Florida’s next surgeon general opposes mask, vaccine mandates

Governor Ron DeSantis announced Tuesday a new surgeon general for Florida, a Harvard-trained doctor who advocated an approach to the coronavirus pandemic that emphasizes protecting individual rights through community-based precautionary measures.
Dr. Joseph Ladapo, a UCLA researcher who has been skeptical of vaccines to end the pandemic, said Tuesday he would "reject fear as a public health strategy."
"Florida will completely reject fear as a policy-making tool," Ladapo said. "Unfortunately, that was a core part of health policy."
As surgeon general, Ladapo will oversee the state's Department of Health, Florida's leading agency in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. He replaces Dr. Scott Rivkees, a pediatrician whose last day was Monday.
Ladapo announced Tuesday that he will play a more prominent role than Rivkees, who was noticeably absent from public appearances last year.
Since the pandemic began, Ladapo has penned commentaries in the Wall Street Journal questioning key claims made by national health experts.
On Tuesday, he told reporters he wanted to address the “climate of suspicion” among the public regarding the country's coronavirus response, which has been a constant DeSantis topic since the pandemic began.
"This was a direct result of scientists, some of them, taking the science and basically misrepresenting it to go along with their plans," Ladapo said. "This notion that people cannot make their own health decisions is wrong, and it is not something we will be concerned about."
When asked whether the state should promote vaccines on Tuesday, Ladapo replied that too much emphasis had been placed on vaccines.
"The state should promote good health, and vaccinations are not the only way to do this," Ladapo said. "It's been treated almost like a religion, and that's just pointless."
He said the state should support many measures for good health: "vaccinate, lose weight, do more exercise and eat more fruits and vegetables".
DeSantis said the state was getting a top notch doctor who will tell the truth about the science behind the pandemic.
“Telling the truth is important, and I think that's what Dr. Ladapo understands, ”he said. "You have to tell people the truth and let them make decisions."
As head of the Florida Department of Health, Ladapo will be a key figure in the debate over whether children should wear masks in schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among students and staff.
The state's ban on mask mandates and all other containment efforts have allegedly relied on guidance from Rivkees and the department. But the state recently prevented Rivkees from testifying in a lawsuit against the ban on mask mandates.
Thirteen of Florida's 67 school districts currently face fines for failing to abide by a departmental rule that says parents must be able to de-register their children from school mask mandates.
Ladapo declined to say what kind of mitigation efforts he would support in schools when asked on Tuesday.
“Well, you know, I am discussing this with my team on recommendations. It's complicated ... we are discussing, ”said Ladapo.
However, he said that taking children out of school was a "perfect example of how blatantly we have ignored public health".
Ladapo was born in Nigeria and moved to the United States at the age of 5. His father was a microbiologist. He is married and has three children. He is also employed by the University of Florida.
Ladapo said he was a "good friend" of Stanford University professor Jay Bhattacharya who has become a public health expert for DeSantis. Bhattacharya witnessed the state in a parent-led lawsuit against the governor's masked mandate.
Ladapo is yet to be ratified by the Republican-controlled Florida Senate.
Allison Ross, a contributor to the Tampa Bay Times, contributed to this report.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
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Ron DeSantis
American politician

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