Haldimand-Norfolk’s board of health (BOH) will meet with a legal team next week to discuss options amid ongoing concern around the region’s recent hiring of an acting medical officer of health.
During a heated session on Tuesday night, some of it in-camera, councillors discussed recent accusations from a number of residents and other public figures that Dr. Matt Strauss’ beliefs on COVID-19 have been questionable.
At the forefront of the controversy are a series of statements opposing COVID-19 lockdowns on social media which were called out by Ontario Liberal health critic John Fraser last week.
“Ontario Liberals are calling on Minister Elliott to immediately veto the appointment of Dr. Strauss as Haldimand-Norfolk’s next Medical Officer of Health,” Fraser said in a release on Sept. 3.
“We cannot have a Medical Officer of Health who publicly opposed lifesaving public health measures as we head into the fourth wave of COVID-19.”
Some of the social media posts in question include an April 9 post in which Strauss suggested COVID lockdowns “are based on fear and coercion” while another on Aug. 3 suggested he’d “sooner give his kids COVID-19 than a McDonald’s Happy Meal.”
BOH member and Coun. Amy Martin of Port Dover was one of four now regretting the July 22 appointment of Strauss saying his posts were “callous,” “infuriating” and “reckless.”
“They are not reflective of the leadership our communities, both Haldimand and Norfolk, are in need of,” Martin said during the Sept. 7 meeting.
Martin told Global News that she’s had “overwhelming” response from residents on “both sides of the coin. ”
She said “how he got there” was the most asked question from the public.
Mayor Kristal Chopp defends the decision suggesting board members opposed to keeping Strauss on board should have made themselves aware of his views on lockdowns and other public health measures before “unanimously” appointing him as the acting MOH.
In a recent Port Dover Maple Leaf article Chopp stressed the qualifications of Strauss – an academic at Queen’s University and an intensive care unit (ICU) doctor who has treated COVID patients.
She went on to say that Fraser’s accusations “deeply offended” her saying it’s “preposterous and cheap political theatre” to suggest the BOH would put residents from both counties at risk through such a hiring.
“Let me make this Kristal clear, Dr. Stauss believes in vaccinations, which the last time I checked is the strongest public health measure we have available in our toolbox,” Chopp said.
“Yes, he has held a critical viewpoint on some COVID19 measures – for the record, so too have I.”
Martin told Global News that Strauss’ interview was done by a sub-committee made up of representatives from both Haldimand and Norfolk and that she was not a part of the process.
“We did have a roundtable discussion as a full board, and that’s where the unanimous decision came from,” Martin said.
Prior to the BOH meeting, which is made up of just Norfolk councilors, the province’s top doctor said he could only take action if it appears public health measures in the two counties aren’t sufficient to protect residents from COVID-19.
Dr. Kieran Moore said the Haldimand-Norfolk BOH didn’t need his approval, or that of the ministry of health, to appoint Strauss for an interim position.
“If and when this individual is hired … 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 Haldimand-Norfolk are protected against COVID-19,” Moore said.
In his own piece with the Maple Leaf the Kingston-based Strauss admitted to being “skeptical” of some therapies in treating COVID-19 in addition to “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,” Strauss said.
He went on to say that he “welcomes” criticism of his “science-based views” and says the “politicization” of his appointment is not “fair criticism.”
“My life’s work has been to save lives,” said Strauss.
“Any suggestion that I am ‘anti-science’ or opposed to ‘life-saving measures’ is untrue and inappropriate.”
As of Wednesday, Haldimand-Norfolk has the second-worst two-dose COVID vaccine rate in Ontario with just 73 per cent of residents being fully vaccinated.
Only Chatham-Kent is worse with just 72 per cent having received both required doses.
The two counties rank 21st among the 34 Ontario health units with COVID tests returning positive from provincial labs with a 2.57 per cent rate.
As per terms of his contract, Strauss is set to start as his post on Sept. 14.
Martin told Rick Zamperin from Good Morning Hamilton the BOH will reconvene with an in-camera session on Monday Sept. 13.
“We’ve got external legal counsel going to meet us and provide us with some closed session off camera advice and some options, and we’ll go from there,” Martin said.
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