COVID-19 Updates: State of public health emergency declared.
Check against delivery
Good afternoon, thank you all for coming.
My name is Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Chief Medical Officer of Health for Alberta.
Today, I am here to give an update on COVID-19.
First, I want to announce that Alberta is adopting aggressive new public health measures to limit the spread of this virus.
As I mentioned yesterday, COVID-19 is a rapidly evolving global threat.
It is more severe than seasonal influenza, and more contagious than viruses like SARS.
There is a window of opportunity for Alberta to slow the spread of the virus, and thereby protect the health of Albertans.
Other countries who have faced this crisis have proven that immediate public measures are necessary to prevent the spread of the virus and protect public health.
The steps we take now and in the days ahead will help determine the severity of this outbreak for Alberta.
These are extraordinary circumstances, and our public health response must rise to the challenge we face.
That is why, effective immediately, the Emergency Management Cabinet Committee has approved my recommendation that all large gatherings of more than 250 people, or international events in the province are to be cancelled.
This includes large sporting events, conferences and community events.
It does not extend to places of worship, grocery stores, airports, shopping centres.
Any event that has less than 250 attendees and expects to have international participants, or involves critical infrastructure staff, seniors, or other high-risk populations should also be cancelled.
Events of less than 250 people that do not meet these criteria can proceed as long as risk mitigation is in place such as sanitizer stations, ensuring that there is a mechanism for keeping anyone ill from attending, and distancing between attendees.
At this time, schools and daycares can remain open but schools are encouraged to avoid large all-school gatherings.
In addition to these measures, I am expanding my recommendation from yesterday, and am advising Albertans to not travel outside of the country at this time.
Given the rapid global spread of the virus, it is no longer possible to assess health risks for the duration of the trip.
Also, given the quickly evolving nature of this outbreak, I am recommending that Albertans who are currently outside the country self-isolate on their return for 14 days, independent of the country they were visiting.
Finally, I am recommending that any Albertan who is ill with influenza-like symptoms such as fever or cough stay at home for 14 days after their illness started.
I appreciate that some Albertans may be worried or disappointed at this news. These measures will have significant impacts on many people.
This is a serious decision, which we do not make lightly. This is an extraordinary situation, which requires extraordinary measures.
We are taking this step based on the ongoing developments outside Alberta, both in the actions being taken by other jurisdictions, as well as the increasing spread of cases around the world.
This situation is evolving rapidly and we know Albertans will have lots of questions. We continue to update our website regularly and respond to questions as quickly as possible.
We may not have every answer today, but we will continue to provide regular updates.
Here at home, we continue to work hard to identify new cases and take immediate action.
With respect to new cases, four new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in our province.
All of these are individuals in the Calgary zone.
They involve a range of ages in people who had recently returned from travelling in Jordan, Egypt, France, Germany, and the United States, specifically Florida.
One of these cases is a young child who is now recovering at home.
This child returned with their family from a vacation in Florida and developed mild symptoms once back home in Alberta.
They attended a local daycare last week while experiencing mild symptoms.
This child tested positive yesterday and is now recovering in isolation at home. They are expected to make a full recovery.
As soon as the case tested positive, health officials took immediate action to protect the health of the child, and other Albertans.
On the advice of Alberta Health Services, the daycare has temporarily closed to limit exposure to the virus.
All close contacts who may be at risk have been contacted by AHS.
Those who display symptoms are being tested and all contacts are self-isolating for 14 days while being monitored by health officials.
I want to remind Albertans that anyone who has not been contacted directly by Alberta Health Services is not at risk.
As a mother myself, I know that a child contracting COVID-19 may be upsetting for some people.
Children are a vulnerable group and when they get sick, it can often hit very close to home.
I want to assure all parents that cases of COVID-19 in children are typically mild. Despite that, we need to take the same measures for children that we take for any other case – isolate the person who is ill, find close contacts, and ask them to stay at home for 14 days while monitoring their symptoms.
In addition to the measures announced today, I continue to strongly urge all Albertans to follow the public health advice that we have been providing:
Do not visit long-term care facilities or loved ones in hospital if you are sick with a fever or cough.
All Albertans should practice good hygiene, including washing their hands regularly and avoiding touching their face and eyes.
Develop a plan for what might need to change if you and your loved ones need to stay home for two weeks. Talk with your neighbours and friends to see how you can support each other if any of you are in this situation.
There is another important part of preparing: talking to your children.
All parents and guardians should to talk to their children about this virus, if they haven’t already done so.
As a mother, I know these conversations can seem daunting to many parents.
It is important to remember that children look to adults for guidance during new or stressful events.
If you do not provide them with accurate information, they will still pick things up at school, on the playground, from television and online.
It is important that all parents talk to their children in a factual, age-appropriate way.
Let them know that worrying is a normal and healthy response.
Be honest and accurate. Evidence to date suggests that the vast majority of kids who contract COVID-19 experience mild symptoms.
Most importantly, parents should make their children feel safe and educate them on everyday actions they can take that will help them reduce the spread of germs.
We are developing materials to help parents with these conversations.
There are also good resources available now online from the BC Centre for Disease Control, CDC and others.
Any public health emergency can have a significant impact on the mental health of children and adults alike.
I want to remind all Albertans of the importance of supporting their mental health, and the health of those around them.
The COVID-19 pandemic will take many weeks and months to unfold.
It’s important that all Albertans know that mental health supports are available if needed.
Anyone struggling with their mental health can reach out to the Mental Health Help Line which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Help is also available across Alberta through your local health services.
Children and teens can also call or text the Kids Help Phone at any time of day or night.
This is a free, confidential and professional service designed to meet our young peoples’ needs.
Many, many health professionals and other Albertans are working very hard, often around the clock, to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Given the global spread, and our ongoing work to aggressively identify and isolate cases of COVID-19, I expect that we will continue to confirm new cases in the days ahead.
Rest assured that Alberta continues to work closely with our health partners to closely monitor developments around the world.
If we need to implement additional public health measures, we will do so.
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.