Florida’s surgeon general is supposed to be a voice of strength in a public health emergency. So far, Joseph Ladapo has been anything but. His unsettling comments and the disrespect he showed a state senator last week only raise (again) the question: What was Gov. Ron DeSantis thinking in making this appointment?
Ladapo refused a request by Sen. Tina Polsky to wear a mask while visiting her Capitol office last Wednesday. The Boca Raton Democrat is being treated for breast cancer, which puts patients at a higher risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19. Polsky told Ladapo she had a serious condition, and she offered masks for him and his two unmasked aides.
But the surgeon general refused, and as Polsky recalled, he “kept trying to negotiate and say we have other options,” such as moving the meeting outside. “This really went on a lot longer than it should — especially for those who weren’t wearing masks,’’ Polsky said. She ended the meeting and asked Ladapo to leave. “He was smug,’’ she said, telling CNN on Monday that Ladapo was trying to “push my buttons.”
To his credit, senate President Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican, issued a sharp rebuke to Ladapo when news of the encounter broke. He called the surgeon general “unprofessional” and insisted that similar conduct “will not be tolerated in the Senate.” In a statement Saturday, Simpson said that while the senate had no mask mandate, “senators and staff can request social distancing and masking within their own offices.” Anyone who ignores these requests, Simpson said, “will be asked to leave.”
Ladapo’s reckless disregard for another person’s welfare is stunning, but consistent with his flip approach to the pandemic since taking office in September. In his brief tenure, he has questioned the safety and effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines, fought masking mandates, and mocked lockdowns and other restrictive policies as being rooted “in fear” rather than science. Speaking alongside the governor at a news conference Thursday, behind a lectern emblazoned with a sign reading “Protect Florida Jobs,” Ladapo went further to cast doubt on the efficacy of the vaccines, despite their having been proven largely effective at protecting against severe disease and death.
“These vaccines are not preventing transmission. So sure, they reduce the likelihood of transmission, and even that is sort of questionable depending on how far out you go,” Ladapo said.
Like DeSantis, Ladapo is adept at conveying half the story and stoking fears when what Floridians need are the facts. While vaccinated people can still contract and spread the disease, federal data showed in August that unvaccinated individuals were six times more likely to contract the virus — and about 11 times more likely to die from it. More than 100 physicians across Florida have signed a letter challenging Ladapo. “I don’t want to see this man as surgeon general,” Polsky told the Times/Herald. “Think about the next public health crisis that’s not COVID. What’s he going to do to protect us?”
You could use a good laugh
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Ladapo’s appointment requires Senate confirmation, and it should be an easy call for lawmakers to see that he is the wrong fit. His arrogance in dealing with the legislative branch is disqualifying enough. But Floridians deserve a surgeon general who takes this pandemic seriously, not who merely looks to score points by promoting the governor’s failed agenda.
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.