Toronto Public Health vice-chair apologizes for strep letter to parents

Sheckla Finkelstein says sorry to all residents who received the letter ‘without actually reading it before it was released into the public domain’ Toronto Public Health’s vice-chair has publicly apologized to residents whose addresses…

Toronto Public Health vice-chair apologizes for strep letter to parents

Sheckla Finkelstein says sorry to all residents who received the letter ‘without actually reading it before it was released into the public domain’

Toronto Public Health’s vice-chair has publicly apologized to residents whose addresses appear in a letter last month about how the public health agency was planning to better respond to cases of strep throat.

But she also said her single purpose for penning the missive was to “promote discourse”.

“I understand that some have interpreted my letter as intending to harass or intimidate people who have contracted strep throat. However, that was never my intention,” Sheckla Finkelstein, the vice-chair of Toronto Public Health, said in a statement.

“I want to assure people that my sole purpose in writing the letter was to promote dialogue and to reassure people, especially young children, and their parents that the health board has and will continue to act as quickly as possible when we learn of outbreaks of strep throat.

“I have since spoken with medical officers of health, and appreciate the message of the memo … I continue to hope that each public health agency around the country will put its people first, and do what is in the best interest of its residents.”

On 2 February, the Toronto public health board sent out a memo to groups like kindergarten teachers, parents and even members of the LGBTQ community advising them of public health’s plan to respond to the “progressively spreading” outbreak of strep throat.

“We will be reinforcing to schools the importance of providing access to standard antibiotic treatments to adults and children,” the memo read. “Therefore, please invite anyone experiencing illness to avoid school until well again.”

It also warned that “even if antibiotics are administered early, when there is no ongoing spread, the disease may be worse a few days later if you have been exposed to either an infected child or an infection in the food or water you consumed within the last week”.

But the story quickly spread online, with many taking issue with the sensitive timing – coming during what’s commonly known as back-to-school month.

For every situation – with back-to-school week coming – it’s important that we stay informed Heather Scribner, Toronto Public Health

In particular, there was an outcry that those who received the letters might not have read them before they were released in full.

“The public health board has no power to hold children out of school,” tweeted @stephenconley. “They are just telling the public and are promoting stigma towards parents that may have children with colds. It is NOT okay.”

Added Heather Scribner, a public health medical officer: “Every situation – with back-to-school week coming – it’s important that we stay informed.”

@mcgillinternationalblog also mentioned the fact that when students fall ill, those who miss school are at a particular advantage over others, since they do not face the risk of losing their meal trays and given in lieu of lunch money.

Scribner said she hoped the outcry wouldn’t harm Toronto’s flu season, which she said is quite quiet and reminds her a bit of the 2014-15 season.

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