Florida surgeon general defends not wearing mask in meeting with ill state senator

Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo on Tuesday defended his decision to refuse to wear a mask during a meeting with a state senator who has breast cancer. 

"It is important to me to communicate clearly and effectively with people. I can't do that when half of my face is covered," Ladapo said in a tweeted statement.

"Having a conversation with someone while wearing a mask is not something I find productive, especially when other options exist,” Ladapo's statement also said.

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Ladapo's remarks follow an incident last week at the office of Democratic state Sen. Tina Polsky.

Polsky offered the surgeon general and his two aides masks and asked them to wear the protective gear because she told them she had a serious medical condition.

At the time of the meeting, the state senator had not made her breast cancer diagnosis public.

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Ladapo offered to hold the meeting outside or to sit outside of her office in the hallway, but Polsky "did not consider any of these options to be satisfactory," according to Ladapo's tweet. 

"He is completely unfit to be the surgeon general. He didn’t care about my health, so imagine how he would care about the health of 21 million Floridians," Polsky said on MSNBC. 

As a result of the incident with Polsky, several lawmakers have called for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisDemocratic frustration growing over stagnating voting rights bills A sad reality: In a season of giving, most will ignore America's poor Walt Disney World pauses vaccine mandate after DeSantis signs new legislation MORE (R) to withdraw Ladapo's nomination for surgeon general. If that does not happen, the lawmakers, including Polsky, have said the state Senate should block his confirmation, according to The Associated Press.

"The governor respects everyone’s right to express their own opinions, 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," DeSantis spokesperson Christina Pushaw said in a statement to The Hill.

"Governor DeSantis appointed Dr. Ladapo as State Surgeon General because he is highly qualified for this important role. His academic, clinical, and research background is outstanding, and his data-driven approach to policymaking is vital in public health. The governor stands by this assessment and is not reconsidering Dr. Ladapo’s appointment," Pushaw added.

In an opinion column for The Wall Street Journal, Ladapo said that masks have “little or no effect on respiratory virus transmission." 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), however, has warned that cancer patients are at a higher risk to have severe COVID-19 cases. The CDC has also advised that people with weakened immune systems and those in higher-risk settings should wear masks as research supports their effectiveness. 

--Updated at 3:59 p.m.