Florida’s surgeon general refused to wear mask to meet senator with cancer

Enlarge / Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo speaks during a press conference at Neo City Academy in Kissimmee, Florida.

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Florida’s top health official was kicked out of a meeting last week after refusing to wear a mask in the presence of a senator with cancer.

In an reportedly tense conversation on Wednesday, State Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo was asked to leave the office of Democratic state senator Tina Polsky, who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Cancer patients are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 and becoming seriously ill. They may also not be able to mount a full immune response after being vaccinated against the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ladapo had requested a meeting with Polsky in a bid to get Senate confirmation for his nomination, which Governor Ron DeSantis announced late last month. Ladapo’s appointment has sparked controversy, particularly among Democrats, for his views on the pandemic and his outspoken opposition to public health measures. In a series of opinion pieces and public appearances, Ladapo has advocated for the spread of the pandemic coronavirus and signed the controversial Great Barrington Declaration. Meanwhile, he has raised unfounded fears about vaccine safety, misrepresented evidence about mask effectiveness and opposed mask mandates, vaccine mandates, schoolchild quarantines and lockdowns.


According to the Associated Press, Ladapo arrived at Polsky’s office without a mask on Wednesday with two maskless assistants. Polsky’s staff offered their masks, but they refused to wear them. At the time, Polsky had not yet made her cancer diagnosis public, but the staff told Ladapo that Polksy had a serious medical condition that necessitated taking health measures. Polsky asked Ladapo why he refused to wear a mask, but according to Polsky, he refused to answer the question.

“It was so shocking to me that he treated me this way,” Polsky told AP. “If he is a surgeon general in the next few years, I am really concerned about a future public health emergency and cannot rely on him for the necessary guidance and good scientific leadership.”

Wilton Simpson, the leader of the Republican Senate in Florida, sent a memo to senators on Saturday about the incident, asking visitors to be respectful. “There should be no cancer diagnosis for people to respect each other’s comfort with social interactions during a pandemic,” Simpson said. “What happened in Senator Polsky’s office was unprofessional and will not be tolerated in the Senate.”

A spokesman for the Florida Department of Health, Weesam Khoury, confirmed the planned meeting between Ladapo and Polsky, but told the AP the ministry would discuss meeting facilities between health officials and Senate members privately.

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