Gov. Ron DeSantis defended the record of his controversial pick for Surgeon General. And he has made clear he won’t reconsider the nomination
He did so after days of bipartisan criticism of Dr. Joseph Ladapo over a refusal to wear a mask in the office of a cancer-stricken Senator.
A statement from the Governor published across multiple social media platforms made no mention of that incident. Rather, DeSantis praised Ladapo’s prior policies on the COVID-19 pandemic and a low-regulation approach mirroring the Governor’s rhetoric and actions over the past year. Specifically, he credited Ladapo for a reduced infection rate in Florida schools.
“34 days ago, State Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo signed a rule that empowered Florida parents, eliminated healthy quarantines, and kept healthy kids in school,” DeSantis posted on Facebook. “Today, Florida has the lowest COVID-19 rate in the country, and our schools have seen a 76% decrease in COVID-19 cases since the day the new policy went into effect (and a 90% decrease since August).”
While it’s unclear what rate DeSantis is referencing, Florida has a higher seven-day case rate per 100,000 residents than California, Alabama or Mississippi, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ladapo in September updated a rule issued by former Surgeon General Scott Rivkees, also a DeSantis appointee, and ended a requirement students exposed to COVID-19 enter quarantine. Instead, it left it to parents to decide whether to keep a child home from school if they were exposed to the virus.
The prior policy had rankled many parents upset their children had to learn remotely or miss school entirely, regardless of whether they contracted the coronavirus. But of note, ending that policy would not contribute to a reduction in infection rates; defenders of the rule argue quarantines help limit a virus’ spread.
Ladapo responded to DeSantis’ praise via Twitter.
“Thank you for your leadership, Gov. Ron DeSantis,” he posted. “I look forward to working together as we continue empowering and protecting Floridians.”
In an email to media, DeSantis Press Secretary Christina Pushaw confirmed the Governor stands by his nomination of Ladapo. “Governor DeSantis stands by the surgeon general’squalifications for this important role and is not reconsidering the nomination,” she wrote.
“… For any public figure, criticism from media, activist groups, and political opponents is an expected part of the job. This is especially true for a leader like Governor DeSantis, who is unafraid to challenge establishment narratives. The governor respects everyone’s right to express their own opinion, but he will not allow political attacks or misinformed critiques to distract him from his job leading our state and making policies that improve Floridians’ lives.”
But, it’s Ladapo’s meeting with Sen. Tina Polsky, a Boca Raton Democrat, that has placed his professional future in jeopardy. Polsky, who was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer in August, asked Ladapo to wear a mask in her office during a meeting.
“I told him I had a serious medical condition,” Polsky said.
But Ladapo refused. Polsky ultimately asked him to leave her office, and said Ladapo on the way out remarked, “Sometimes I try to reason with unreasonable people for fun.”
Ladapo later confirmed parts of Polsky’s account, though importantly not that parting remark, in his own lengthy statement on Tuesday, hours before the Governor’s posts praising him. The Surgeon General defended his own behavior.
“It is important to me to communicate clearly and effectively with people. I can’t do that when half of my face is covered,” he wrote.
The episode with Polsky prompted Senate President Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican, to issue a lengthy statement criticizing Ladapo.
“What occurred in Senator Polsky’s office was unprofessional and will not be tolerated in the Senate,” Simpson stated.
Ladapo’s appointment to Surgeon General remains subject to Senate confirmation.
— Joseph A. Ladapo, MD, PhD (@FLSurgeonGen) October 26, 2021