Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Accused of ‘Playing Games’ As He Selects Black Doctor Who Opposes Vaccine, Masks Mandates to Lead State Public Health Agency

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been accused of playing political games for selecting a doctor who is against vaccines and mask mandates to lead the state’s Department of Health.

DeSantis on Tuesday appointed Dr. Joseph Ladapo, a Nigerian-American medical professor, as Florida’s next surgeon general. In the position, Ladapo would be at the helm of the state’s fight against COVID-19. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a press conference before newly appointed state Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo at Neo City Academy in Kissimmee, Florida. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Adonna Biel called DeSantis’ decision to appoint Ladapo a dangerous one. Ladapo has echoed DeSantis’ stance on coronavirus safety measures, promoting personal choice over vaccine and mask mandates. 

“Instead of going with a trusted advocate for science, DeSantis is once again playing games with peoples’ lives by appointing someone who has trafficked anti-vaccine and anti-mask rhetoric,” Biel said in a statement to CBS Miami.

“The American people are ready to return to normalcy and the DeSantis playbook of prolonging the pandemic is dangerous and wreaking havoc on his own state.”

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly recommends face coverings and vaccinations against COVID-19, Ladapo told reporters “there is nothing special about them compared to any other preventive measure.”

He also downplayed the effectiveness of mask-wearing in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece last week, titled Vaccine Mandates Can’t Stop Covid’s Spread.

DeSantis has been adamant about not imposing COVID-19 restrictions in the state. He issued an executive order that withholds state funds from public schools with mandate masks in late July. It has led to a slew of lawsuits from schools, parents and civil rights organizations. 

The governor attributed the summer spike in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations to a “seasonal pattern” and blamed the media for creating “hysteria” about rising numbers. He said last week that he would fine county and city governments for requiring their employees to get vaccinated.

Just like his appointer, Lapado said Tuesday that he would “reject fear” in the state’s public health policy.

The Harvard graduate is among a group of doctors who backed controversial COVID-19 treatments such as hydroxychloroquine. The drug gained publicity when former President Donald Trump touted it as preventative measure against COVID-19. The World Health Organization has debunked the drug as ineffective and warned that it could increase adverse effects of the virus.

“Telling the truth is important, and I think that’s what Dr. Ladapo understands,” DeSantis said Tuesday. “You’ve got to tell people the truth, and you’ve got to let them make decisions.”

Florida is among the states with the highest number of coronavirus cases, deaths and hospitalizations, according to Johns Hopkins University. The Florida Department of Health’s COVID-19 Weekly Situation Report shows a total of 75,906 new COVID-19 cases, and 486 deaths in the state were reported last week.

The Florida Senate must confirm Ladapo, an M.D. who had been a health policy researcher at UCLA before leaving for a professor position at the University of Florida College of Medicine, for the position before he fills the seat as head of public health.

“Florida’s surgeon general should be an expert in public health, but instead the governor has chosen someone who has questioned the safety of the COVID vaccines, has advocated against masks as a way to stop the spread of the virus, and who believes herd immunity through natural infection is the best possible way to end this pandemic,” state Sen. Janet Cruz told the Miami Herald in a statement.

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