Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo—who was appointed by GOP Governor Ron DeSantis—is facing criticism from a top state Republican after reports that he allegedly refused to wear a mask while meeting with a state senator who has cancer.
Ladapo was set to meet state Senator Tina Polsky, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in August, last week. When he arrived, however, Ladapo was not wearing a mask—and when Polsky asked him to put one on due to her diagnosis, he instead offered to go outside, Florida Politics reported.
“‘I don’t want to go outside,'” Polsky recalled saying to him. “‘I want you to sit in my office and talk to you.'”
When she asked him why he could not wear a mask, he allegedly smiled and did not answer, said Polsky, per Florida Politics.
“And I told him several times, ‘I have this very serious medical condition.’ And he said, ‘That’s OK,’ like it basically has nothing to do with what we are talking about,” she said.
She eventually asked him to leave. But before he left, Ladapo allegedly said: “Sometimes I try to reason with unreasonable people for fun.”
People who have cancer are at a higher risk of severe illness if they contract COVID-19, according to the National Institutes for Health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends people who have a condition that could weaken their immune system to continue wearing a well-fitted mask, even if they are fully vaccinated.
Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson, a Republican, called out Ladapo over the incident, calling it “disappointing” in a memo sent to members of the Senate.
“It shouldn’t take a cancer diagnosis for people to respect each other’s level of comfort with social interactions during a pandemic,” he wrote, Florida Politics reported.
Simpson also said that there is not a mask mandate in the Senate, but senators and their staff are allowed to request people in their office to wear a mask.
“What occurred in Senator Polksy’s office was unprofessional and will not be tolerated in the Senate,” he wrote.
In a statement to Florida Politics, a Department of Health spokesperson wrote: “Meetings between highly regarded and intelligent, elected and appointed officials happen all the time, and it is disappointing you don’t hear about them more — but it is probably because the only time they get reported is when a genuine meeting turns into a media headline expected from a gossip column.”
Newsweek reached out to both the Department of Health and DeSantis’ office for comment Sunday morning but had not heard back by publication. This story will be updated with any response.
Last month, Newsweek reported that Ladapo previously appeared in a COVID-19 conspiracy video. The video promoted hydroxychloroquine as a cure for COVID-19, though studies have not substantiated that claim. It also falsely said masks do not slow the virus’ spread and that coronavirus is less deadly than the flu.