Florida’s top health official was tossed from a meeting last week after refusing to wear a mask in the presence of a state senator with cancer.
In a reportedly tense exchange 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 higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and becoming severely ill. They also may 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 the meeting with Polsky in an effort to win Senate confirmation for his appointment, which Gov. Ron DeSantis announced late last month. Ladapo’s appointment has drawn controversy, particularly from Democrats, because of his views on the pandemic and vocal opposition to public health measures. In a series of op-eds and public appearances, Ladapo has advocated for allowing the pandemic coronavirus to spread and signed onto the controversial Great Barrington Declaration. Meanwhile, he has stoked unfounded fears about vaccine safety, misrepresented evidence on mask effectiveness, and opposed mask mandates, vaccine mandates, quarantines for school children, and lockdowns.
According to the Associated Press, Ladapo arrived maskless at Polsky’s office Wednesday with two maskless aides. Polsky’s staff offered them masks, but they refused to wear them. At the time, Polsky had not yet made her cancer diagnosis public, but staff told Ladapo that Polksy had a serious medical condition that necessitated taking health precautions. 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 in this manner,” Polsky told the AP. “If he is a surgeon general for the next several years, I am really concerned about a future public health emergency and not being able to rely on him for necessary guidance and proper scientific leadership.”
Republican Florida Senate leader Wilton Simpson on Saturday sent a memo to senators about the incident and requested that visitors be respectful. “It shouldn’t take a cancer diagnosis for people to respect each other’s level of comfort with social interactions during a pandemic,” Simpson said. “What occurred in Senator Polsky’s office was unprofessional and will not be tolerated in the Senate.”
A spokesperson for Florida’s Department of Health, Weesam Khoury, confirmed the scheduled meeting between Ladapo and Polsky but told the AP that the department would address meeting accommodations between health officials and senate members privately.