COVID no hoax, says Shandro

Dr. Roger Hodkinson, photo courtesy of westernmedical.ca.
Alberta Health Minster Tyler Shandro, photo from albertahealthservices.ca.

Alberta Health minister disagrees with comments made at PR UCP meeting

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro says he “respectfully disagrees” with Dr. Roger Hodkinson’s opinion that masks are useless and COVID-19 is a hoax that is no more serious than the flu.

Shandro made the comments at a media scrum in Edmonton after South Peace News broke the story Nov. 23 that UCP members and supporters who attended the Peace River UCP annual general meeting on Nov. 21 say Shandro spoke favourably of Dr. Hodkinson’s expertise. Two attendees took to social media after the AGM to compliment Shandro for his comments.

Shandro attended the AGM as keynote speaker via Zoom. Local media were not informed of the AGM nor given an opportunity for questions.

Dr. Hodkinson’s comments at the virtual Edmonton city council meeting on Nov. 13 disputing the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic have been widely shared. The meeting was held to discuss the City’s plan to mandate masks through 2021, something Dr. Hodkinson opposed, calling mask wearers “lemmings.”

Bob Blayone, who attended the Peace River UCP AGM, wrote in his social media posts that he asked Shandro about Dr. Hodkinson at the AGM, saying Dr. Hodkinson’s “expertise is of the highest order.”

Blayone claims Shandro responded to his questions at the AGM regarding Dr. Hodkinson and Shandro says he “values [Hodkinson’s] expertise, and knows him well.”

However, various official bodies have since distanced themselves from Dr. Hodkinson. The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons first clarified on Nov. 20 that Dr. Hodkinson has never been chair of the College, and reiterated the College’s support for public health measures in light of the fact that COVID-19 presents a serious health threat to all Canadians.

Opposition NDP MLA David Shepherd asked Shandro during afternoon question period on Nov. 23 whether he believes Dr. Hodkinson’s “ridiculous and dangerous theories.”

“Mr. Speaker, there have been a lot of lies that have been told about me on social media. That’s one of the craziest that I’ve heard,” Shandro says.

“It’s no surprise to see the NDP continuing, falling over themselves, to try and perpetuate those types of untruths, so I’m not surprised hearing the Honourable Member saying that.”

While the question was raised by the NDP opposition in the Legislature, neither Bob Blayone nor Cheryl Fitchie, who made the original comments on social media, are NDP members. Blayone is an ex-UCP board member.

“I have met with Mr. Hodkinson; I did before the pandemic,” Shandro says. “He was a past president of the Society of Laboratory Physicians. I have respect for his credentials, but I disagree with him when it comes to COVID and what he said to Edmonton city council. To make that very clear, the only adviser that we have is Dr. Deena Hinshaw.”

However, the Alberta Medical Association issued a statement on those specific credentials that same day, Nov. 23. It reads, “Re: public comments made recently by a pathologist that may leave an impression to the contrary, the Alberta Section of Laboratory Physicians does not share any of the views of the individual in question.”

That individual was Dr. Hodkinson.

Use of masks endorsed

“The Alberta Section of Laboratory Physicians endorses the use of masks, hand washing and physical distancing along with all other public health measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Alberta Health Services has also distanced itself from Dr. Hodkinson.

“We would like to clarify that Dr. Hodkinson has no formal affiliation with and is not employed in any capacity by AHS,” says a statement posted to Twitter Nov. 23.

“AHS strongly advises all Albertans to follow public health guidelines and respect local regulations regarding physical distancing, use of masks, self-isolation and COVID-19 testing protocols in order to limit the transmission of the virus.”

During the same Nov. 23 question period, Shepherd also asks, “[to] clarify, given that one attendee, Cheryl Kerr Fitchie, said that the minister ‘spoke very candidly about how he has not been willing to take advice from the feds or Health Canada or the World Health Organization on COVID protocol for Alberta. He said he has been referred to Dr. Hodkinson many times and has the utmost respect for his expertise in this field,’ and given that Hodkinson said that the COVID response is ‘utterly unfounded public hysteria,’ to be clear, to the minister: is Ms. Fitchie lying, or are you actually ignoring the real medical experts and instead promoting dangerous misinforma- tion from Roger Hodkinson?”

Comments ‘weird’

Shandro says the comments are “weird, strange conspiracy theories on the Internet.”

Shepherd says the “weird conspiracy theories” are coming from the government caucus members, pointing out that Premier Jason Kenney himself has previously called COVID-19 an influenza.

Fitchie says she feels her words have taken on a life of their own beyond what she intended, although her statement that Shandro said the provincial government would avoid a full lockdown appears to have been correct as the government continues to focus on targeted measures such as closing high schools.

The provincial government has also not put in a mask mandate for all Albertans, but only for Edmonton and Calgary, and remains the only province in Canada without a province-wide mask mandate.

Blayone persists

For his part, Blayone wrote a follow-up e-mail to Shandro that he also posted to Facebook, once again stating his version of events at the AGM with little change to his original statements on the meeting.

Further questions have meanwhile been raised regarding the relationship between Dr. Hinshaw, Shandro and Kenney after a bombshell CBC investigative report by Jennie Russell and Charles Russnell revealed the content of 20 audio recordings of the daily planning meetings of the province’s Emergency Operations Centre. In the recordings Dr. Hinshaw characterized her work giving advice to the provincial government on COVID-19 at times as a “battle” and a “bloody and excruciating campaign.”

One University of Alberta professor specializing in health law quoted in the CBC article characterized the recordings as “combative” and says they show the officer of the chief medical officer and elected politicians are at “cross-purposes.”

Dr. Hinshaw has condemned the audio recordings leaker and says she has always been treated with respect by the UCP government.

The original story

COVID comments raise questions

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

Comments allegedly made by Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro during the Peace River UCP constituency association’s annual general meeting last weekend are raising questions about which experts the UCP government is listening to while planning their strategy to address rapidly rising cases of COVID-19.

Shandro appeared as the keynote speaker at the AGM on Nov. 21 via Zoom.

Bob Blayone, an ex-UCP constituency association board member, says in a Facebook post that he attended the AGM.

“Recently, Edmonton’s Dr. Roger Hodkinson spoke to Edmonton city council regarding the COVID public health orders of the day. Dr. Hodkinson’s expertise is of the highest order,” Blayone wrote.

“To quote Dr. Hodkinson on COVID testing: ‘I’m in the business of testing for COVID. I do want to emphasize, that positive test results, do not [underlined in neon] mean a clinical infection. It’s simply driving public hysteria and all testing should stop unless you are presenting to hospital with some respiratory problem.’”

Blayone continued quoting Shandro.

“Regarding PCR testing, Alberta is using testing of 35 cycles, experts state that is far too high, whereas 18 to 24 cycles is considered more reasonable, and anything above 30 cycles is too sensitive, and causes many false positives.

He then asked Shandro.

“Given this hypersensitive PCR testing method, and the impact it is having on health care, that it is causing a shortage of staff due to staff having to isolate, why not utilize the PCR testing cycles recommended by the experts?

“Lastly, I ask if yourself and Dr. Hinshaw would consider calling upon Dr. Hodkinson to present his expert advice on COVID-19 testing, and on the public health orders of the day?”

Blayone says Shandro acknowledges Dr. Hodkinson’s expertise and informed attendees.

“That Dr. Hodkinson has advised AHS in the past helping to develop Alberta Health protocols. That he values his expertise, and knows him well. That AHS manufactures their own PCR test. And finally, Tyler inferred that he will speak to Dr. Hodkinson regarding AHS’ PCR testing.”

In a since deleted post to Facebook that has already been broadly shared on Twitter, Cheryl Kerr Fitchie says she has a new appreciation for Shandro since hearing him speak at the meeting.

“He spoke very candidly about how he has not been willing to take advice from the feds or Health Canada or the World Health Organization on COVID protocol for Alberta. He said he has been referred to Dr. Hodkinson many times and has the utmost respect for his expertise in this field.”

Dr. Hodkinson’s comments at a virtual Edmonton city council meeting on Nov. 13 regarding the City’s proposal to mandate masks until May 2021 have been seized upon by anti-maskers and conservative pundits for apparently confirming their own opposition to basic public health measures and potential lockdowns.

“The bottom line is simply this, there is utterly unfounded public hysteria driven by the media and politicians. It is outrageous. This is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on an unsuspecting public,” Dr. Hodkinson says.

“There is absolutely nothing that can be done to contain this virus, other than protecting more vulnerable people. It should be thought of nothing more than a bad flu season.

“This is not Ebola. It is not SARS. It is politics playing medicine, and that is a very dangerous game,” he adds.

COVID-19 is, in fact, a severe acute respiratory syndrome virus, known as SARS-Cov-2, and Dr. Hinshaw has repeatedly emphasized it is not the flu. Unlike the flu, there is still no vaccine for the novel coronavirus, although multiple companies have shown promising results in vaccine trials.

“It is just another bad flu. And you have got to get your minds around that. Let people make their own decisions. You should be totally out of the business of medicine. You are being led down the garden path by the chief medical officer of Health of this province,” Dr. Hodkinson says.

Dr. Hodkinson also claims masks and social distancing don’t work, and that people are “walking around like lemmings obeying without any knowledge base to put the mask on their face.”

In response to Dr. Hodkinson’s comments, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada issued a clarification on Nov. 20.

“On Nov. 19, 2020 the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada Royal College was made aware of statements by a Royal College Fellow, Dr. Roger Hodkinson. In some online references, Dr. Hodkinson is being incorrectly identified as a chair/past chair of the Royal College.

“We would like to clarify that Dr. Hodkinson is not, nor has ever held the position of chairman of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.”

The statement says the Royal College believes COVID-19 presents a serious health threat to the health of all Canadians.

“The Royal College strongly supports all public health advice given by the chief public health officer of Canada, including recommendations to practice physical distancing and to wear masks to help prevent COVID-19 transmission.”

Attendees at the AGM say Shandro also addressed whether or not the Province would go into another lockdown as cases of the novel coronavirus rapidly spike and ICU capacity continues to fill up.

Fitchie says that at the AGM either Shandro or Peace River MLA Dan Williams said that “Dr. Hinshaw has said a total lockdown is not on the horizon at all.”

Shandro has not been present at recent briefings with Dr. Hinshaw.

Williams also appeared at the AGM via Zoom. Williams announced on Nov. 13 he would be isolating due to potential exposure to the COVID-19 virus after Premier Jason Kenney announced his own isolation on Nov. 12 due to being in close contact with a positive case on Nov. 9. Kenney’s press secretary has confirmed he was not exposed at the Legislature, meaning it’s most likely the premier was exposed during his tour through the Peace region with Williams that day.

Tim Driedger was elected new Peace River UCP board president at the AGM.

The NDP opposition has called for an emergency debate as Alberta set a new record for coronavirus cases for the fourth straight day on Nov. 22.

In the absence of a provincial mandate, the Town of Peace River recently passed its own mask bylaw, despite continuing controversy.

High Prairie also passed a mandatory mask bylaw earlier.

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