A Florida state senator said Thursday she has been receiving death threats for speaking out about the state’s top medical official’s refusal to wear a mask during a meeting at her legislative office, even after she informed him she’s battling cancer.
“The way he treated me, refusing to wear a mask, even when I told him I had a serious medical condition, shows his character and temperament is not appropriate to be our top medical professional,” said Sen. Tina Polsky, a Democrat representing parts of Palm Beach and Broward counties.
State Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo was appointed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis last month. Earlier this week, he and two aides entered Polsky’s office for a Senate confirmation interview without masks, despite clear signs indicating masks are required, Polsky said. Ladapo was asked several times to wear a mask, but he refused, she said.
“I do think there’s just a lack of common decency that’s going on,” Polsky told CNN’s Anderson Cooper, adding that she did not understand why Ladapo didn’t accommodate her request. “The compassion is gone,” she said.
“But getting … death threats, some anti-Semitic in nature, has been really troubling, and people are just very, very nasty,” Polsky said.
Despite being a medical doctor, Ladapo is known for his skepticism on Covid-19 safety measures, and his views align with DeSantis, who has been fighting mask mandates in his state.
Ladapo said in a statement posted on his Twitter account Tuesday that a face-covering would’ve impeded his ability to communicate with Polsky.
“Having a conversation with someone while wearing a mask is not something I find productive, especially when other options exist,” he 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.”
He added that he suggested he meet with Polsky outdoors as that lowers the risk of Covid-19 transmission, but she refused.
“I even offered to sit outside her office in the hallway,” he said.
It’s a small space so the whole thing became very uncomfortable'”
In response, Polsky said Ladapo’s sentiments on masks is a “a slap in the face” to everyone who has been struggling with mask-wearing during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“He chooses to, in my mind, believe in anti-science and to not be looking out for the best interests of Floridians by flouting mask mandates,” Polsky said.
Ladapo acknowledged Polsky’s medical condition, saying, “I am genuinely saddened by Senator Polsky’s recent cancer diagnosis of breast cancer, and I pray for her and her family and wish them God’s blessings and strength.”
Polsky told CNN that she’s been strict with her office’s mask policy. And although at the time of the meeting with Ladapo she hadn’t publicly announced her cancer diagnosis, Ladapo and his two aides did not adhere to the mask policy.
“There were five people. I’m masked, my aide is masked and the three of them were not and it’s a small space so the whole thing became very uncomfortable,” Polsky said.
“He said he doesn’t do interviews with a mask on, and I said I can hear you perfectly, I’ve had many meetings here,” she added.
Ladapo suggested they meet outside and he appeared to want to talk about why that would be a solution, Polsky said. “He was trying to negotiate. He thought by suggesting outside he was giving me an accommodation.”
Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson had issued a memo in support of Polsky to all state senators and staff Saturday, calling the incident “disappointing” given Polsky’s health challenges, but he did not name Ladapo in the memo.
“It shouldn’t take a cancer diagnosis for people to respect each other’s level of comfort with social interactions during a pandemic,” Simpson wrote.
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