An independent group of volunteer scientists and public health experts who have advised the Ford government on the response to the COVID-19 pandemic since July 2020 has been informed that it will be dissolved as of next month.
The Ontario Science Advisory Table has released a statement confirming that it was told by Public Health Ontario last week that its work will be discontinued as of Sept. 6.
The move comes less than five months after the provincial agency announced that it was assuming “operation and oversight” of the independent table, which had previously been hosted by the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
It also comes on the heels of the resignation of the table’s longtime co-chair Dr. Adalsteinn Brown earlier this month.
In a memo sent to Public Health Ontario President and CEO Michael Sherar and released publicly on Friday, the remaining members of the table cited several “key principals” of their “original mandate,” including an ability to “identify and study any scientific question that our members felt would help Ontario fight COVID-19” and to “communicate publicly and openly about the results of our investigations.”
The table also shared several lessons that they said they learned throughout the pandemic.
Those lessons were as follows: science matters, equity counts, transparency is critical, independence must be both perceived and delivered and timeliness and relevance are essential.
“The COVID-19 pandemic continues, and it contributes to Ontario’s growing number of health system crises,” the memo states. “Each of us on the science table has a contribution to make in the effort to secure Ontario’s health, and we will now return fully to that work.”
The Ontario Science Advisory Table is made up of dozens of scientists and other experts, who have volunteered their time to study numerous aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic, often providing blunt advice to the government on the need for public health measures to limit spread.
The table also had a separate modelling group, which were responsible for frequent COVID-19 projections which often provided an early warning about impending waves of the pandemic.
In a statement released on Friday, the table’s scientific director Dr. Farhad Razak noted that it was a “great privilege” to serve on the table since its inception and said that he hoped some of the “difficult” advice it provided ultimately “helped to reduce suffering” during “the worst public health crisis in a century.”
Razak, however, warned that the “pandemic will remain a daunting challenge for the foreseeable future” and expressed hope that the “principals the table was based on” will live on in some form.
“I hope we can all take the steps necessary to reduce the burden of the pandemic to keep our system functioning in the difficult months ahead,” he said.
Advice was often ignored by government
The science’s table’s advice often differed from the actions taken by the Ford government throughout the pandemic, with its former scientific director Dr. Peter Juni frequently taking to the airwaves to forcefully urge Queen’s Park to act more aggressively.
He also, on occasion, found himself at odds with some of the decisions made by the Ford government, particularly over its decision to close playgrounds and other recreational amenities during a devastating wave of the pandemic in the spring of 2021.
The dissolution of the table comes with case loads trending down in more than half of Ontario’s public health units, even as experts warn of a fall wave of the pandemic that could put further strain on Ontario’s already overburdened healthcare system.
Students are also set to return to classrooms last week, with mask mandates no longer in effect and many other temporary public health meatuses, such as cohorting and mandatory physical distancing, no longer in place.
At this point it is not clear why Public Health Ontario has decided to dissolve the table.
CP24 has reached out for comment but has not yet heard back.