Check against delivery
Good afternoon, thank you all for coming.
As the Premier noted, I have recommended
that aggressive new public health measures be implemented across the province.
Here in Alberta, we have confirmed 17 new cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours.
This means that 56 cases have now been identified in our province.
Two of the individuals are receiving treatment in hospital and are in stable condition.
The other 15 cases are self-isolating at home and expected to make a full recovery.
As always, health officials have taken swift action to isolate these individuals and any close contacts who may be at risk.
However, there are several concerning elements in these new cases.
Our investigation has determined that seven of these cases stem from a single gathering that took place in Calgary Zone. This underlines the fact that gatherings can accelerate spread of the virus.
In addition, at least two of our new cases within the last two days appear to have been acquired from an unknown source. This means we are likely seeing community transmission in Alberta.
Community transmission is when a person catches the virus from someone who stayed in the province, and not from someone who recently travelled.
Until now, all cases in Alberta had been travel related.
These two cases mean that there are other cases in the community that we have not identified, increasing the likelihood that Albertans may be exposed within their communities.
In addition, another development over the past two days has been conversations that I have been invited to participate in with school leaders from across the province. I have heard clearly from them that the guidance provided by Health is proving extremely difficult to put into practice at the front lines, due to product shortages, challenges with staffing, and other operational issues.
I have repeatedly said that we will monitor developments, assess the emerging evidence, and take action accordingly.
Based on what we’ve seen over the last two days, it is clear that now is the time for additional action.
We need to put in place more restrictions to help slow the virus and protect public health.
That is why, effective immediately, the Emergency Management Cabinet Committee has approved my recommendation that students no longer attend classes in schools or post-secondary institutions until further notice.
All regularly scheduled classes are cancelled, regardless of class size.
We are also asking all licenced childcare facilities and out-of-school care programs to close immediately.
Approved day homes are exempt due to the small number of children they care for, but are encouraged to use enhanced sanitation practices.
As a parent with children in the school system, and after school care programs, I recognize that this is very disruptive for many families, and for these sectors.
This is not a decision that we are making lightly.
I made this recommendation after extensive discussion with school boards and in consideration of the cases of community transmission identified over the weekend..
To be clear, we are not closing schools.
Teachers and other school staff should continue to come to their schools to plan potential alternatives for students, particularly those in grade 12.
I know many parents, child care workers, and teachers will have questions.
This decision was made only a few hours ago, so many details are being confirmed.
We will provide answers and make sure that Albertans get the information they need.
Also effective today, we are also recommending new restrictions for all long-term care and other continuing care facilities.
I am advising that these facilities limit visitation to essential victors only at this time.
Seniors and people with pre-existing health conditions are the most at risk from COVID-19.
Special precautions must be taken to ensure the virus is not spread to these groups.
I know that families want to visit their loved ones.
This step is not taken lightly, but is essential to protect the lives of the most vulnerable Albertans.
I’m encouraging families and friends of those in these facilities to think of other ways besides visiting that they can support and encourage their loved ones through this difficult time.
Finally, while last week I announced that places of worship were exempt from the restrictions on mass gatherings, this recommendation is changing..
This exemption last week was done to try to minimize the impact of these restrictions on the daily lives of Albertans, and in the context of having only travel-related cases identified in the province.
However, as I mentioned earlier, that has changed and we now have evidence that community transmission is occurring.
Effective immediately, all places of worship are now being asked to follow the same restrictions being placed on other gatherings in the province.
All mass gatherings of 250 people or more should be cancelled.
Any event that has more than 50 attendees and expects to have international participants, or involves critical infrastructure staff, seniors, or other high-risk populations, should also be cancelled.
Events that do not meet these criteria can proceed at this time, but risk mitigation must be in place, such as enforcing distancing of 1-to-2 metres between attendees, ensuring that ill attendees do not attend, and using sanitizer stations.
Religious communities are a source of strength and comfort, especially in difficult times such as these. I encourage religious leaders to work with their faith communities to determine how they can continue to support each other, but in ways that reduce the risk of infection spreading.
We all have a role to play in the days ahead.
If you have loved ones or friends abroad, please connect with them to make them aware of the 14-day self-isolation period.
We have more information to help them plan at alberta.ca/COVID19.
I know this is a lot of information.
These decisions are not made lightly, and I know they will have a tremendous impact on Albertans’ day-to-day lives, particularly parents, children, and seniors.
I know some Albertans may wonder if all these measures are truly necessary.
I want to stress that they are necessary.
It is crucial that we do everything possible to contain and limit the spread of COVID-19.
The most effective way to do this is by taking a comprehensive, society-wide approach.
Not testing alone. Not contact tracing alone. Not social distancing alone.
All of them, together.
The experience of China, South Korea, Singapore and others show that aggressive testing and contact tracing, combined with social distancing measures and community mobilization, can prevent infections and save lives.
That is why we are taking these actions, and why we will continue to closely monitor developments here at home and around the world.
AHS is not currently cancelling elective surgeries or other procedures, but we are preparing for any future steps.
If additional steps are needed in the coming days, AHS will take them.
The health of Albertans is, and always will be, our top priority.