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Florida's New Surgeon General To Address 'Climate Of Distrust'

FL Surgeon General.jpg
Ryan Dailey
News Service of Florida
Dr. Joseph Ladapo is introduced as Florida's new surgeon general

There’s a change at the top of the state of Florida’s medical team, with a new surgeon general set to begin work in Tallahassee.

“Dr. Joseph Ladapo will be succeeding Dr. Scott Rivkees as the surgeon general for the state of Florida,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said following Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting.

“He was born in Nigeria and immigrated to the United States with his family when he was 5; His father is a microbiologist and brought his family to the United States to continue his own studies. And the apple doesn’t far fall [sic] from the tree because Joe has had a remarkable academic and medical career.”

Ladapo comes to Florida from UCLA. Part of his lengthy resume includes graduating from Wake Forest University, Harvard Medical School, and Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

“I’m just really very happy to be here in Florida, working with Governor DeSantis and the leadership here in Florida,” Ladapo said. “To think in a very positive way about our public health here in Florida. And frankly, hopefully, set an example for other states around the country – and maybe even further than that.”

Ladapo rolled out three concepts to be put into motion. First, taking the fear out of the public health processes.

“That’s been something that’s been — unfortunately — a centerpiece of health policy in the United States, ever since the beginning of the pandemic,” Ladapo said. “We’re compassionate, we get it, there are scary things; we’ve seen a lot of fear from COVID, and it’s very understandable. But the way to approach that is not from a place of fear. Because it doesn’t lead to good decisions.”

Number two: Ladapo plans to make it “very explicit” about the differences between the science of COVID-19 and the opinions about it.

“People have been taking the science and misrepresenting it, and it’s been unclear when the discussion about science ends and the discussion about how you feel about the science and what you want people to do,” he said. “That will never be a problem here. You will know when we’re talking about data, and you’ll know when we’re talking about our opinions, our impressions, [and] our preferences about the data.”

Third, is realizing that public health is not about a single issue, such as the pandemic.

“As all of you know, that’s how public health has been treated over the past year and a half; that’s over, it’s not going to happen here,” Ladapo promised. “We’ll be interested in, and concerned about, all aspects of public health that we think are important.”

Ladapo’s stances on a number of COVID-related issues appear to be aligned with those of DeSantis — such as keeping the doors open at Florida’s public schools as a way he contends public health has been ignored.

“We’ve just brazenly pulled children who need the structure of school and need the structure of a routine in their lives out of school,” said the new surgeon general. “It’s terrible to do it to all kids, but we’ve also done it for kids with disabilities. And people have hardly even batted an eye.”

Another area where the two appear to be on the same page is the ongoing head-butting between the DeSantis administration and federal health officials. Case in point — the beer cozies offered by the governor’s reelection campaign reading, “Don’t Fauci my Florida.” Ladapo describes it as the “climate of distrust.”

“And in terms of that, I think vaccines we’ll treat like any other preventive issue,” Ladapo said. “And the goal will be education. And this idea that people don’t get to make their decisions on issues of health-related to their own personal health is wrong.”

Dr. Scott Rivkees announced his resignation last month, amid a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths. There had been speculating that finding his successor could be difficult, given DeSantis’ antagonism to federal health authorities and mask mandates.

Ladapo’s hiring comes just a week after a Florida judge sided with the governor and prevented Rivkees from being deposed in a court battle over required face coverings in school.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.