Controversial medical officer critical of mask mandates resigns from Haldimand-Norfolk job

Dr. Matt Strauss has resigned as medical officer in Haldimand-Norfolk county after a controversial 18-month run. Strauss made comments questioning masking and vaccine mandates.  (Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit - image credit)
Dr. Matt Strauss has resigned as medical officer in Haldimand-Norfolk county after a controversial 18-month run. Strauss made comments questioning masking and vaccine mandates. (Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit - image credit)

Dr. Matt Strauss has resigned after a controversial run as Haldimand-Norfolk's acting medical officer.

He told CBC News that it was "a great honour to serve the community" and that his departure is "bittersweet".

Strauss will end his 18 months as medical officer on April 1, he announced in a health and social services advisory meeting on Monday.

Strauss has faced criticism for his public comments before.

He previously said on social media he'd sooner give his children COVID-19 over a Happy Meal, and when he was initially brought on as acting medical officer of health in September 2021, the Ontario Liberals called on the health minister to veto his hiring.

Norfolk mayor Amy Martin confirmed that Strauss has resigned, and said the "board of health will be meeting in February to address the next plans on how we're going forward."

Martin, who was elected mayor last October and is the chair of the joint Haldimand-Norfolk board of health, said she will not comment on Strauss at this time, as  "Dr. Strauss is still an employee until April 1st.."

New mayor said, when she was a councillor, she regretted voting for him

In Sept. 2021, following Strauss' appointment as medical officer for the region, Martin said she regretted voting him onto the board.

"Simply put, [his comments are] not reflective of my position on COVID-19," Martin said in Sept. 2021. "They are not reflective of the leadership our communities, both Haldimand and Norfolk, are in need of."

Strauss has written multiple articles in recent months explaining his critique of masking and vaccine mandates. He said he took the medical officer role in Haldimand-Norfolk because he was concerned about pandemic policy, mainly mask mandates which he said are "under evidenced", and had the support of some community members.

"Some members of the Haldimand-Norfolk community reached out to me and asked if I would take on this job because they were concerned about the direction of pandemic policy in the province," he said.

Dr. Thomas Piggott, CEO of Peterborough Public Health told CBC Radio's The Current  "masking is an intervention that comes with absolutely no known evidence of harms, and that's the reality." He said "unfortunately, through the past couple of years, there's been politicization of masking, so instead of a health prevention, it's seen as a symbol."

Dr. Allison McGeer, an infectious disease physician and senior clinical scientist at Sinai Health System in Toronto said "one thing we've learned very clearly during this pandemic is that masking reduces the transmission of influenza. [It's] not quite as clear for other respiratory viruses."

Dr. Christopher Labos, an epidemiologist and cardiologist in Montreal, said wearing a mask — whether it's for COVID-19, RSV or influenza — has been shown to stem the spread of respiratory illness.

"When we were wearing masks, we had no influenza, right?" he said of the situation at the height of the pandemic.

"I think we've proven to ourselves that masks work. We just have to do them, even if they are just a little bit uncomfortable for some people."

In November, Strauss said he was suing Queen's University and the head of its medicine department for over $600,000, saying he had no choice but to resign from his university position because of "malicious, aggressive, condescending and defamatory statements" made about him.

The statement of claim, filed Oct. 20, states Dr. Stephen Archer, Strauss's direct supervisor and the head of the medicine department at Queen's in Kingston, Ont., constantly berated Strauss over his public criticism of COVID-19 public health measures, including lockdowns.

None of the claims have been proven in court. Strauss worked at Queen's as an assistant professor of medicine from July 2019 to November 2021. He also held privileges as a general internal medicine physician and an intensive care unit (ICU) specialist at Kingston General Hospital, according to the statement of claim.