North American News

AWN Takes Part in GG’s ‘Science Advice & COVID-19: What Are We Learning?’

By M. Samuel Anderson, AWN contributing editor

OTTAWA—On Thursday, Sept. 24, Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, Governor General of Canada, continued what her office calls “the innovative GGconversations series” that highlights “exceptional Canadians from diverse areas of interest.” The first guest of the new series that day was Chief Scientist of Quebec Rémi Quirion. He and Payette discussed “Science Advice & COVID-19: What are we learning?”

The main focus of the live video presentation was “the role that scientific advice has played throughout the pandemic and how our evolving understanding of this virus has shaped our ability to deal with the pandemic environment.” Canadians were invited to submit their questions for either the Governor General or Dr. Quirion via social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram or Facebook @GGJuliePayette.

The 34-minute video is archived online at


“We are at the beginning of the second wave,” speculated Mr. Quirion, who’s of the opinion that more masking is needed. Additionally, in his opinion: “With young people there’s not much of an effect, but they can still infect others.”

He also said that society is still learning about virus, to which he added. “What are the long-term effects? We don’t know.”

AWN participated online by asking (on the basis of a recent New York Times report) about the common PCR test for the coronavirus having such a high level of sensitivity that people with extremely low “viral loads”—who, on that basis of such a low load are highly unlikely to get sick from the coronavirus—are nevertheless being counted as “cases.”

Mr. Quirion’s seemed to answer only half the question, while misunderstanding it somewhat, as well. He replied: “It’s a very good question. We don’t know for sure,” regarding why the young are much less at risk.

However, he responded as if he was only asked whether low viral loads explain why the young rarely get sick, when the actual question was broader—asking about the PCR test being so touchy that those with extremely low viral loads will get counted as “cases” even though they pose virtually no risk to the public or to themselves, assuming the test was not a false-positive to begin with.

“Maybe [it’s the] viral load, maybe their immune system is reacting somewhat differently,” Quirion said about young people, while noting more research on understanding immunity is needed, in his view.

The Times’ piece can be found via this link, under the headline (click on the headline itself): “Your Coronavirus Test is Positive: Maybe it Shouldn’t Be.”

The clear implication of the Times’ piece was that having such a low viral load could conceivable mean that transmitting the virus to others would be highly improbable. So, the natural question would become: Do critics of universal masking have a point when they argue that only the sick should be quarantined or required to wear masks?

AWN was not taking sides either way, but simply asking about a report that raised questions that are rarely asked, for the purpose of encouraging a more robust debate and a broader, deeper exploration of the Covid-19 problem.

For her part, Payette suggested a vaccine is needed as well as ready-to-go treatments for those who’ve already caught the Covid-19 illness.

She and Quirion, however, did not mention widely published reports, mainly by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) confirming that the U.S. vaccine trials, so far, in terms of those involving human subjects, have been beset by a number of side effects, some of them serious.

“We don’t have much information on the Russian vaccine,” Quirion went on to say, without mentioning the prospect of potential or real side effects. He also said “we have 4 or 5 strategies” that appear successful amid phase 3 human vaccine trials. He feels a vaccine won’t be available “until spring.”

Nor did Payette or Quirion acknowledge that China’s involvement in developing Covid-19 vaccines presents a conundrum in the sense that, since China is regarded by many as having been the source of the Covid-19 outbreak—and given China’s sometimes rocky relationship with Western democracies—would it be wise to incorporate any of China’s vaccines for Western populations?

Payette also stressed how journalists have a major responsibility to fact-check—which is exactly what AWN did by participating in the Governor General’s program.

“There is nothing that cannot be explained, and there is nothing that cannot be understood. People are curious but they need to rely on good sources. If you find several sources that are reliable that say the same thing, then you’re pretty sure that’s the level of knowledge at that moment. Because there’s so much falsehood out there,” is how Payette characterized the situation.

She added that conflicting health directives is “normal” because more is being learned about Covid-19 all the time, which is what the CDC has been saying in U.S.—although conflicting directives have caused considerable public frustration, with some citizens seeing them as a sign of incompetence, inasmuch as they could signify new information being learned, just as Payette said.

Others, in the U.S. as well as Canada, say that businesses, faced with conflicting information, have an especially hard time planning how to re-open.

Quirion also mentioned the importance of mental well-being, a major issue given the rise in suicides, drug and alcohol abuse and domestic abuse amid the “lockdown” that’s been in force the last 5-6 months—problems that Quirion did not specifically mention. He did say, however, that the general anxiety level is higher, such as for kids returning to school. He stated: “It will probably get worse before it gets better,” and “every Canadian, with or without Covid,” should “not be afraid to consult” mental health specialists. The disruption of sleep patterns and its impact also was mentioned.

Again, the 34-minute video is archived online at

For AWN’s most recent article on Covid-19, which received  the highest number of “hits” among the articles on AWN’s Facebook page, click on the following link:

The direct link to AWN’s Facebook page is as follows:



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