Premier Doug Ford is defending Ontario’s chief medical officer of health amid growing calls for new leadership as the province enters a critical new stage of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I have all the confidence in the world in Dr. Williams and his whole entire team,” Ford said during his Tuesday afternoon COVID-19 briefing.
Health Minister Christine Elliott added that Williams has “done his best to keep Ontarians safe” during the crisis.
Ford and Elliott’s votes of support come on the heels of Doris Grinspun, CEO of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO), calling for Williams to be taken off the job immediately, whether by removal, resignation or retirement.
“We are in for a difficult time and that’s why we’re saying we need strong leadership at the top and we need that to happen now,” said Grinspun.
QP Briefing first reported that Grinspun and the RNAO are calling for Williams to resign.
A need for change has become increasingly urgent, she said, with Ontario schools now just days away from widely reopening and a possible second wave of the novel coronavirus looming.
Grinspun described Williams as a poor communicator and criticized him for moving too slowly on preventative measures.
The demands of nurses and health workers have often gone unheard, she said, especially during the height of the crisis in Ontario’s long-term care facilities. Grinspun said that local public health leaders have been more proactive and effective in responding to the crisis.
Dr. David Fisman, the outspoken epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, has also called for a shakeup. He tweeted earlier this week that Williams’ resignation is “long past time.”
It’s long past time. To my colleagues who say this in private are reluctant to speak out publicly: we don’t have a lot of time. Please be brave.https://t.co/ZS6kBJ9A8J
Fisman and Grinspun said colleagues and health leaders, including the CEOs of some Toronto hospitals, have privately expressed their desire for a new doctor to take over the province’s top job.
Williams was appointed to his current post by the previous Liberal government in February 2016. He previously served as the medical officer of health for the Thunder Bay District Board of Health.
Williams said ‘careful’ workers unlikely to become infected
In an interview with CBC Toronto, Grinspun described months of private conversations with Ford’s office, in which her organization has expressed concerns with Williams’s performance during the pandemic.
She then pointed to comments made by Williams during a news conference on Thursday, Aug. 27 as a tipping point.
In his response to a question about the risks facing teachers when in-person learning widely resumes this month, Williams drew a comparison to health-care workers, and suggested that many infected workers did not actually contract the virus while on the job.
“If you then go home, casually go around and don’t wear a mask, go off to the mall or wherever and expose yourself, that would be really bad,” he said.
“Our approach has always been, those people who are very careful and are consistent in their practices, we usually, when we interview them, they do not get infected.”
According to provincial figures, 2,642 health-care workers at long-term care facilities have contracted COVID-19, and eight of them have died.
Grinspun said Williams’s comments placed unfair blame on those workers. She estimated that less than half of Ontario’s health-care workers contracted the virus outside work, though she does not have data to support that assessment.
“It shows an inability to empathize and an inability to understand how hard health professionals are working to serve Ontarians,” she said of Williams’s comments.
“It’s unfathomable that any public-health officer, let alone the chief medical officer of health of this province, would see it right to make that flippant and unfactual comment.”