Ron DeSantis image by Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons license 2.0

Remember how a year ago we were all aghast that Donald Trump was getting most of his guidance on coronavirus policy from Dr. Scott Atlas, a radiologist with no expertise in public health or infectious disease? Atlas was convinced that all we had to do was let the virus spread through the healthy population unchecked, while miraculously protecting old people and anyone at heightened risk (he never explained how we'd do that — moon colony maybe?), and eventually, most Americans would probably survive the illness and we'd have "herd immunity" even before the vaccines were developed.

The eensy tiny downside, real infectious disease experts pointed out, was that it would kill a few million people. Thank goodness, the vaccines were rolled out, Trump was voted out, and Scott Atlas went away too. By early summer this year, it looked like the pandemic was finally under control, at least until the super-infectious Delta variant brought it roaring back among unvaccinated people. In red states like Florida and Texas and Montana and Tennessee, governors insisted that mandating masks or vaccines was the devil's work, and then the mobile morgue trailers started being ordered for all the bodies.


Now, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has appointed a new state surgeon general in the Scott Atlas mold, one Dr. Joseph Ladapo, who has written multiple Wall Street Journal op-eds casting doubt on the effectiveness of masks and vaccine mandates, and even suggesting that the COVID vaccines themselves might be dangerous. (They are not. The disease is dangerous; the vaccines are remarkably safe and effective.) He's also touted the favorite Trumpworld quack cures hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, neither of which have been show in clinical trials to be of any benefit against COVID-19.

As a professor at the UCLA Medical School, Ars Technica notes, Ladapo "focused on cardiovascular diseases and the cost-effectiveness of diagnostics," so like Atlas, he has all the public health and immunology specialization a Florida governor could want. But he did graduate from Harvard Medical School, so he's a real ad for the Ivies, like Ted Cruz or Tom Cotton.

Dr. Ladapo was also a signatory to the so-called "Great Barrington Declaration," a document by virus fans that argued for the very non-action Scott Atlas favored: Let the virus spread, and all we need to worry about is protecting the most vulnerable people. For instance, we could hire only nursing home staff who have already recovered from the disease, then let the virus go wild so we can all go shopping again.

The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk.

The declaration mentioned only those at risk of dying, although even at the time the virus was killing and severely disabling people who didn't appear to have any serious risk factors. Not surprisingly, the declaration was very popular in the Trump White House, because it advocated the one thing Trump was really good at: doing nothing.

Oh, yes, and Dr. Ladapo also appeared in that bizarre 2020 video from the anti-science group "America's Frontline Doctors," which promoted hydroxychloroquine as a "cure" for COVID-19, even though it's nothing of the sort. That video prominently featured Dr. Stella Immanuel, the loony who believes that diseases are caused by demon sperms, and while she apparently she didn't mention her pet Incubus theory in that video, she did explain that nobody needed to wear masks, because the malaria drug supposedly cures COVID, which again, it does not, and that COVID-19 is less dangerous than the flu, which is also not true.

As MSNBC's Steve Benen says, "DeSantis wanted a surgeon general who'll tell him what he wants to hear, and now the governor has exactly that."

At his introductory presser yesterday, Dr. Ladapo declared Florida will now

completely reject fear as a way of making policies in public health. So we're done with fear. [...] That's been something that's been, unfortunately, a centerpiece of health policy in the United States ever since the beginning of the pandemic and it's over here. Expiration date. It's done.

Even if "Don't Fear The Reaper" is an awesome song, it's not actually a medical approach.

Ladapo said that while vaccines are OK, they're merely a matter of personal choice, and "There's nothing special about them compared to any other preventive measure."

Yup, the man who's now advising Ron DeSantis on public health just plain rejects basic science. He went on to claim vaccines are no more effective than diet or exercise in preventing COVID-19, which is not actually true.

The state should be promoting good health, and vaccination isn't the only path to that. It's been treated almost like a religion. It's just senseless. There's lots of good pathways to health, and vaccination is not the only one. So, we support measures for good health—that's vaccination, losing weight, it's exercising more, it's eating more fruits and vegetables, everything. We support it all.

Ars Technica felt compelled to point out that "while losing weight, exercising, and eating fruits and vegetables are generally good for health, they will not prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection or transmission."

All in all, it's a great day for the coronavirus in Florida, and we can only assume that Dr. Ladapo will be a valued adviser for DeSantis. We can hardly wait for him to appoint a flat earther to rewrite the state's science standards.

[MSNBC / Newsweek / Ars Technica / AP]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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