Fla. surgeon general criticized for not wearing mask in meeting with cancer patient

Joseph Ladapo defends his stance in meeting with a Democratic state senator being treated for breast cancer, claiming masks limit clear communication.

Joseph Ladapo, the appointee for surgeon general of the state of Florida, is being criticized for refusing to wear a mask during a meeting with a state senator being treated for cancer. 

Ladapo was meeting with Sen. Tina Polsky, a Democrat who represents Boca Raton, who is currently undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Reportedly, Ladapo offered to have the meeting outdoors or in a hallway, which Polsky declined, and the surgeon general refused to wear a mask in the lawmaker’s office. 

Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo is being criticized for refusing to wear a mask during a meeting with a Democratic state senator being treated for breast cancer. (Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/Sipa USA/AP Images)

According to The Tampa Bay Times, as media reporting about the exchange went viral in the Sunshine State, even Senate President Wilton Simpson, a Republican, denounced Ladapo’s behavior as “unprofessional.” 

However, the widespread criticism has not deterred the doctor, who, in a statement on Twitter, wrote that he “would never knowingly be disrespectful to anyone,” but that he “attempted in good faith to find some way for us to communicate that would respect each of our preferences.”

“Having a conversation with someone while wearing a mask is not something I find productive, especially when other options exist,” he continued. “It is important to me to communicate clearly and effectively with people. I can’t do that when half of my face is covered.”

Polsky told The Times she “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.” 

She noted that Ladapo was meeting with her regarding his efforts to be confirmed into his role as surgeon general by the state’s legislature. But “Dr. Ladapo’s shameful excuse that he can’t communicate with a mask on is not only absurd it is insulting,’’ Polsky 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 added 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 contended “his outlandish notion that one cannot communicate with a mask on all but renders his qualifications as our state’s surgeon general an absurdity.”

As previously reported, Ladapo was appointed to his post last month by Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and has adamantly opposed both vaccination and mask mandates. He reportedly will not comment on whether or not he’s been vaccinated.

In an article for The Wall Street Journal, Ladapo contended mask-wearing has a “modest effect” on stemming the spread of the virus.

“Mandates infringe on personal autonomy, which can lead to political strife and unintended consequences, but they have value in some situations,” he wrote. “In general, however, wise policymaking respects the intrinsic value of personal autonomy and seeks the least burdensome path to achieve social gains.” 

Like DeSantis, Ladapo feels that the state should be less focused on stopping the spread of COVID-19, and instead focus on therapies that treat the disease. He also advised a combination of “vaccination, losing weight, exercising more, [and] eating more fruits and vegetables.”

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