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Gov. Ron DeSantis Taps Doctor, Researcher Joseph Ladapo 'We're Done With Fear' As New Surgeon General

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) - On Tuesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Dr. Joseph Ladapo as the new Florida Surgeon General and Secretary of the state's Department of Health.

"He comes to Florida with really a superb background, bringing superb intellect but also I think will bring great leadership," says Gov. DeSantis.

Dr. Ladapo says that the Sunshine State will completely reject fear as a way of making policies in public health.

"We're done with fear, it's been something that's been unfortunately a center piece of health policy in the United States ever since the beginning of the pandemic, and its over here - expiration date it's done," says Dr. Ladapo.

In his new role, Dr. Ladapo will play a key role with the state's lead agency in battling the pandemic.

He gave some insight into how he plans to handle that fight.

While acknowledging the importance of COVID-19 vaccines, he says that folks should be able to make their own decisions.

"It's been treated almost like a religion, it's just senseless there are lots of good pathways to health, vaccination is not the only one," says Dr. Ladapo. "We support measures for good health, vaccination, losing weight, eating more fruits and vegetables."

Dr. Ladapo has already been outspoken about the nation's response to the pandemic in multiple op-ed articles in the Wall Street Journal.

A recent one by Dr. Ladapo is titled "Vaccine Mandates can't stop COVID's spread."

Dr. Lapado was recently given a professorship at the University of Florida's College of Medicine.

Before UF, he spent time on the west coast as an Associate Professor at UCLA where he cared for folks in the hospital.

Ladapo will take over the job after Florida became a hotspot for COVID-19 this summer, with the highly contagious delta variant spreading and vaccination rates remaining relatively low in swaths of the state. As of Thursday, Florida had totaled 51,240 deaths and nearly 3.49 million COVID-19 cases since the pandemic started in early 2020, according to a Florida Department of Health report.

While many conservatives have rallied to DeSantis' approach to avoiding mandates, his positions on issues such as preventing school districts from requiring students to wear masks have been highly controversial.

The Democratic National Committee quickly blasted his choice of Ladapo on Tuesday.

"Instead of going with a trusted advocate for science, DeSantis is once again playing games with peoples' lives by appointing someone who has trafficked anti-vaccine and anti-mask rhetoric," Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Adonna Biel said in a statement. "The American people are ready to return to normalcy and the DeSantis playbook of prolonging the pandemic is dangerous and wreaking havoc on his own state."

After large increases in cases, hospitalizations and deaths in July and August, the state has seen lower numbers in September. For example, a federal report Tuesday showed that 8,448 people were hospitalized in Florida with COVID-19. Three weeks earlier, the state had 15,682 patients hospitalized.

"We need to respect human rights," Ladapo said. "People do have autonomy over their lives. It's not OK, it's not virtuous and it's not right to just take away those rights from individuals."

DeSantis said Ladapo "understands there are no noble lies."

"You have to say the truth to people," DeSantis said. "You can't tell noble lies to try to get them to behave in a way that you think you want them to behave in."

(©2021 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida's Jim Saunders and Tom Urban contributed to this report.)

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