If there’s one blessing from the omicron variant, Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo says it’s that people will hopefully realize the federal government’s shortcomings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ladapo, appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in September, has been a vocal critic of strict public health measures intended to fight the pandemic, including masking and vaccination requirements. He has also stressed the use of COVID-19 treatments.
On Monday, the pair announced the federal government had reversed its decision to cut its supply of monoclonal antibody therapies to states when early signs showed the treatments were less effective against the omicron variant. Speaking at a news conference in Jacksonville — delayed because of protesters and at least one arrest — Ladapo on Tuesday was thankful for the reversal, but called it part of a pattern of “complete failure” at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“Hopefully more people are waking up to that, and that might be a blessing of omicron,” Ladapo said.
The pattern, he continued, reflects what he claimed is an absence of clinical leadership at the agency.
With a little more than three months into his time as Surgeon General, Ladapo said he is “entertained” by the narratives of pro-vaccination and pro-masking politics.
“As someone who spent their time — has spent his career in science and medicine and is a practicing clinician, I’m new to politics, and I am just extremely entertained by the spin that we’re seeing here,” Ladapo said.
With the rise of the omicron variant and an increased number of breakthrough cases, the Surgeon General sees the goalposts shifting. Initially, people got the vaccine to stop the spread of the virus. Now, he continued, vaccinated are thankful their COVID-19 symptoms are mild when they do get infected.
“I’m happy for everyone who feels like that, but that’s not a justification for forcing other people to accept the vaccine,” Ladapo said.
While the omicron variant is more contagious than previous virus strains, it is less virulent, he said.
On Sunday, the most recent day for which data is available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 39,797 new COVID-19 cases in Florida, increasing the total number of infections to 4.3 million. In the seven days leading up to that day, the state added 362,618 new cases. In that time, 21 people died in Florida due to COVID-19.
Also on Monday, DeSantis and Ladapo unveiled their intent to prioritize COVID-19 testing for individuals at a greater risk for severe infections. Testing generally healthy individuals could even lead to worse clinical outcomes for others, Ladapo asserted, particularly at a time when testing demand is high.