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Surgeon general explains refusal to wear face mask to protect senator with breast cancer

Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo released a statement on Tuesday to explain why he refused to wear a face mask to meet with Rep. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, a breast cancer patient. (FILE AP Photo/Steve Cannon and Local 10 News)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Dr. Joseph Ladapo, Florida’s surgeon general, recently refused to wear a face mask while in the office of a state senator who is undergoing breast cancer treatment.

Ladapo, who Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed days after publishing a controversial opinion on the Wall Street Journal, released a statement on Tuesday to explain his behavior during the meeting with Florida Sen. Tina Polsky in Tallahassee.

“Having a conversation with someone while wearing a mask is not something I find productive, especially when other options exist,” Lapado wrote. “It is important to me to communicate clearly and effectively with people. I can’t do that when half of my face is covered.”

Polsky, a mother of two from Palm Beach County, told Florida Politics she was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer in August and a coronavirus infection could delay radiation therapy.

Rather than wear a face mask to reduce her risk of infection, Ladapo wrote he suggested that he and Polsky, a Democrat who represents District 29, meet in the hallway or outside.

“I am genuinely saddened by Senator Polsky’s recent diagnosis of breast cancer and I pray for her and her family and wish them God’s blessings and strength,” Ladapo wrote in the public statement.

Ladapo released it after Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson, a Republican, sent a memo to senators on Saturday saying he had behaved unprofessionally.

“While there is no mask mandate in the Senate, senators and staff can request social distancing and masking within their own offices,” Simpson wrote. “If visitors to the Senate fail to respect these requests, they will be asked to leave.”

Scientific facts on pandemic

The U.S. Centers for Control Disease and Prevention reports that studies show the use of face masks is a critical tool in the fight against COVID-19, especially when used universally within communities.

The National Cancer Institute experts have warned cancer patients do have a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and must take precautions to avoid being exposed to the coronavirus.

Read Ladapo’s Tuesday statement

Dr. Joseph Ladapo, Florida’s surgeon general, released this statement on Tuesday. (Handout)

Read Simpson’s Saturday memo

Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson, a Republican, distributed this memo on Saturday. (Handout)

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About the Author:

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.