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Fla. surgeon general says he’d ‘never knowingly be disrespectful’ to Polsky

Published: Oct. 26, 2021 at 2:26 PM EDT
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Florida’s surgeon general said Tuesday that he “would never knowingly be disrespectful to anyone.” But that’s exactly how Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson characterized the doctor’s recent encounter with state Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, after he refused to wear a mask in her office.

Polsky, who represents portions of Broward and Palm Beach counties, was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and has a sign outside her office asking visitors to wear a mask.

However, Dr. Joseph Ladapo and his two aides were unmasked when they paid her a visit at her office last week in Tallahassee.

Ladapo was there to meet with Polsky ahead of his Florida Senate confirmation hearing.

"He says, 'I don't do interviews with the mask,' and I said, 'I can hear you perfectly fine,'" Polsky told WPTV on Monday. "And he said, 'Well, why don't we go outside?' I said, 'I am uncomfortable doing that.'"

WATCH: Sen. Tina Polsky speaks to WPTV

Tina Polsky: Dr. Joseph Ladabo's attitude about not wearing mask 'smug'

Polsky said the back and forth continued for more than five minutes like "some kind of negotiation."

"I asked him why he can't wear a mask," she said. "He didn't answer it. His attitude was, in my opinion, smug, and I think he was enjoying himself, especially based on the comment he made after he left the office that was overheard by my other aide outside in the hallway, that he was kind of pushing my buttons on purpose."

Polsky said she told him that she had "a serious medical condition" but that he "still didn't care."

"I kept backing up into my aide's office," she said. "I was so uncomfortable being so close to these three people who weren't masked, and it just went on too long and I should have asked him to leave earlier. Finally, I said, 'I know everything I need to know. Can you please leave now?'"

Ladapo shared a lengthy explanation Tuesday on Twitter.

"I stated multiple times that she had every right to implement any safety protocols she wanted in her office," Ladapo wrote.

Ladapo said he "attempted in good faith to find some way for us to communicate that would respect each of our preferences."

"Having a conversation with someone while wearing a mask is not something I find productive, especially when other options exist," he continued. "It is important to me to communicate clearly and effectively with people. I can't do that when half of my face is covered."

Ladapo said he recommended that they go outside, but because his "suggestion was not considered acceptable to her, I offered to identify some other solution that would allow us to communicate in a manner that would respect both of our preferences."

"I even offered to sit outside of her office in the hallway," Ladapo wrote. "Unfortunately, she did not consider any of these options to be satisfactory."

Polsky told WPTV that she believed, since he arranged the meeting, "he should have respected me and my health."

Simpson later sent a memorandum to all state senators and Senate staff, calling the incident "disappointing" and "unprofessional," although he didn't mention Ladapo by name.

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced last month that he had picked Ladapo to succeed Dr. Scott Rivkees. Ladapo, who previously worked at UCLA, said during his introductory news conference that Florida is "done with fear" when it comes to making public health policies surrounding COVID-19. He's also been an outspoken skeptic about masks and vaccinations.

Ladapo went on to say that he was "genuinely saddened" to learn about Polsky's recent diagnosis and that "Floridians can count on me to lead with integrity and communicate truthfully about data and scientific evidence."

"I have demonstrated these qualities consistently during my career as a clinician and university researcher," he wrote.

Scripps Only Content 2021