'We're fully transparent' with COVID-19 data, says Andrew Furey

·4 min read
Liberal Leader Andrew Furey says there was not enough data for predictive modelling, but he looked at 'probabilistic modelling' scenarios based on information available in other jurisdictions. (CBC - image credit)
Liberal Leader Andrew Furey says there was not enough data for predictive modelling, but he looked at 'probabilistic modelling' scenarios based on information available in other jurisdictions. (CBC - image credit)

Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie is accusing Liberal Leader Andrew Furey of misleading the public about the information he relied on in calling the provincial election.

Furey found himself on the defensive again Wednesday over his election call in response to reporters' questions about what modelling information he used to make his decision.

He said all the data that was used to guide the decision to call the election was taken from federal government websites, which he said are open to the public.

However, on Monday, a CBC/Radio-Canada story detailed that the request for a copy of that modelling through access-to-information and privacy (ATI) legislation was denied by the Department of Health and Community Services because the data is considered cabinet records.

The Progressive Conservatives have asked the clerk of the executive council to order the disclosure of that modelling information.

In the "absence of predictions," Furey said, decisions still needed to be made, so he looked at the probability of different scenarios based on the province's low cases, the potential of spread from the few active cases at the time, as well as spread data in other provinces where there was active community spread.

None of those scenarios, he said, could account for an outbreak of the B117 variant, which was not detected in the province at the time he called the election in January.

"There was no cases, so in the absence of cases it's difficult to model," Furey said, adding that there was not enough data to do predictive modelling, so he instead look at "probabilistic modelling" based on what information was available.

"In the absence of definitive measures and definitive evidence moving forward, that's all you can do," Furey said.

As for the CBC/Radio-Canada story and the request for the data, Furey said he has "no insight" into that request.

"I don't control the ATIP process, nor should I."

Furey would not do an interview for the original story. But in a statement, he said, "As I have said repeatedly, the election was called January 15 after consistently low prevalence of COVID-19 in Newfoundland and Labrador, outbreaks in three communities quickly contained, and getting through the holiday season without an outbreak."

Furey 'can't seem to get his story straight': PCs

Later Wednesday afternoon, the PCs released a statement accusing Furey of misleading the province.

"Andrew Furey said he looked at modelling ahead of the election, yet Dr. Rahman says no such models existed. It's clear the premier misled the public during the February 9 update," said PC Leader Ches Crosbie, in the statement.

"The premier can't seem to get his story straight."

Crosbie had previously said all other modelling information used to guide decision-making during the COVID-19 pandemic in Newfoundland and Labrador has been publicly available, and this information should be no different.

Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie has written to the clerk of the executive council, asking him to publicly disclose documents that led to the pandemic election call.
Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie has written to the clerk of the executive council, asking him to publicly disclose documents that led to the pandemic election call.(CBC)

"I think the public have a right to know what was the basis on which Mr. Furey called the election. He claims to have modelling, probabilistic modelling — well, let's see it," Crosbie said.

"I'd say it's extremely unusual, very curious and perplexing that documents concerning public health, which have always been freely released, public health modelling, are now suddenly a state secret. How can that happen?"

Crosbie has written to Gary Norris, the clerk of the executive council, asking him to release the modelling information, saying he has legislative authority to unseal cabinet records when the clerk is "satisfied that the public interest in the disclosure of the information outweighs the reason for the exception," according to Subsection 27 of the province's access-to-information legislation, according to a media release issued by Crosbie on Tuesday.

A spokesperson for the clerk's department confirmed the letter from Crosbie has been received, but there would be no comment on it.

"The clerk will be communicating to Mr. Crosbie directly — it would not be appropriate to respond through the media," reads a statement.

B117 outbreak a 'superspreader' event

Dr. Proton Rahman, a clinical scientist with Eastern Health and professor of medicine at Memorial University, is the head of the team predicting patterns in the province throughout the pandemic. During Wednesday's COVID-19 briefing, he said outbreaks like with variant B117 can't be anticipated.

"It's really not possible to predict when a superspreader event can occur," Rahman said. "In terms of outbreaks, these are not possible to model."

The outbreak of the B117 variant prompted the opening of additional drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites, like this one in Mount Pearl, last month.
The outbreak of the B117 variant prompted the opening of additional drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites, like this one in Mount Pearl, last month.(John Pike/CBC)

Before the election was called, Rahman said, the focus of talks with Furey was on "hypothetical discussions" on health-care capacity based on information available, as well as just a handful of cases at that time.

"There was no pattern there because we had no cases at the time of our discussion with the premier," Rahman said.

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