TALLAHASSEE — Six days after refusing to wear a mask when meeting with a state senator who is being treated for cancer, Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo made his first public comments about the incident Tuesday, saying that by wearing a mask he couldn’t “communicate clearly” and offering no apology.
“I attempted in good faith to find some way for us to communicate that would respect each of our preferences” Ladapo wrote in a statement posted on Twitter. “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.”
After a media report about the exchange Saturday, Senate President Wilton Simpson, a Republican, criticized Ladapo’s behavior as “unprofessional.”
Ladapo said in his statement that he “would never knowingly be disrespectful to anyone” and confirmed what Polsky said that he “stated multiple times that she had every right to implement any safety protocols she wanted in her office.”
Polsky had agreed to meet with Ladapo as part of his effort to seek Senate confirmation. He was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. She said Tuesday that his response to her has now underscored her opposition to his confirmation.
“Dr. Ladapo’s shameful excuse that he can’t communicate with a mask on is not only absurd it is insulting,’’ she said. “It is especially insulting in that immediately following our abruptly canceled meeting, he was bragging to staff that he was ‘having fun’ arguing the point with me.”
She noted that “physicians, nurses and support staff wear masks during surgery and other procedures where communicating clearly is literally a matter of life and death,” and said “his outlandish notion that one cannot communicate with a mask on all but renders his qualifications as our state’s surgeon general an absurdity.”
Polsky told the Times/Herald that it seemed as if Ladapo was trying to “negotiate” with her as he stood in the small waiting area of her office with his two aides.
“I knew that he doesn’t admit to being vaccinated,’’ she said, and she had not yet gone public with her breast cancer treatment, so she repeatedly told him she wanted them to put on a mask because she had a “medical condition.”
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“I kind of was backing up into my aide’s office because I really started to feel uncomfortable, and they just wouldn’t do it, and he just kept trying to negotiate,’’ Polsky said.
During his brief time as surgeon general, Ladapo has questioned both the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, as well as the effectiveness of lockdowns and mask mandates.
At a news conference with the governor last week in which DeSantis called for a special session to punish businesses that require employees to be vaccinated, Ladapo again cast doubt on the efficacy of the vaccines, which have proven largely effective at preventing hospitalization and death from the virus.
“As surgeon general of Florida, Floridians can count on me to lead with integrity and communicate truthfully about data and scientific evidence,’’ he wrote in his statement Tuesday. “I have demonstrated those qualities consistently during my career as a clinician and university researcher.”
Polsky did not respond for requests for comment on Ladapo’s statement.
She said Sunday that she has concluded that Ladapo should not be confirmed. In an interview with CNN on Monday, Polsky added that other concerns have emerged about the surgeon general’s opposition to vaccines.
“We have another major problem going on besides COVID, and that’s childhood vaccines are not keeping up to date with the normal routine that they’re supposed to do,’’ she said. “So if he’s being cautious about even taking any vaccine or stirring doubt in people, then children are not going to get their vaccines in due course.”