Amid renewed calls for the appointment of a local acting medical officer of health to be dismissed due to controversial social media posts, Ontario’s top doctor says there are “actions” he can take if he feels like a region isn’t taking the proper precautions against COVID-19.
Dr. Matt Strauss was hired by the Haldimand-Norfolk Public Health Unit on Friday. His appointment caused a near-immediate flood of criticism after elected officials began noticing that many of his tweets indicated he is opposed to lockdowns.
He appears to argue multiple times lockdowns are unethical and not effective at preventing COVID-19-related deaths, and on Aug. 29 tweeted “live free or die.”
In other posts to social media, Strauss indicated that he would rather live in Florida, a state that has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths after loosening public health measures.
Strauss’ appointment was confirmed unanimously and he is scheduled to begin his new role on Sept. 14.
The controversial social media tweets led Liberal Leader John Fraser to call on the Doug Ford government to veto his appointment. On Tuesday he released a second statement saying that “Doug Ford must make it clear that his government will not approve Dr. Strauss’ appointment. Anything less would breathe air into the dangerous protests we’ve seen at hospitals across Ontario.”
The Ministry of Health said that while they are responsible for approving the appointment of full-time medical officers of health, they do not have the power to remove someone hired on an interim basis.
Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore confirmed this statement at a news conference held Tuesday afternoon, adding that the Haldimand-Norfolk Public Health Unit has struggled to find someone with the right requirements to fill the position permanently.
“If and when this individual is hired, and I believe the date is Sept. 14, that chief medical officer of health has the duty and obligation to continue to monitor the health of individuals in all health units across Ontario,” Moore said.
“If it is my professional opinion that the population is not being protected to the utmost through public health measures, I do have actions that I can take under the health protection and promotion act to ensure that all citizens in Haldeman North walk, are protected against COVID-19.”
Moore did not specify what those actions could entail.
In a statement shared to Strauss’ social media page and originally published by a local news outlet, he does not refute his position on lockdowns and other public health measures, saying that he is skeptical of “non-pharmaceutical interventions such as stay-at-home orders.”
“So far, most trials that have compared COVID-19 mortality between jurisdictions with stringent lockdowns against those with more liberal approaches have not demonstrated any mortality reduction from the more stringent policies,” he said. “I welcome conversation and fair criticism of these science-based views. Such discourse is part of the scientific process. The politicization of my appointment and ad hominem attacks against me, conversely, are not. In fact, such attempts are themselves anti-scientific. Science is not a popularity contest, nor is it an agglomeration of credentialed opinions.”
“My life’s work has been to save lives. Any suggestion that I am ‘anti-science’ or opposed to ‘life-saving measures’ is untrue and inappropriate.”
CTV News Toronto has tried to reach out to Strauss, but he has not responded to the requests.
Moore said that his office is working with Haldimand-Norfolk to find someone with the right qualifications, such as a master’s in public health or a specialty designation in public health and preventative medicine, to fill the roll permanently.
At a meeting held Tuesday afternoon, members of the Haldimand-Norfolk board of health appeared split in how to deal with the recent appointment criticism, with some standing by the decision and others appearing frustrated that they did not know about the extent of the social media comments.
A closed-door council meeting will be held to discuss the appointment at a later date.