COVID whistleblower leaving for job in Nova Scotia
Doctor revealed province rejected public health advice for pandemic plan
Dr. Shelley Deeks, the whistleblower who revealed the province had rejected its own public health agency’s advice when establishing its colour-coded COVID-19 plan, is leaving her job with Public Health Ontario, the agency announced Wednesday.
PHO was created in 2007 as an independent public health agency to address failures during SARS. Deeks is currently its chief health protection officer in charge of leading PHO’s pandemic response and serves on the province’s public health measures table, a key expert group that advises on COVID-19 restrictions and lockdown measures.
Deeks, who has worked with PHO since 2009, is moving to Nova Scotia to pursue “an exciting career opportunity” as that province’s new medical officer of health for surveillance, PHO spokesperson Janet Wong said in an email.
Her last day with PHO will be Jan. 8.
“She’s a great person and a great leader. I think this is a huge loss for Ontario and a huge gain for Nova Scotia,” said Dr. Andrew Morris, an infectious disease specialist with the Sinai Health System.
“When you lose one of your main scientific minds on public health — who has a prominent role at the (health measures) table — that is a really big deal.”
Deeks made headlines last month by revealing to the Star that the province’s thresholds
for implementing COVID restrictions were two to four times higher than what its own public health agency had recommended.
Deeks further revealed that she only learned of the province’s final colour-coded framework when it was unveiled to the public — contradicting statements from provincial officials that its plan had been designed after full consultation with experts like the health measures table, of which Deeks is a member.
The revelations sparked a public outcry and accusations from opposition leaders that provincial officials had “lied” to Ontarians. Scientists who had been critical of the province’s colour-coded framework praised Deeks as a “hero” for speaking out against a plan that many experts considered dangerously lax.
In the wake of the Star’s story, Health Minister Christine Elliott initially said the province had no plans to change its framework and Premier Doug Ford dismissed PHO’s recommendations of lower thresholds as “one doctor’s perspective” — even though they represented the public health agency’s advice, which it had provided at the health ministry’s request.
Two days after Deeks’s comments were published, and on the heels of alarming new modelling projections, Ford announced the province was lowering its thresholds to levels more in line with PHO’s initial recommendations.
In a statement published on PHO’s website Wednesday, Deeks said she is excited for the next stage of her career.
“Leaving PHO, I take with me very rewarding and enriching professional experiences as well as lifelong friendships,” she said. “Public Health is a small world and I look forward to continuing to collaborate with my colleagues in Ontario.”
She will be replaced at PHO by Dr. Jessica Hopkins, who Deeks described as a “respected and dynamic public health professional and leader” who will be an “extraordinary leader” in the agency’s COVID-19 response. Hopkins currently serves as the agency’s deputy chief of health protection.