Florida’s new surgeon general says the state “will completely reject fear” when it comes to COVID-19.
Apparently Florida will embrace ignorance and recklessness instead. In fact, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ new surgeon general, Joseph Ladapo, is a trifecta of recklessness when it comes to the pandemic.
He questions the value of vaccines and opposes vaccine mandates. He opposes mask-wearing and other measures to reduce spread of the virus. He supports hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 despite its obvious health risks.
On his first day as chief health officer, Ladapo doubled down on recklessness. He issued an outrageous emergency rule that parents can send their children who have been exposed to COVID or had contact with someone positive back into the classroom if they don’t show symptoms — with no mask or quarantine. Kids with pink eye or the flu have to stay home, but exposure to COVID is OK. It’s unfathomable.
Siding with crazies
Based on medical training, Ladapo is not qualified. He has no background in public health, epidemiology or immunology. But he has the qualifications DeSantis prizes most. He believes in personal choice over the public good. He sides with the crazy few over the sensible many.
Ladapo last year signed the Great Barrington Declaration. This manifesto argued in essence that the best way to defeat COVID-19 is to let almost everyone get it, except for the elderly and otherwise vulnerable who might die.
Credible public health experts picked the document apart. There is no way to completely protect the vulnerable. Those who contract COVID-19 don’t develop lifelong immunities. (Survivor Donald Trump got vaccinated for that reason.) Children are at risk even if they don’t die at the same rate as older people.
Supporters of the declaration cited Sweden because it rejected lockdowns. But Sweden’s economy shrank by roughly the same amount as neighboring Denmark and Norway, which imposed lockdowns and restrictions, and Sweden’s death rate is far higher than its neighbors’.
Ladapo’s arrival is exquisitely timed. Because Florida lags on vaccinations and DeSantis forbids local governments from requiring masks, the state just set a record for COVID-19 deaths, five weeks running.
Worst daily death rate
Among states, Florida once ranked in the middle for its COVID-19 death rate. Because of the surge that began in July, Florida now ranks 40th, or 10th highest, and is the state with the highest daily death rate. So who does the governor hire to change things?
A man who wrote in The Wall Street Journal that the risk of COVID-19 vaccines “may outweigh the benefits for certain low-risk populations such as children, young adults and people who have recovered from COVID-19.”
A man who said that “losing weight, exercising more (and) eating more fruits and vegetables” could fight the virus as much as vaccines.
All of that would be bad enough. But then Ladapo empowered selfish parents to send unmasked and possibly infected children to school if they don’t exhibit symptoms.
Memo to Dr. Ladapo: Asymptomatic children can transmit COVID-19.
Politics over science
It has been clear for some time that DeSantis cares less about the people of Florida than he does about Republican presidential primary voters who want Anthony Fauci’s head on a pike. But paying Ladapo $462,000 a year to impress all those anti-science, unpatriotic Republicans is so reckless that the Florida Senate should refuse to confirm him.
The governor believes that COVID-19 decisions are about “personal responsibility.” But too many Floridians have acted irresponsibly, taking their cues from DeSantis. Ladapo’s order about schools takes away the ability of responsible parents to protect their children.
Just this week, the Duval County School Board in Jacksonville credited its no-opt-out mask mandate for driving down daily COVID-19 cases by almost 75 percent. The Brevard County School Board extended its mask mandate for 30 days, also citing the effect on new cases. The chief of pediatric diseases and immunology at UF Health Jacksonville said, “Mask mandates work.”
DeSantis sidelined Scott Rivkees, the previous surgeon general, after Rivkees predicted presciently in April 2020 that Floridians might need to wear masks into 2021. To replace him, DeSantis could have chosen from among many respected public health experts in Florida.
Instead, he chose politics over science.
We agree that lengthy quarantines hurt students. But a better solution would be quick turn-around testing in schools. Broward and Palm Beach counties are moving that way. A competent governor would have worked with school districts on that approach months ago.
Instead, DeSantis stuck with political ideology and junk science. Ladapo’s rule seems designed to remove challenges to the governor’s ban on mask mandates.
Georgetown University law professor and public health specialist Lawrence Gostin told The Daily Beast, “Essentially, when you have one losing, unlawful policy being challenged, you withdraw it and put in another losing, unlawful policy.”
Ladapo may have two degrees from Harvard, but his ideas threaten public health. He demands that Floridians reject fear, but his solutions are scary. With Ladapo in charge, the cure sounds worse than the disease.
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