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Eight questions for Florida’s new surgeon general
“Eating more fruits and vegetables” is not a strategy for beating COVID-19
Dr. Joseph Ladapo, left, was named Tuesday by Gov. Ron DeSantis as Florida's next surgeon general.
Dr. Joseph Ladapo, left, was named Tuesday by Gov. Ron DeSantis as Florida's next surgeon general. [ MARY ELLEN KLAS | Times/Herald ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Sep. 26

It looks already like Dr. Joseph Ladapo, whom Gov. Ron DeSantis introduced Tuesday as Florida’s new surgeon general, will serve as a wing-man in scrubs for Republicans looking to downplay the pandemic. The Harvard-trained doctor has called for fighting the coronavirus in ways that emphasize individual rights over community-based precautions. His comments and actions deserve robust scrutiny by the Florida Senate, which still has to confirm the appointment.

Since the pandemic’s start, Ladapo has penned op-eds in the Wall Street Journal challenging mainstream assertions by national health experts. In one Journal piece in June, Ladapo and a co-author raised questions about the vaccine, saying the risks “may outweigh the benefits for certain low-risk populations” such as children and young adults. Many of his statements echo the opinions of the governor, Ladapo’s new boss, who has questioned the use of mandates, fought with school districts over masks, and championed coronavirus treatments at the expense of further highlighting vaccines and other preventive measures.

Ladapo continued to raise eyebrows after DeSantis made the announcement on Tuesday. He vowed to “reject fear” as a public health strategy, parroting a DeSantis talking point. He suggested that too much emphasis had been put on vaccines, encouraging instead a broader approach, such as “losing weight, exercising more (and) eating more fruits and vegetables.” Ladapo also issued a new rule Wednesday that looks to preempt tougher masking requirements in local school districts.

The appointment makes Ladapo not only surgeon general but secretary of the Florida Department of Health. As such, he would play a key role not only fighting COVID-19, but in managing the state’s public health system. Florida law provides a way for the Republican-controlled Senate to forestall Ladapo’s confirmation process until after DeSantis’ reelection campaign next year. But the stakes in this appointment are too high. Senators need straight answers from Ladapo to these serious questions:

1. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal indoor masking in K-12 schools regardless of a person’s vaccination status. The governor has moved to bar school districts from imposing mask requirements without parental consent, a policy you endorse. What is your medical basis for opposing the CDC recommendation?

2. You have questioned the safety of vaccines. What science is behind your argument?

3. Florida ranks second-to-last among all 50 states in the percent of both residents and staff at nursing homes that are vaccinated. How would you boost inoculations among these critical populations?

4. In June, the state halted publication of detailed, county-level data on infections, hospitalizations, deaths and vaccinations. Do you consider this information useful, and will you resume releasing it?

5. How would you address the racial disparities in COVID infections, the drop in vaccinations in recent weeks, and the positivity rates in some Florida counties that are twice the statewide average?

6. The governor has hyped monoclonal antibody treatments recently. The Florida Department of Health, which you lead, also gives antibody therapy prime placement on its website. Do you intend to refocus more on vaccinations and other preventative measures or stick with emphasizing treatments?

7. Florida was unprepared to deal with the pandemic in part because former Gov. Rick Scott decimated the state’s public health system. Would you rebuild it, and if so, where and how?

8. In accepting the appointment, you praised the governor, saying: “It is a privilege to join his team and serve the people of Florida.” Is being a teammate synonymous with serving Floridians? Where’s your prime allegiance, the people or the governor?

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.