State Watch

Top Florida health official asked to leave meeting with lawmaker for refusing to wear mask

A top health official in Florida was asked to leave a meeting with a state senator after refusing to wear a mask after the lawmaker asked him to do so due to having a serious medical condition.

According to Florida Politics, state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo went to the office of Democratic state Sen. Tina Polsky for the meeting where he and his two aides were offered masks. They were asked to wear them because Polsky, who later revealed that she has breast cancer, said she had a serious medical condition.

Though Ladapo offered to take the meeting outside, Polsky said she did not want to and asked if there was a reason why he couldn’t wear a mask. Ladapo would not answer. 

“It was so shocking to me that he treated me in this manner,” Polsky said to The Associated Press. “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.”

Florida Senate leader Wilton Simpson (R) sent a memo to senators about the incident and asked for people visiting the building to be respectful, according to the AP.

Simpson also noted that while the Senate has no mask mandate, senators can request social distancing and masking within their own offices. 

At the time of the incident, Polsky had yet to make her breast cancer diagnosis public, the AP noted. 

“It shouldn’t take a cancer diagnosis for people to respect each other’s level of comfort with social interactions during a pandemic,” Simpson’s memo said, per the AP. “What occurred in Senator Polsky’s office was unprofessional and will not be tolerated in the Senate.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned that cancer patients are at a higher risk to have severe COVID-19 cases and may not get the same strength of immunity from vaccines as others.

Ladapo has been the subject of other recent pandemic-related controversies as he signed a rule that makes quarantine optional for Florida’s school students after COVID-19 exposure. 

At a press conference with DeSantis opposing vaccine mandates, Ladapo also argued that the federal government has made a “concerted effort” to hide examples of people who experience adverse reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine, the AP reported.

He has also claimed that masks have “little or no effect on respiratory virus transmission” in an opinion column for The Wall Street Journal.

The CDC still recommends people with weakened immune systems and in higher-risk settings wear masks given research that supports their effectiveness. 

The Hill has reached out to the Florida Department of Health for comment. 

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