal for combat and confrontation. If the crackpot doctor wants a war over masks, the Senate should give him one,” the South Florida Sun-Sentinel wrote in its own editorial.
Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried, running in the Democratic primary for a shot at DeSantis next year, had already savaged Ladapo on Twitter but opened fire again during a news conference on Tuesday.
“I have asked and will be asking for the Senate to not confirm his appointment. What he has done in the last few weeks since he has been here in the state of Florida has spread misinformation, has continued to increase the political rhetoric around masking, around vaccination, about going after our school board members,” Fried said.
“He should not be our surgeon general. He should not be somebody who is in charge of our health-care policy,” she continued.
Fellow Democratic primary contender Charlie Crist also has called for Ladapo’s rejection by the Senate; Sen. Annette Taddeo of Miami-Dade County, also a primary candidate, has yet to remark publicly.
In his written statement, Ladapo gave his version of the encounter.
“I respect all individuals, and I would never knowingly be disrespectful to anyone,” he wrote.
“During the encounter with Sen. Tina Polsky, I stated multiple times that she had every right to implement any safety protocols she wanted in her office,” he continued.
“I recommended an outdoor meeting to the senator because of her concern about COVID-19 transmission, as the data clearly show that outdoor settings are much safer than indoor settings.
“Because this suggestion was not considered acceptable to her, I offered to identify some other solution that would allow us to communicate in a manner that would respect both of our preferences. I even offered to sit outside her office in the hallway. Unfortunately, she did not consider any of these option to be satisfactory.
“I am genuinely saddened by Sen. Polsky’s recent diagnosis of breast cancer, and I pray for her and her family and wish them God’s blessings and strength.
“As surgeon general of Florida, Floridians can count on me to lead with integrity and communicate truthfully about data and scientific evidence. I have demonstrated these qualities consistently during my career as a clinician and university researcher,” Ladapo concluded.
In a rare breach of inter-Republican amity, Senate President Wilton Simpson has issued a memorandum asserting senators’ institutional prerogatives to set masking rules, saying Ladapo’s behavior “was unprofessional and will not be tolerated in the Senate.”
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