Dr. Fitz’s answer leaves reader with more questions.
Dr. Janice Fitzgerald’s response to (Shoreline columnist) Roger Bill’s question at the end of the March 9 briefing seemed to upend all covid messaging to date and left many with serious unanswered questions.
Earlier in the briefing, Dr. Fitzgerald defended her decision to relax restrictions by implying that covid risk was similar to influenza risk, saying we lived with risk pre-covid and it’s time to start living with covid risks as well.
Obviously concerned about the covid death toll, Mr. Bill pointed out the current numbers of people who have died from covid are already higher this year than the published number of people who have died from influenza annually in pre-pandemic years and went on to say that covid may result in ten times the pre-covid published flu death number annually should the rates continue all year. This led to his question: Is covid really an influenza-like statistic? If not, the implication may be that maybe relaxing restrictions is poor public health policy.
Dr. Fitzgerald replied to the question by saying that we expected the current wave to subside and death rates to reduce so the annual covid death numbers will hopefully be lower than Mr. Bill’s estimate. She also said that surveillance of covid is far higher than influenza, therefore counting of covid deaths is far higher than counting of influenza deaths had been pre-pandemic.
This implies that the real number of influenza deaths is far higher than the published statistic that Mr. Bill used in his question and that her earlier comparison of covid to flu was sound. She then gave an example from her personal experience in which 20 individuals died from influenza in one month in one long term care home in some unspecified pre-pandemic year. If one were to assume that the home in her example is typical of all homes in all months of previous flu seasons, as she seemed to be implying, this would suggest that Newfoundland and Labrador could have had at least an order of magnitude more actual flu deaths in previous years than covid deaths this past year. This would be exactly opposite to what Mr. Bill suggested in his question.
If I understood Dr. Fitzgerald’s response correctly, does it mean that influenza was worse in pre-covid years than covid is currently? Twenty deaths in one long term care home in one month is far worse than anything we’ve seen in NL during covid. Of course, public health measures since 2020 probably lowered the potential impact of covid compared to what it would have been had we treated it as we used to treat influenza. But would we have had 20 deaths per long term care home per month?
Dr. Fitzgerald’s response to Roger Bill’s question left me with more questions than answers. One of the most glaring questions to me is: why haven’t any journalists reported on this statement by Dr. Fitzgerald? Has Mr. Bill reported on this response? Is covid risk really comparable to influenza risk? This really seems like something Dr. Fitzgerald should clarify. I have written her office but have not received a response to date.