TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida’s surgeon general, Joseph Ladapo, is now responding days after he was asked to leave a meeting with Democratic state Sen. Tina Polsky — who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer — because he refused to wear a mask.
“I respect all individuals, and I would never knowingly be disrespectful to anyone,” Ladapo said in a post on Twitter about his interaction with Polsky.
He went on to say that he tried “in good faith” to find an alternative way for him and Polsky to have their meeting.
“Having a conversation with someone while wearing a mask is not something I find productive, especially when other options exist. It is important to me to communicate clearly and effectively with people. I can’t do that when half of my face is covered,” the post reads.
Ladapo said he suggested taking the meeting outdoors. This is backed up by Polsky’s account of her interaction with the surgeon general. The senator said she did not want to sit on the metal picnic tables on a warm day when her office was nice and spacious. She said she asked whether there was a reason why he couldn’t wear a mask, but he wouldn’t answer, according to a report by the Associated Press.
Ladapo claims in his response that he made other attempts at finding a compromise that did not include him wearing a mask.
“I even offered to sit outside her office in the hallway. Unfortunately, she did not consider any of these options to be satisfactory,” Ladapo said.
Ladapo’s refusal to wear a mask while speaking with Ladapo prompted a rebuke from Republican Senate President Wilton Simpson in a memo sent state senators Saturday.
“It shouldn’t take a cancer diagnosis for people to respect each other’s level of comfort with social interactions during a pandemic,” he said. “What occurred in Senator Polsky’s office was unprofessional and will not be tolerated in the Senate.”
In his response, Ladapo said he was “saddened” by Polsky’s cancer diagnosis in his response.
“I pray for her and her family and wish them God’s blessings and strength.”
The Florida Department of Health’s spokeswoman Weesam Khoury said the agency was not aware of any specific Senate protocol, but said it would ask members ahead of time and make necessary accommodations such as meeting through Zoom or outdoors.
The Department of Health “will be addressing this directly with members of the Senate, rather than letting this play out publicly,” Khoury said in an email.