Ontario’s COVID-19 Scientific Advisory Schedule, a key group of independent experts on the province’s response to the ongoing pandemic, confirmed Friday that it will be resolved early next month after more than two years.
In a statement posted on its website,the schedule says it was told by Public Health Ontario (PHO) at a meeting on August 18 that it will be disbanding and all of its working groups as of September 6.
“We are very grateful for the opportunity to serve Ontario since July 2020,” the statement read. “Many of us will remember our work at Science Table as some of the most important we’ve ever had the chance to do.”
The group said its work reflects the dedication of hundreds of volunteer scientists, doctors and administrators. She added that the core principles that will help Ontario manage the ongoing risks of COVID-19 are that science, fairness and transparency are critical, autonomy must be recognized and delivered, and timeliness and appropriateness are key.
“The COVID-19 pandemic continues, and is contributing to the growing number of health system crises in Ontario,” the statement continued.
The group of independent scientists was supervised by the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health until April 4, when the Public Health Organization announced that it would host the group of experts on a permanent basis.
At the time, the Public Health Organization said the group would develop new competencies to become “sustainable over time” and be able to expand if needed in the event of a future public health emergency.
PHO Explore a new advisory group
A statement from the PHO on Friday suggested it was looking into forming a new group, saying it had engaged in discussions with science table representatives over the past few weeks about the new competencies.
“The new Terms of Reference establish a mandate that reflects a sustainable long-term approach and ensures the continued provision of reliable, independent scientific and technical public health advice to the District on COVID-19 and future public health emergencies,” she wrote.
Membership will continue to be composed of independent experts.
Science table advice and guidelines have at times during the pandemic been in conflict with government measures.
One particularly poignant moment came in February 2021, as the government prepared to ease public health restrictions during a temporary lull in new cases, just as worrisome variables began to take hold in the county.
During a press conference to present their latest models, a reporter asked the table’s co-chair, Adalstein Brown, if the group of experts was essentially “predicting a disaster.” Brown answered in the affirmative.
You can watch the full exchange here:
Brown is dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and has been a staple of presentations during some of the most famous months of the pandemic. In August, Brown left the group to focus on his role at the University of Toronto.
The government went ahead with its plan, and what followed was the third wave, which, at its peak, saw around 900 people with COVID-19 admitted to intensive care units and resulted in public health orders being reimposed several weeks later.
Hopes for a New Group Guided by “True Scientific Independence”
At its peak, core members of the table included more than 40 health professionals and scientists with a wide range of expertise.
Dr Peter Johnny, Backgammon’s former science director and general representative throughout the pandemic, resigned in April to take up a position at Oxford University in the UK.
He was replaced by Dr. Fahad Razak, an internist at Saint Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and an assistant professor at the University of Toronto.
In his own statement on Friday, Razak said he was “forever grateful” to those who volunteered their time for the table task, “often working late into the night and under extreme time pressure.”
“I hope that the scientific advice we have provided to the public and decision makers will help reduce suffering,” he said.
Razak added that he hopes any future advisory group will be guided by the principles of “genuine scientific independence” and transparency, focus on fairness and a dedication to standing up for individuals and communities that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.