Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo on Oct. 26 responded to an incident in which he refused to wear a mask when visiting a state senator who has been diagnosed with cancer.
The matter took place on Oct. 25 after state Sen. Tina Polsky (D-Boca Raton), had agreed to meet with Ladapo in her Tallahassee office in anticipation of his confirmation hearing.
According to media reports, Polsky said she was wearing a mask and had a sign on her door requesting those who enter to “mask up,” but Ladapo and his two aides did not comply. The senator said she asked him to put on a mask.
“I respect all individuals, and I would never knowingly be disrespectful to anyone. I attempted, in good faith, to find some way for us to communicate that would respect each of our preferences,” Ladapo said on Twitter.
The surgeon general said he suggested they meet in an outdoor venue because of her “concerns of COVID-19 transmissions.”
He said that data clearly shows 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,” he continued.
Polsky, 53, represents portions of Broward and Palm Beach counties. She was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer in August and is set to begin chemotherapy soon.
Ladapo said: “Having a conversation with someone while wearing a mask is not something I find productive, especially when other options exist.”
The incident has spurred a media storm and Polsky has appeared across a number of broadcast and print outlets on the matter.
The governor’s press secretary, Christina Pushaw, says the incident is “unduly politicized,” because Ladapo’s confirmation will be coming up soon.
The much-publicized incident has raised criticisms from other Democrats who have asked the governor to rescind the nomination. The group has threatened to reject the nomination in the upcoming session.
Ladapo, according to the governor’s office, can stay in the position for up to two years without Senate approval.
“I don’t want to see him sitting there as surgeon general this whole time without proper nomination process, or his nomination should just be pulled,” Polsky told MSNBC Oct. 25.
“This man is not fit to serve as our surgeon general. He certainly didn’t care about my health, so I don’t know how he’s going to care about the public health of 21 million Floridians.”
Ladapo said he will continue in his role with “integrity and communicate truthfully about data and scientific evidence.”
“It is important to me to communicate clearly and effectively with people,” he said. “I can’t do that when half of my face is covered.”
The Florida Department of Health, which Ladapo oversees, sent a statement telling senators that he will work with them on protocols for meetings concerning his confirmation.
“DOH will be addressing this directly with members of the Senate, rather than letting this play out publicly,” the statement read. “While we weren’t aware of any specific Senate protocols, we will certainly ask members ahead of time and make necessary accommodations, such as meeting through Zoom, or outdoors.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Ladapo last month after Dr. Scott Rivkees resigned after his contract with the state ran out.
The governor’s spokeswoman said the governor will not be withdrawing the nomination.