Since he was appointed last month, Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo has been a reliable tool used in support of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ dangerously poor pandemic response.
Ladapo entered office as a vocal skeptic of public health guidelines to curb the spread of Covid-19, and he’s been the subject of several controversies since then. In the past week alone, Ladapo was booted from a meeting with an immunocompromised state senator for refusing to wear a mask, he denounced schools and governments that impose mask mandates, and he claimed that people opposed to getting vaccinated need to “stick with their intuition and their sensibilities.”
Ladapo allows DeSantis to mask his failed Covid policies with a Black face.
Ladapo, who is Black, has been a valuable resource for the governor at times when Florida’s pandemic response has been criticized. Ladapo’s obstinate and misinformed stances on public health requirements align with anti-science views DeSantis has peddled. And as the top health official in Florida, Ladapo allows DeSantis to mask his failed Covid policies with a Black face. Meanwhile, the governor’s weak response to the pandemic appears to be having a disproportionate impact on Black people.
Florida’s disparity between Black and white vaccination rates is among the highest in the country, and local officials have warned about it since this summer. While 56 percent of white Floridians have gotten vaccinated, only 36 percent of Black Floridians have gotten the shots, according to data the Kaiser Family Foundation released this month.
If DeSantis’ strategy of using a Black health official to fend off accusations of disparity and neglect is familiar, it’s because Donald Trump deployed a similar strategy during his presidency with then-Surgeon General Jerome Adams.
Adams, whom Trump once praised as “a star,” often did the former president’s bidding in public. In March 2020, Adams told “Fox and Friends” that he remained “convinced that more people are going to die by far from the flu than from coronavirus.” That was roughly a month after Trump admitted to journalist Bob Woodward that he knew Covid-19 was more serious than the flu.
Adams continued to raise eyebrows that March when he claimed that Trump is “healthier than I am” after he was asked whether the then-president should stop holding rallies during the pandemic.
And he was roundly criticized by Black health professionals last year for his answer to a reporter’s question about the disparity between the rate at which Black people were contracting Covid compared to other racial groups.
“African Americans and Latinos should avoid drugs, alcohol and tobacco,” he said. “Do it for your granddaddy. Do it for your big momma. Do it for your pop-pop.”
DeSantis has tried to position himself as an heir to Trump’s legacy. Bringing Ladapo on as Florida’s surgeon general shows the governor is at least as willing as Trump to engage in cynical tokenism for political gain.
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