Ontario premier defends public absence of top health official amid sixth wave of COVID-19

Premier Doug Ford is defending the relative absence of Ontario’s top health official from the public eye amid a sixth wave of the pandemic that has driven a 40 per cent week-over-week increase in hospitalizations.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore had provided weekly updates about COVID-19 since assuming his role, often using them as an opportunity to all the benefits of vaccination or remind the public of the importance of keeping their distance and limiting contacts.

The briefings, however, were suspended last month amid an improving viral picture and it has now been four weeks since Ontario’s top health official has addressed reporters.

Back in March, Moore had said that he would still speak publicly when the COVID situation merited it but he has been largely absent through the recent resurgence of viral activity and was nowhere to be found on Wednesday when the province announced plans to expand fourth dose eligibility to residents 60 and up.

During a press conference to discuss an unrelated matter on Wednesday morning, Ford was asked whether Ontarians would be able to hear from Moore anytime soon but largely sidestepped the question, instead defending the work ethics of his top health official.

“Let me tell you about Dr. Moore. Dr. Moore is one of the hardest working people I have ever met. He never rests, he works around the clock for the people of Ontario. Just yesterday he had a meeting with all public health officers throughout the province,” he said. “He is on the job 24/7 looking at the figures, looking at the stats and giving myself and our cabinet advice and he has done an incredible job from day one. I am his biggest fan.”

Ford’s comments on Wednesday come in the wake of the medical director of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital publicly calling on Moore to resume regular briefings in a video message posted to Twitter on Tuesday night.

In that video, Dr. Michael Warner accused the “government of pretending” like a resurgence of COVID isn’t happening and said that they are failing to take the necessary steps to protect Ontarians, including a return to mandatory masking.

Speaking with CP24 later on Wednesday, infectious disease specialist Dr. Abdu Sharkawy said that he does believe that Moore could help to quell some anxiety by speaking publicly, especially given the limited public health indicators available to Ontarians to learned their personal risk due to an earlier decision to curtail access to PCR testing.

“I think the intention may be to help calm people but unfortunately I think the reverse is happening. There is a lot of angst, there is a lot of insecurity and anxiety because people don’t really know what is going on and the wastewater signal is basically all we have to go on at this point,” he said. “So I certainly hope that the situation changes. I think it would provide some level of confidence and some degree of grounding the situation if he were able to actually speak and let us know what his opinion is.”

On Wednesday Ontario reported 3,444 new lab confirmed cases of COVID-19, though the province’s science table has previously suggested that the true number of new infections each day is probably higher by a multiplier of 10.

Ford, for his part, has described the resurgence as a “little spike” as recently last week and on Wednesday brushed aside suggestions that the province’s hospitals could soon be overwhelmed, highlighting recent investments the province has made to add additional beds.

Medical experts, it should be noted, have said that there is not sufficient staff to manage many of those beds, making the capacity largely theoretical.

“I am not downplaying it,” Ford said. “We have the supports, we have the beds, we are a population of 15 million people and out of the 15 million we have 160 the ICU (with COVID) that have been there for quite some time.”

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