Dr. Matt Strauss used his first public appearance as Haldimand-Norfolk’s acting medical officer of health to encourage residents not yet vaccinated against COVID-19 to get the shot.
“We all want to prevent death from COVID-19 and vaccines are the absolute best way to do that,” Strauss said during Tuesday’s Norfolk County council meeting.
Strauss said unvaccinated residents in the “vulnerable 40-to-60-year-old demographic” are at particular risk of serious illness and death should they contract the virus.
“I unreservedly recommend that folks in this cohort get vaccinated and do so quickly. This will be a priority for me in my work with the health unit going forward,” he said.
Strauss, a critical-care doctor, said he has spent the pandemic treating COVID-19 patients in the ICU.
He said in the interest of being transparent and inspiring trust, vaccine providers must be open to questions and even criticism from residents who remain hesitant about getting the shot.
“Kindness goes a long way,” he said.
Strauss also addressed the controversy that arose after his appointment, once the public became aware of his social media posts and writings criticizing lockdowns and other government measures to slow the spread of the virus.
“I have to unfortunately say that some of my comments were misconstrued,” Strauss said, adding that in his new role, he now has a formal avenue to raise objections about provincial policy should he see fit.
“I don’t see much reason that I would have to be writing eye-catching analogies on social media,” he said.
Strauss was hired with the unanimous approval of Haldimand-Norfolk’s board of health, but some members wavered in their support once public backlash grew.
Ultimately, Coun. Amy Martin was the sole board member to vote against confirming Strauss’s appointment. On Tuesday she asked the doctor how he would inspire trust in the health unit among residents who are now giving nurses “pushback” about contact tracing.
“Allegedly, community members are going so far as to cite you, and that when you arrive, you will correct this and we won’t be doing these type of things anymore,” Martin told Strauss.
Strauss called it “very unfortunate that some of my comments have been misconstrued and have caused a portrait of myself to emerge where I’m anti-mask or anti-vaccine … or anti-contact tracing for that matter.”
He drew a distinction between his online commentary and his clinical practice.
“My life’s work has been preventing people from dying,” he said.
Whatever residents may think will change with his arrival, Strauss reminded council most of the local COVID-19 response is determined at the provincial level.
“It is not my position as a local acting medical officer of health to countermand those ministry decisions,” he said. “Were it in my power, I would not avail myself of that power.”
It is within Strauss’s power to issue or revoke local Section 22 orders, such as former medical officer of health Dr. Shanker Nesathurai’s order restricting bunkhouse occupancy for quarantining migrant farm workers.
In response to a question from Coun. Mike Columbus, Strauss said he looked forward to receiving the board of health’s advice on Section 22 orders.
“It is my intention to consult with the board of health as much as possible, when that appears necessary,” Strauss said.
“Sounds like we’re going to be on the right track,” Columbus replied.
J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator