Florida’s chief health official on Thursday defied the use of face masks as an effective safety measure against COVID-19, despite a federal health study last month showing that “wearing a face mask or respirator in indoor public settings reduces the risk of acquiring” the virus.
During a press conference Thursday, Joseph Ladapo, the state’s surgeon general, opined that the medical community has been filled with misinformation when it comes to the effectiveness of face masks. He also defended doctors who were defying safety measures, such as wearing facial coverings for protection against COVID.
Ladapo said: “I hope the lawmakers are watching because it’s really important to have a voice to push back against the abject dishonesty that has unfortunately infiltrated so deeply in so much of the medical establishment and the scientific establishment. You’d think my colleagues have been taking over by zombies or something.”
However, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report in early February, stating that “consistent use of a face mask or respirator in indoor public settings was associated with lower odds of a positive SARS-CoV-2 (virus) test result.”
The agency added that respirators, such as N95 and KN95 masks, offer the most protection.
At one point, Ladapo pulled out a face mask, calling it a “little prop” that is hard to find right now in Florida. “Unfortunately, we have a country right now where most people including, I mean…across the political spectrum, think that these things are saving lives.”
Ladapo then criticized what he called CDC’s “shaky studies, shaky methods.”
And he was adamant that, “These things are not saving lives.”
He added: “What saves lives is freedom of speech and freedom to find truth,” Ladapo said. “What saves lives is immunity and early treatment, and being as healthy as you can, losing the extra pounds, eating a nutritious diet. Those things save lives. No high-quality data show that this [face masks] saved any lives. It’s a lie and it needs to stop, and people need to unbelieve it,” he said.
Ladapo was joined by Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and some Florida doctors at the press event in Panama City, urging the Florida Legislature to pass legislation on “free speech” for health care practitioners. Doctors and others were holding signs that read “prescribe freedom” at the event.
But with only a few weeks left in the 2022 legislative session, those bills related to protections for doctors’ freedom of speech haven’t gotten traction. HB 687 would prohibit a board or department from reprimanding or revoking the license of a health care practitioner based on “exercising his or her constitutional right of free speech,” including speech through social media.
“The Florida Legislature is actually taking on this issue,” DeSantis said. “They’ve worked with some stakeholders here to put together what’s called the Free Speech of Health Care Practitioners Act that has the additional protections that we need. They’ve moved it along…it has gotten across the finish line.”
“Let’s get this thing across the finish line,” DeSantis said.
Ladapo was recently confirmed during the 2022 legislative session to lead the Florida Department of Health but has been embroiled in controversy over his ideologies related to vaccine effectiveness and other common-sense safety protocols to fight the global pandemic.
Following Thursday’s press conference, a national physician’s group, criticized the Republican governor for pushing the legislation that aims to protect doctors’ rights to speak freely and not face scolding.
According to a spokeswoman, the Committee to Protect Health Care has advocates in several states including Florida. Those other states include: Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, Wisconsin, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland.
Dr. Bernard Ashby, a cardiologist and Florida lead for the Committee to Protect Health Care, said in a written statement:
“As physicians, we urge Gov. DeSantis to stop using his massive bully pulpit to undermine the work of thousands of health care professionals who are trying to save lives. Physicians follow a standard of care that is rigorous, and we practice evidence-based medicine to build trust as we care for our patients. What Gov. DeSantis wants to do with House Bill 687 will throw this necessary standard of care out the window, and will allow a very small minority of bad faith actors to erode the patient-physician relationship and ultimately put lives at risk.”