Dr. Joseph A. Ladapo, Florida’s new surgeon general, made waves Wednesday in the Sunshine State, inking new guidelines allowing parents to decide whether their kids should quarantine or stay in school if they’re asymptomatic following exposure to COVID-19, and he’s also spoken critically about the public health focus on vaccines as a key tool for battling the pandemic.
1] Massachusetts ties - Ladapo graduated from Harvard Medical School in 2008 and also received a separate doctorate that year in health policy from the university’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, according to a statement from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s office and Ladapo’s LinkedIn profile.
“His national honors include the Daniel Ford Award for health services and outcomes research, and he was also a regular columnist for the Harvard Focus during medical school and residency, where he discussed his experiences on the medical wards and perspectives on health policy issues,” DeSantis’s office said.
He also served as a clinical fellow in internal medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, according to his resume.
2] Opinion writing - Ladapo hasn’t limited his opinion writing to his time in medical school. He continues to publish columns, including a piece the Wall Street Journal that ran in September 2020 under the headline, “How to Live With Covid, Not for It.”
He wrote in that column, which appeared long before the emergence of the worrisome Delta variant, that many states had “weathered post-shutdown outbreaks and case counts are falling,” and that policies “forged in fear and panic have wrought tremendous damage in exchange for benefits that were attainable at a much lower cost.”
Ladapo also railed in the piece against what he said were onerous quarantine guidelines for students.
“The CDC’s quarantine guidelines for healthy, low-risk students should be revisited in light of the outsize effect quarantines have on their educational experience—and the possibility of perpetual quarantining for exposed students if testing is performed frequently,” he wrote. “University policies for Covid-19 prevention also have an edge of cruelty: Many of these administrators suspending students ‘caught’ socializing would have been doing the same 30 or 40 years ago.”
3] What he signed off on in Florida - Ladapo eliminated previous mandates requiring students to quarantine for at least four days off campus if they’ve been exposed to the virus. Under the new guidelines, students who have been exposed can continue going to campus, “without restrictions or disparate treatment,” if they’re asymptomatic, They can also quarantine, but no longer than seven days, as long as they don’t get sick.
As in previous guidelines, schools can require masks as long as students can opt out, though the new rules add language that opting out is “at the parent or legal guardian’s sole discretion.”
4] Controversial views on mask mandates, vaccines - The Miami Herald reported Tuesday that Ladapo had previously signed onto a document dubbed the Great Barrington Declaration, a treatise penned by three doctors who asserted that mask usage isn’t necessary, that lockdowns don’t work, and that allowing young and healthy people to get infected should be expected, as long as the vulnerable are protected.
Ladapo said he signed the declaration but said there were a couple things in the document he didn’t agree with, the Herald reported.
He also said Florida “should be promoting good health, and vaccination isn’t the only path for that,” the Herald reported. “It’s been treated almost like a religion, and that’s just senseless.” Ladapo added that the state should support a variety of measures for good health, including “vaccination, losing weight, exercising more [and] eating more fruits and vegetables.”
5] What the experts are saying - Some public health specialists have voiced opposition to the Florida guidelines and Ladapo’s public stances.
“I’m speechless,” tweeted Dr. Uché Blackstock, founder of Advancing Health Equity, in response to the Herald article. “I attended medical school with Dr. Joseph Ladapo and to say I’m shocked by his opposition to mask and vaccine mandates is an understatement. I could have never imagined this news.”
Ladapo told the Herald that a “climate of mistrust” around the government’s response to the pandemic has fueled vaccine fears.
“That was a direct result of scientists, my colleagues, some of them, taking the science and basically misrepresenting it to fit their agendas,” Ladapo told the Herald. “This idea that people don’t get to make their own decisions on issues of health is wrong and it’s not something that we’re going to be about.”
That sort of messaging has distressed many in public health, including Dr. Nida Qadir, an associate professor of medicine and associate director of the Medical Intensive Care Unit at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. Ladapo taught previously at UCLA as well.
“He’s expressed a lot of strange views since the beginning of the pandemic,” Qadir tweeted. “I don’t know him personally, but it’s been especially shocking considering the state LA was in this past winter. Can’t say I’m not happy he’s leaving CA but sorry for the people of FL.”
Dr. Michael F. Ozaki, a retired pediatrician living in Southern California, was even more blunt in his assessment of Ladapo.
“He is a public health danger, and must be portrayed as such,” Ozaki tweeted Tuesday.
Dr. Nina L. Shapiro, an author and associate professor at David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, where Ladapo taught as well, tweeted that his views align ”more with #DeSantis than with @UCLAHealth.”
6] What his backers are saying - Ladapo has some high-profile supporters, including the man who tapped him for the surgeon general post, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican.
“I am pleased to announce that Dr. Joseph Ladapo will lead the Florida Department of Health as our state’s next Surgeon General,” DeSantis said Tuesday in a statement. “Dr. Ladapo comes to us by way of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA with a superb background. He has had both a remarkable academic and medical career with a strong emphasis in health policy research. Dr. Ladapo will bring great leadership to the Department of Health. I would also like to thank both Dr. Scott Rivkees and Dr. Shamarial Roberson for their hard work on behalf of all Floridians.”
DeSantis’s words were echoed in the statement by Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez.
“Dr. Joseph A. Ladapo is an excellent choice to serve as our next Surgeon General,” Nuñez said. “Dr. Ladapo has impeccable credentials and a strong vision to effectively serve the people of Florida at the helm of our public health agency. Through his service to our state, we will continue Florida’s work to advance our public health goals.”
Mercedes Schlapp, a political commentator who served in the administrations of Donald Trump and George W. Bush, tweeted support for Ladapo as well.
“In @WSJopinion, Dr. Joseph Ladapo stated that people who have recovered from Covid 19 appear to have the most protection of all,” Schapp tweeted last week. “Yet Fauci can’t even answer a basic question on natural immunity despite the studies on it.”
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.