Canada’s chief medical officers plan some downtime after months of hard work

Canada’s chief medical officers plan some downtime after months of hard work

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada’s chief medical officers were hailed as the nation’s rising stars. Their regular public briefings made them familiar faces and household names to thousands of Canadians, and their scientific expertise helped shape government policies that gradually flattened the domestic curve over the past four months.

But how have Canada’s top doctors coped during a time of unprecedented stress, and can they start to relax now that numbers are on the decline? Several weigh in with their thoughts:

— Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada

The federal chief public health officer said she and her team have been working flat out since the pandemic shifted into high gear in mid-March, sometimes putting in work days of as long as 20 hours. Tam said she has not always been good at following her own regular advice to balance public health restrictions with mental health self-care, but said she hopes to address that during some vacation time later this summer. A break is also necessary to help health officials brace for the prospect of a second wave of COVID-19 cases in the fall, she added.

“It is a time to make sure we recharge everything so that we’re ready for any resurgences,” Tam said at a news conference. “That is very important, because I think most of the public health workers, and anyone in the health system … have been working extremely hard.”

Part of that effort involves scaling back Tam’s once daily news briefings to roughly biweekly affairs.

— Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec

In the province hit hardest by COVID-19, Arruda has peppered his regular briefings with calls for residents to concentrate on activities to help them unwind from the stress of living through a pandemic. The province’s director of national public health even cited his own fondness for baking as an example. But when pressed about his pending vacation plans, Arruda offered few specifics other than the fact that he was decompressing on command.

“I’ve been asked by my minister to take vacation. The prime minister, too,” he said. “I will be in Quebec … sleeping well if possible, listening to music.”

Arruda said biking and sports also figure into his staycation plans, adding he would be wearing a face mask through most of these leisure activities.

— Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto

The last few months have been a demanding time for Toronto’s chief medical officer of health, who spent eight weeks living away from her family in order to limit their potential exposure to COVID-19. She said that phase was defined by almost non-stop work punctuated with Facetime calls to catch up, adding such an arrangement was not conducive to a strong work-life balance. Now that she’s back home again, however, de Villa said striking that equilibrium has gotten easier.

“I can’t just do work all the time, because they’re there,” she said of her husband and teenage sons. “It gives me a break. I get the chance to recharge from them, I do get energy from them.”

De Villa said she too intends to take some time off at some point this summer. In the meantime, she tries to vary her work routine by getting up and moving around her home and neighbourhood as much as possible to stave off fatigue.

— Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta

Alberta’s chief medical health officer is already enjoying some downtime. The doctor who made sartorial waves by wearing a dress featuring the periodic table of elements early in the pandemic has remained a regular fixture at the province’s COVID-19 updates. At one of those briefings last week, she said that COVID-19 will be with us for some time.

“We cannot wait until the pandemic is over to take a break or recharge,” she said as she announced plans for a week’s vacation. “Self-care is important and summer is a wonderful but brief time in Alberta. We all need to take care of our physical and mental health for the weeks and months to come.”

Hinshaw said she planned to spend her break with her family.

“I sometimes fear (they) will soon no longer remember my name,” she quipped.

— Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, also scheduled time off for the week of Canada Day. A written statement from the province’s health department says Roussin plans to take more time off later in the summer.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 8, 2020.

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, which causes COVID-19, emerge from the surface of cells isolated from a patient in the U.S. and cultured in a lab in a 2020 electron microscope image. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-HO, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories
Alberta adds 463 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday

The central zone has 818 active cases

As of Friday, Alberta has under 10,000 active COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy CDC)
Alberta identifies 573 new COVID-19 cases, 13 deaths on Saturday

There are currently 9,727 active cases of the virus in the province

As of Friday, Alberta has under 10,000 active COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy CDC)
Three new COVID-19 deaths in Central zone, Alberta under 10,000 active cases

The Central zone sits at 849 active cases, with 52 people in hospital and 10 in the ICU.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced 16 additional deaths Thursday. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
No easing of Alberta’s COVID-19 measures Thursday, 678 new COVID-19 cases

The province also hit 1,500 COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic

Kyler Corriveau, of the Eckville area, was found dead on Sunday southeast of Red Deer. Police are investigating his death as a homicide. (Contributed photo).
Young Red Deer homicide victim is remembered as a caring friend

Police are investigating Kyler Corriveau’s untimely death

Terrance Josephson of the Princeton Posse, at left, and Tyson Conroy of the Summerland Steam clash during a Junior B hockey game at the Summerland Arena in the early spring of 2020. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Test your knowledge of Canada’s national winter sport

A woman injects herself with crack cocaine at a supervised consumption site Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Drug users at greater risk of dying as services scale back in second wave of COVID-19

It pins the blame largely on a lack of supports, a corrupted drug supply

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Blackfalds RCMP investigate fatal collision

Preliminary investigation revealed a south bound pickup truck collided with an eastbound car

Jennifer Cochrane, a Public Health Nurse with Prairie Mountain Health in Virden, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Farquhar with Westman Regional Laboratory, during the first day of immunizations at the Brandon COVID-19 vaccination supersite in Brandon, Man., on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tim Smith - POOL
Top doctor urges Canadians to keep up with COVID measures, even as vaccines roll out

More than 776,606 vaccines have been administered so far

Dr. Jerome Leis and Dr. Lynfa Stroud are pictured at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on Thursday, January 21, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
‘It wasn’t called COVID at the time:’ One year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case

The 56-year-old man was admitted to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, Oklahoma State Rep. Justin Humphrey prepares to speak at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. A mythical, ape-like creature that has captured the imagination of adventurers for decades has now become the target of Rep. Justin Humphrey. Humphrey, a Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season, He says issuing a state hunting license and tag could help boost tourism. (Steve Gooch/The Oklahoman via AP, File)
Oklahoma lawmaker proposes ‘Bigfoot’ hunting season

A Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season

FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2017, file photo, Larry King attends the 45th International Emmy Awards at the New York Hilton, in New York. Former CNN talk show host King has been hospitalized with COVID-19 for more than a week, the news channel reported Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. CNN reported the 87-year-old King contracted the coronavirus and was undergoing treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)
Larry King, broadcasting giant for half-century, dies at 87

King conducted an estimated 50,000 on-air interviews

Black Press File Photo
Maskwacis RCMP lay charges for attempted murder, kidnapping, and flight from police

Female victim remains in hospital in serious condition.

In this Dec. 18, 2020 photo, pipes to be used for the Keystone XL pipeline are stored in a field near Dorchester, Neb.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris Machian /Omaha World-Herald via AP
‘Gut punch’: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney blasts Biden on revoked Keystone XL permit

Kenney said he was upset the U.S. wouldn’t consult with Canada first before acting

Most Read