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Lawmaker Slams Fla. Surgeon General's 'Shocking' Mask Rebuff

State Sen. Tina Polsky, who has cancer, says Joseph Ladapo wouldn't don mask in her office
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 25, 2021 10:00 AM CDT
Lawmaker With Cancer Says Fla.'s Top Doc Wouldn't Wear Mask
Rep. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, is seen during a session on March 10, 2020, in Tallahassee, Fla.   (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)

(Newser) – Florida's top health official was asked to leave a meeting after refusing to wear a mask at the office of a state senator who told him she had a serious medical condition, officials have confirmed. Florida Senate leader Wilton Simpson, a Republican, sent a memo to senators Saturday regarding the incident at the office of Democratic state Sen. Tina Polsky, asking visitors at the building to be respectful with social interactions. Polsky, who represents parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties, had not yet made public her breast cancer diagnosis. Polsky told the AP about the tense exchange with state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo that was first reported by the news site Florida Politics.

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Ladapo had asked to meet her in Tallahassee as he seeks confirmation in the Senate after being named to the post by Gov. Ron DeSantis last month. Polsky said Ladapo and two aides were offered masks and asked to wear them when they arrived for the Wednesday meeting. She didn't tell him she had breast cancer, but said she had a serious condition. The CDC says cancer patients are at a higher risk to get severely ill from COVID-19 and may not build the same immunity to vaccines. Ladapo offered to go outside, but the senator said she didn't want to sit on the metal picnic tables on a warm day when her office was nice and spacious.

She said she asked whether there was a reason why he couldn't wear a mask, but he wouldn't answer. "It was so shocking to me that he treated me in this manner," Polsky said. "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." Democrats have opposed the appointment of Ladapo, criticizing him for comments and actions related to the pandemic. A day into his job, Ladapo signed new rules allowing parents to decide whether their children should quarantine or stay in school after being exposed to people who tested positive for COVID.

Ladapo also wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal saying masks have "little or no effect on respiratory virus transmission," and at a recent presser with DeSantis, he said there was a "concerted effort" to hide stories of people with adverse vaccine reactions. Simpson, in his memo, said that while there's no mask mandate in the Senate, senators can request social distancing and masking within their offices. "It shouldn't take a cancer diagnosis for people to respect each other's level of comfort with social interactions during a pandemic," he noted. "What occurred in Senator Polsky's office was unprofessional and will not be tolerated in the Senate."

(Read more Florida stories.)

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