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Florida surgeon general refused to wear a face mask during office visit, state senator says

<i>Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/Shutterstock</i><br/>Florida surgeon general
Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/Shutte
Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/Shutterstock
Florida surgeon general

By Ralph Ellis, CNN

A Florida state senator says state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo — a skeptic of many Covid-19 safety measures — refused her request to put on a face mask while visiting her legislative office, even after she told him she had a serious medical condition.

Tina Polsky, a Democrat representing parts of Palm Beach and Broward counties, told CNN’s Ana Cabrera Monday that she has a strict masking policy for her office. The policy is necessary because she’s been diagnosed with breast cancer, which makes her more vulnerable to Covid-19 and other medical conditions, she said.

Ladapo, who was recently appointed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, and two of his aides entered her office for a Senate confirmation interview maskless, despite signage outside the door about masks being required, Polsky said. Ladapo was asked several times to don a mask but he refused, she said.

“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.”

CNN reached out to Ladapo for comment but has not heard back.

Polsky said she told Ladapo she had a serious medical condition, though she had not publicly announced her cancer diagnosis at that point. Still, he refused to put on a mask, she said.

“I think he was really just trying to have fun with me — as he said later on when he left the office — and kind of push my buttons,” Polsky said. “I was really frustrated that he wasn’t respecting my wishes.”

Senate President supports Polsky

A Florida Department of Health spokesperson confirmed that the meeting had taken place but in an email denied Ladapo made a comment about having fun, according to Florida Politics.

Weesam Khoury said meetings between elected and appointed officials happen frequently and it was a shame “the only time they get reported is when a genuine meeting turns into a media headline expected from a gossip column,” Florida Politics reported. Khoury said Ladapo was saddened to hear about Polsky’s diagnosis and wished her well, the outlet reported.

Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson 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.

“What occurred in Senator Polsky’s office was unprofessional and will not be tolerated in the Senate,” Simpson said. “While there is no mask mandate in the Senate, Senators and staff can request social distancing and masking within their own offices. If visitors to the Senate fail to respect these requests, they will be asked to leave.”

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