Florida GOP Leader Slams DeSantis Official for Not Wearing Mask in Office of Senator With Cancer

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 sent to Newsweek Monday afternoon, Department of Health spokesperson Weesam Khoury wrote that the department is saddened to hear about Polsky's diagnosis.

Khoury wrote that the department will address the issue with members of the senate "rather than letting this play out publicly."

"While we weren't aware of any specific Senate protocol, we will certainly ask members ahead of time and make necessary accommodations, such as meeting through Zoom or outdoors," Khoury wrote.

Newsweek reached out to 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 the disease, though studies have not substantiated that claim. It also falsely said masks do not slow the virus' spread and that COVID is less deadly than the flu.

Mask in Florida
Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo faced backlash from the state's senate leader for refusing to wear a mask in a meeting with a lawmaker who has cancer. Here, a mask is seen in a car in Miami Beach in April 2020. Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images