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Good afternoon, thank you all for coming.
As Zoe mentioned, my name is Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Chief Medical Officer of Health for Alberta.
Today, I am here to give an update on COVID-19, and announce that 10 new cases have been confirmed, bringing the total number of cases in the province to 39.
Six of the new cases are in Calgary Zone and four are in Edmonton Zone.
Two of the new cases, one in Edmonton Zone and the other in Calgary Zone, have been admitted into intensive care. All other new cases are self-isolating at home and expected to make a full recovery.
Eight of the cases have been confirmed to be related to international travel or previous confirmed cases. Travel histories include a dental conference in Vanouver, Las Vegas, Switzerland, Germany, Spain and Pakistan. Investigations are ongoing on the remaining two cases.
I know many Albertans may be alarmed at the increasing number of cases in Alberta.
As I’ve said before, we need to get used to a new normal.
The reality is that we can expect cases of COVID-19 to continue in Alberta, and around Canada, for months.
We have taken aggressive measures to limit the acceleration of spread, but we will not be able to completely stop it.
I want to emphasize that we cannot be complacent. We must be vigilant.
And we must look out for each other by practicing good hygiene and employing other preventative measures, such as social distancing where appropriate.
We will continue to closely monitor the situation, and take additional steps as necessary.
When it comes to protecting the health of Albertans, we will continue to consider all options.
If we are to be successful in preventing the spread, we will also need your help.
First, I want to emphasize the importance of following all public health guidance for travel.
Travel outside of Canada is not recommended at this time.
We also ask that any travellers returning from outside of Canada after March 12 to self-isolate for 14 days after their arrival in Canada.
Monitor for symptoms, and should they occur, please complete the online self-assessment tool on the AHS website.
I would like to return to my comments yesterday about schools, and the decision to keep schools remain open at this time.
I understand that parents are concerned about their children going to school.
And, they, along with teachers and school administrators and boards have questions and concerns.
I cannot emphasize enough the time and discussion that continues about this decision.
If we do make the decision to close schools, we will be considering long-term closure.
This pandemic will not end in a matter of weeks, and there won’t be a clear opportunity to re-open schools, likely until September at the earliest.
I appreciate that each province is considering its own approach to school closures and this varies considerably.
A few provinces have determined to close schools at this time.
However, we have also seen other jurisdictions, such as Singapore, be successful in preventing the spread of COVID-19—without having to close schools.
I am carefully monitoring Alberta’s situation on a minute-by minute basis.
I am prepared to consider all options including directing the closure of an individual school, a group of schools, a school division, or all in the province if the situation warrants it.
In the meantime, we will continue to work with schools, who remain a critical front-line partner in helping limit the spread of COVID-19 and other viruses in educating our children on the importance of good hygiene practices.
Earlier today, I had a productive meeting with representatives from Alberta’s school boards, school authorities, and education stakeholders to explore ways we can equip them to adjust operations in response to COVID-19.
We have shared a new guideline to help schools and childcare centres to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This guideline is also available online.
I have already taken feedback from my meeting this morning, and Alberta Health is revising the guideline to address what we heard.
Additionally, starting today, we will be posting the flight information for any flight, or portion of a flight where passengers may have been exposed to COVID-19. We are focusing our public health follow up on local confirmed cases and contacts, and will not be directly contacting Albertans who were on these flights. We are asking for Albertans to help us by checking this information.
Online flight information includes the flight number, date and any seats that might be at risk of exposure to COVID-19.
At-risk passengers are encouraged to self-isolate and monitor for symptoms for 14 days after arrival in Canada.
Other passengers are not required to self-isolate but should monitor for symptoms as a precaution.
Given the rapid spread of COVID-19, we are seeing more and more flights with passengers confirmed to have the virus.
If you have recently returned to Alberta by air, I strongly encourage you to visit the Alberta government website and self-isolate if you are found to be at risk of exposure.
Before I conclude, I would like to mention a change in my daily reporting.
Given the number of cases daily, we will be reporting more aggregated data online going forward.
We will continue to notify you if there are exceptional circumstances, such as if a case involves a high-risk individual.
This change will help our surveillance and testing teams to focus their efforts where it matters.
Finally, I would like to thank Albertans for their uptake of the self-assessment tool we announced yesterday.
In the span of 24 hours, we have seen well over 300,000 Albertans complete self-assessments.
By using the self-assessment tool you have helped to ease the pressure on Health Link 811 phone lines.
Thank you to everyone for doing their part—big or small—to help us keep Albertans safe and healthy.
The health of Albertans is, and always will be, our top priority.
Thank you, and I will now take any questions that you may have.