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Surgeon general said he didn’t wear mask because he couldn’t ‘communicate clearly’

·4 min read

Six days after refusing to wear a mask when meeting with a state senator who is being treated for cancer, Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo made his first public comments about the incident Tuesday, saying that by wearing a mask he couldn’t “communicate clearly” and offering no apology.

“I attempted in good faith to find some way for us to communicate that would respect each of our preferences’’ Ladapo wrote in a statement posted on Twitter. “Having a conversation with someone while wearing a mask is not something I find productive, especially when other options exist. It is important to me to communicate clearly and effectively with people. I can’t do that when half of my face is covered.”

Ladapo, who is a doctor, came under fire over the weekend for refusing to wear a mask at the request of Sen. Tina Polsky, a Boca Raton Democrat who is undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

After a media report about the exchange on Saturday, Senate President Wilton Simpson, a Republican, criticized Ladapo’s behavior as “unprofessional.”.

Ladapo said in his statement that he “would never knowingly be disrespectful to anyone” and confirmed what Polsky said that he “stated multiple times that she had every right to implement any safety protocols she wanted in her office.”

Polsky had agreed to meet with Ladapo as part of his effort to seek Senate confirmation. He was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. She said Tuesday that his response to her has now underscored her opposition to his confirmation.

“Dr. Ladapo’s shameful excuse that he can’t communicate with a mask on is not only absurd it is insulting,’’ she 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 noted 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 said “his outlandish notion that one cannot communicate with a mask on all but renders his qualifications as our state’s surgeon general an absurdity.”

Polsky told the Herald/Times that it seemed as if Ladapo was trying to “negotiate” with her as he stood in the small waiting area of her office with his two aides.

“I knew that he doesn’t admit to being vaccinated,’’ she said, and she had not yet gone public with her breast cancer treatment, so she repeatedly told him she wanted them to put on a mask because she had a “medical condition.”

“I 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,’’ Polsky said.

Florida state Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, who is being treated for breast cancer, said state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo refused her request to wear a mask when visiting her office in October 2021. Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, called Ladapo’s behavior “unprofessional.”
Florida state Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, who is being treated for breast cancer, said state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo refused her request to wear a mask when visiting her office in October 2021. Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, called Ladapo’s behavior “unprofessional.”

During his brief time as surgeon general, Ladapo has questioned both the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, as well as the effectiveness of lockdowns and mask mandates.

At a press conference with the governor last week in which the governor called for a special session to punish businesses that require employees to be vaccinated, Ladapo again cast doubt on the efficacy of the vaccines, which have proven largely effective at preventing hospitalization and death from the virus.

“As surgeon general of Florida, Floridians can count on me to lead with integrity and communicate truthfully about data and scientific evidence,’’ he wrote in his statement on Tuesday. “I have demonstrated those qualities consistently during my career as a clinician and university researcher.”

On Tuesday, Polsky also responded to social media pictures showing her not wearing a mask in a Senate committee meeting hours before her meeting with Ladapo and at a check signing with other dignitaries.

“It’s completely beside the point,’’ she said. “The people that I was around when I took off my mask briefly are all fully vaccinated and I felt comfortable. I do not feel comfortable in my office, in an enclosed space, with people who are not fully vaccinated.”

She said she has been very strict with visitors to her office and, except for Ladapo, people “have been 100% compliant.”

In an interview with CNN on Monday, Polsky added that other concerns have emerged about the surgeon general’s opposition to vaccines.

“We have another major problem going on besides COVID, and that’s childhood vaccines are not keeping up to date with the normal routine that they’re supposed to do,’’ she said. “So if he’s being cautious about even taking any vaccine or stirring doubt in people, then children are not going to get their vaccines in due course.”

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@miamiherald.com and @MaryEllenKlas

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