Doctor Robert Strang laughed when he heard he’d won gold for Best Halifamous person. The chief medical officer of health has been the constant star at hundreds of COVID-19 briefings, alongside three different premiers over the 20 months he’s been guiding Nova Scotians through the pandemic. The top doc says he’s consistently overwhelmed by the appreciation and affection he’s received from Nova Scotians.
“There’s been lots and lots of expressions of support in various ways. Through cards, emails from people all over the province and even beyond,” Strang tells The Coast. Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer hasn’t taken more than “little bits” of time off since the pandemic began, which included his brief time away while being treated for skin cancer in New Brunswick. “In the summer I was thinking maybe in the fall I’d take a break. But it’s not turning out that way,” he says with a laugh. Strang says he can’t picture taking a vacation until COVID-19 has reached the endemic phase. “My role is to be directly involved in the response to the pandemic. So until we’re through that I couldn’t justify stepping away for any period of time,” he says.
Strang is cautiously optimistic that during 2022 things will be calmer on the pandemic front. Strang says he knew his chief medical officer job comes with a public communications role. It was that way for him during H1N1 and he’s spoken publicly about opioid overdoses, cannabis and tobacco in press conferences before, “but I never really anticipated what this part of my role would look like when responding to something like the COVID pandemic,” he says. And while he’s the most notable member of Nova Scotia’s public health team tackling COVID-19, Strang is quick to remind us that he’s just one piece of a massive, dedicated pandemic-fighting crew.
“I’m in the public eye simply because of my role. I represent hundreds of thousands of people in the health care system and across government. They have all worked tirelessly and with great compassion‚ I represent all those many, many people,” he says.
The doctor credits his colleagues for running incredibly effective vaccine and testing programs in particular. Strang says he has had to make difficult decisions over the past 20 months, and he has felt the criticism for those public health decisions. In September a small group of anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers went so far as to demonstrate at Strang’s Fall River home. Despite the challenges, the chief medical officer says it’s been more good than bad. “The negative is vastly outweighed by support, and that’s been there since the first wave.” Strang extends thanks to his community in Fall River and those in his church who have been looking out for him and his family.
“People have understood the pressure on my family and they’ve come together to support us in many ways, through meals and other ways,” he says. —Lyndsay Armstrong