The Georgia Straight

If Govender won’t order a COVID inquiry, who will?

- By Charlie Smith

Last year, about 150 doctors and researcher­s signed a letter expressing “deep concern” about how the Canadian Broadcasti­ng Corporatio­n had been reporting on Dr. John Conly. In 2020, Conly was the lead author on a paper maintainin­g that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, “is not spread by the airborne route to any significan­t extent”.

This paper also insisted that “the use of particulat­e respirator­s offers no advantage over medical masks as a component of personal protective equipment for the routine care of patients with COVID-19 in the health care setting”.

This perspectiv­e has made him a figure of controvers­y among those who support the use of N95 respirator­s in hospitals and other indoor settings.

Conly is a professor of medicine, microbiolo­gy, immunology and infectious diseases, pathology, and laboratory medicine at the University of Calgary. He is codirector of the Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases at the University of Calgary, a member of the Canadian expert advisory group on antimicrob­ial resistance, and a member of the World Health Organizati­on advisory group on integrated surveillan­ce of antimicrob­ial resistance.

The signatorie­s to the pro-Conly letter, which was part of a complaint to the CBC ombudsman about a 2021 article on its website, included the following physicians who listed links to the University of British Columbia: Dr. William Connors, Dr. Dwight Ferris, Dr. Jennifer Grant, Dr. Jocelyn Srigley, Dr. Alastair Teale, Dr. Jan Hajek, Dr. Alissa Wright, Dr. Ted Steiner, Dr. Katherine Plewes, Dr. Laura Sauvé, Dr. Natasha Press, Dr. Ryan LeBlanc, and Dr. Lisa Li. Another signatory, Dr. Alison Lopez, listed her connection to B.C. Children’s Hospital.

They accused CBC of spurring “a mob of trolls spewing hateful comments and propagatin­g misinforma­tion” through its coverage of Conly. This included CBC reporting on a

…virus can linger in fine aerosols and remain…in the air we breathe.

– Dr. Theresa Tam

University of Calgary–sponsored webinar on how the SARS-CoV-2 virus is transmitte­d.

“While 2 panelists provided evidence favoring it to be predominan­tly airborne, Dr. Conly supported multiple modes of transmissi­on based on available evidence and long-term infection control principles of contact and droplet transmissi­on, accepting that airborne transmissi­on also can occur in specific situations,” the letter writers stated.

“This is the position of the CDC, WHO and Public Health Agency of Canada,” they continued. “In coverage of the webinar and with additional CBC coverage which sought the views of others favoring predominan­tly long-range airborne transmissi­on, Dr. Conly was attacked and painted as a villain who was responsibl­e for WHO being hesitant in endorsing airborne transmissi­on as the predominan­t mode of transmissi­on.

“Facts were misconstru­ed, opinions misreprese­nted and a trusted…physician helping to lead the global fight against COVID-19 has been unjustly denigrated.”

On March 22, CBC ombudsman Jack Nagler released a decision largely upholding the CBC’s actions but noting that “some of the story’s descriptio­ns of Dr. Conly’s positions failed the test of accuracy and fairness”.

“To say that he ‘denied’ or ‘refuted’ the notion of aerosols as the primary transmissi­on of COVID-19 was not sustained by the statements Dr. Conly made in the article itself… Ultimately, the portrayal of this nuanced debate would have benefited from more nuanced language on the part of CBC,” Nagler wrote.

Here’s another portion of the letter in the complaint: “At the heart of the matter is how SARS-C0V-2 is transmitte­d—the size of infectious particles and distance they can travel to cause an infection.”

“SARS-CoV-2 transmissi­on dynamics are very complex, situationa­l and are of intense scientific inquiry because of the public health implicatio­ns,” they continued. “This distinctio­n matters as the resulting infection control precaution­s in Canadian hospitals—and most of the world—are based on this understand­ing (where healthcare workers wear surgical masks, gowns, gloves and eyewear to protect themselves— except when aerosol generating procedures occur and an N95 mask is used).”

They accused CBC of “selectivel­y” citing two papers, as well as a 2020 letter published in the Clinical Infectious Disease journal. This letter to the journal was signed by 239 scientists, calling for COVID-19 to be declared an airborne infectious disease.

The Conly supporters pointed out that this letter in Clinical Infectious Disease had only two Canadian signatorie­s who were infectious disease physicians or medical microbiolo­gists.

“However, the CBC does not comment on those that have pushed back against this assertion—including a letter published in the same journal signed by hundreds of leading scientists and clinicians from all over the world—including 168 Canadian infectious disease physicians and medical microbiolo­gists,” they declared. “Nor does CBC comment on the hundreds of papers which don’t support this argument.”

The B.C. signatorie­s pushing back against the assertion that COVID-19 should be declared an airborne infectious disease in 2020 were: Dr. Srinavas Murthy and Dr. Jennifer Grant of the UBC faculty of medicine, Dr. David Patrick of the UBC school of population and public health and the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, Dr. Jim Hutchinson of the UBC faculty of medicine and Vancouver Island Health Authority, Dr. Pamela Kibsey of the Vancouver Island Health Authority and Royal Jubilee Hospital, Dr. Jocelyn Srigley and Dr. Laura J. Sauvé of the UBC faculty of medicine and B.C. Children’s and B.C. Women’s hospitals, Dr. John Galbraith of the UBC faculty of medicine and Vancouver Island Health Authority, Dr. Troy Grennan of the UBC faculty of medicine and B.C. Centre for Disease Control, Dr. Edith Blondel-Hill of the UBC faculty of medicine and Interior Health, and Dr. Ghada Al-Rawahi of the UBC faculty of medicine, the B.C. Cancer Agency, and B.C. Children’s and Women’s hospitals.

There were 10 Canada-based signatorie­s to the 2020 letter calling for COVID-19 to

 ?? ?? Human Rights Commission­er Kasari Govender can order a public inquiry under provincial law.
Human Rights Commission­er Kasari Govender can order a public inquiry under provincial law.

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