Doctor who bragged that he and his staff don't wear masks has license suspended in Oregon

Virginia Barreda, Salem Statesman Journal
·5 min read

SALEM, Ore. – A Dallas family physician has been suspended by the Oregon Medical Board after publicly stating he and his staff are not wearing masks in his clinic during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Steven LaTulippe, owner of South View Medical Arts, also compared the SARS-CoV-2 virus to a "common cold virus," and challenged Gov. Kate Brown's authority in her efforts to slow the spread of the disease.

"I want to expose what I call 'corona-mania,' " LaTulippe said while addressing a crowd at the Oregon State Capitol during the Nov. 7 "Stop the Steal" rally.

"I hate to tell you this — it might scare you, but I and my staff, none of us — once — wore a mask in my clinic," he told the crowd.

LaTulippe’s comments were captured on video and posted to YouTube by the Multnomah County Republicans. The story was first reported by KGW-TV in Portland.

The following message appeared on the Oregon Medical Board's website under LaTulippe's license information Thursday:

"At 5:15 p.m., on December 3, 2020, the Board voted to issue an Order of Emergency Suspension to immediately suspend Licensee's medical license due to the Board's concern for the safety and welfare of Licensee's current and future patients. This Order is in effect until otherwise ordered by the Board."

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This order is issued when the licensee poses an immediate threat to the safety and welfare of his or her patients, according to the board's website. The order immediately suspends the license to practice pending the completion of an investigation. It can be contested through a hearing.

LaTulippe's statements contradict CDC guidance

LaTulippe's statements made at the rally are contrary to U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidance, which recommends all healthcare professionals wear a face mask at all times while at a health care facility. This includes breakrooms or other spaces where they might encounter co-workers.

"Facemasks offer both source control and protection for the wearer against exposure to splashes and sprays of infectious material from others," according to the CDC's website.

LaTulippe stands by his comments made during the rally, he said in a Wednesday phone interview with the Statesman Journal.

At the time, he also said he had been in contact with an Oregon Medical Board investigator and was not worried about repercussions. LaTulippe did not immediately respond Friday to an interview request.

He said his goal at the rally was to alleviate fear.

"There's been so much hype about this and so much false information and misinformation, the entire population is paranoid," LaTulippe said.

LaTulippe said he believes mask-wearing often does more harm than good.

In an evidence review conducted by researchers at the Oregon Health & Science University, studies found no evidence of serious harm from wearing a mask. The review, published in June, examined the role of masks in containing the spread of the virus.

“Masks can have some occasional adverse effects like discomfort, skin irritation or shortness of breath, especially for people with chronic lung or heart disease,” said Gopal Allada, M.D., associate professor of medicine in the OHSU School of Medicine. “However, on balance, the benefits in preventing virus transmission far outweigh the potential risks of wearing a mask.”

CDC officials recommend wearing a mask even if individuals don't feel sick because asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic people — those who are not yet showing symptoms — can still spread the virus to others.

According to a November CDC report, masks help protect the wearer from being infected by others and help protect others if the wearer is infected.

Legal authority

An executive order from Gov. Kate Brown requires all health care professionals to wear a face mask or face covering that covers the nose and mouth at all times while in the health care office, except when in a private office by themselves.

"She has no jurisdiction to be imposing shutdowns and to be telling any doctor how to practice medicine," LaTulippe said. "I don't think she knows as much as I do about microbiology, virology, epidemiology and infectious disease."

There is debate, both about the scope of the governor’s authority to require adherence to OHA guidelines and whether the mask requirement is constitutional in certain circumstances, according to a published article by the Oregon State Bar Center.

In one case in May, the Oregon Supreme Court hit the brakes on a Baker County judge's order that had invalidated Gov. Kate Brown's executive actions to slow the coronavirus pandemic.

Still, LaTulippe alleges his office has a rigid protocol when it comes to handling COVID-19 patients.

LaTulippe said his office screens every patient who calls in with symptoms that sound consistent with COVID-19. Symptomatic patients are scheduled for visits at the end of the day when all other patients are gone. LaTulippe asks them to wear a mask to protect him as he is examining them.

He also disinfects each patient room before and after sick patients visit and asks staff to practice handwashing habits before and after coming in contact with patients.

He said he's treated 78 patients with COVID-19 at his practice.

"I love my patients," LaTulippe said. "I treat my patients very well, my patients have been with me for a long, long time. They trust me. I would do nothing to put any of my patients, my staff or the public at risk."

LaTulippe's Oregon medical license was issued in April 2000, according to the medical board. It's set to expire in Dec. 2021. He attended medical school at Loma Linda University School of Medicine; He interned and completed his residency at Wheeling Hospital in West Virginia, the board's website shows.

Follow Salem, Oregon reporter Virginia Barreda on Twitter: @vbarreda2.

This article originally appeared on Salem Statesman Journal: COVID: Oregon doctor, who rejects face masks, gets license suspended