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The glaring problem with DeSantis' choice for Florida surgeon general

Ron DeSantis wanted a surgeon general who'll tell him what he wants to hear and embrace discredited ideas. Now the governor has exactly that.

Last month, when Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees announced that he was stepping down, many asked the same obvious question: Florida has a surgeon general?

The answer, evidently, was yes, though Gov. Ron DeSantis apparently didn't turn to the physician for guidance in the midst of a public health crisis: The Tampa Bay Times reported last month that the Republican governor did not have any one-on-one meetings with Florida's top public health official at any time in 2021. DeSantis did, however, make plenty of time for appearances in conservative media.

Nevertheless, with Rivkees exiting the office, it fell to the GOP governor to choose a successor. As the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported yesterday, DeSantis made a curious choice.

Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed a new state surgeon general Tuesday who has written essays questioning the safety of COVID-19 vaccines, the effectiveness of masks and favoring hydroxychloroquine, a drug touted by former President Donald Trump to treat the virus.

At a press conference at the state Capitol yesterday, Dr. Joseph Ladapo introduced himself, and told reporters, "Florida will completely reject fear."

It was a curious message. While panic tends to result in poor judgment, fearing a deadly pandemic is entirely sensible. If fear — of illness, of hospitalization, of death, of harming others, etc. — leads people to take responsible precautions, then "completely" rejecting fear puts people at greater risk.

The trouble is, Ladapo doesn't quite see it that way. On the contrary, Florida's new public health leader, who's taking office while Covid-19 continues to take a brutal toll on the state, has a record of writing op-ed after op-ed after op-ed after op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, questioning the value of vaccines and the efficacy of masks.

There was also, of course, a New York Daily News op-ed touting hydroxychloroquine.

Just as importantly, Ladapo has boasted about his support for the so-called "Great Barrington Declaration," a highly controversial joint statement, released in October 2020, that endorsed protections for the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, while simultaneously arguing that the authorities should pursue "herd immunity" by allowing the deadly virus to spread untrammeled through the rest of the population.

When Donald Trump effectively stopped trying to deal with the pandemic last fall, White House officials said it was because he liked the policy indifference recommended by the "Great Barrington Declaration."

As the Sun-Sentinel's report added, "It was immediately blasted by the scientific community, including an open letter to the medical journal The Lancet signed by more than 80 researchers that called the theory 'a dangerous fallacy unsupported by scientific evidence. ... It is not feasible to restrict uncontrolled outbreaks to particular sections of society.'"

Nevertheless, one of its signatories is now the surgeon general for one of the nation's largest and hardest hit states.

Florida has seen more than 3.5 million Covid-19 cases. The virus has claimed the lives of nearly 52,000 Floridians. The Sunshine State would benefit from having a leading public health official who believes in vaccines, masks, and sensible protections during a pandemic, not a surgeon general who's touted discredited and dangerous ideas.

Nevertheless, here we are. DeSantis wanted a surgeon general who'll tell him what he wants to hear, and now the governor has exactly that.

Update: Remember the ridiculous "America’s Frontline Doctors" stunt from last summer? The Tampa Bay Times reported today, "Last summer, Ladapo was featured in a viral video where he and a group of other physicians appeared on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court to promote various COVID-19 talking points, including the benefits of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment."