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, including an announcement that five new cases have been confirmed in our province.
However, I first want to speak on the World Health Organization’s decision to officially declare COVID-19 a global pandemic earlier today.
This is an important designation, and one that reflects the seriousness of this virus.
COVID-19 is not like other threats we have seen in the past few decades.
It is more severe than seasonal influenza, and more contagious than viruses like SARS.
It can be contained, as has been shown in other countries like Singapore, but it will take an effort of all of us to do so.
This means we must continue preparing for the potential that our risk in Alberta will change.
In the meantime, we will continue to identify and isolate any new cases confirmed in the province, and are ensuring that Alberta’s health system is preparing for every possible scenario.
To date, there have been 19 confirmed cases in Alberta.
This includes the five new cases that we confirmed last night and earlier today. All are travel-related.
One of these confirmed cases involves a male in the Edmonton Zone whose symptoms started on March 6.
He underwent a procedure that was not related to COVID-19 at the Misericordia Hospital on March 6 and 7.
He tested positive for COVID-19 on March 9 and is now self-isolating.
Any staff or patients who were potentially exposed at this location will be directly contacted by public health. There is no risk to patients or staff at the hospital at this time.
I want to be clear that there is no need for anyone else who may have attended the Misericordia or other hospital sites to be concerned or take additional action.
Anyone considered to be at risk is being directly contacted by AHS.
All necessary precautions will be taken to support their health.
If you are not contacted by AHS, you are not at risk at this time.
We are sharing this information as we are committed to being transparent with Albertans, and informing them of key developments as they unfold.
The other four cases that we have confirmed involve three cases from the Calgary Zone and one from Central Zone.
They are all now recovering in isolation at home.
These cases had recently returned from travel in a variety of countries, including Iran, Egypt, Spain, Washington State and Mexico.
As I have previously mentioned, while we know where these individuals have travelled, it is too early to know the country or exact location where they actually contracted the virus.
Today’s declaration from the WHO is a sign of what we have been stressing for many days:
The global situation is changing rapidly, and we all need to take steps to protect our own health and the health of those around us.
Based on this evolving information, Alberta is now asking all travellers returning from Italy to self-isolate for 14 days have passed since their last visit.
All returning travellers at Canadian airports, including those in Edmonton and Calgary, will receive screening starting on Friday and be advised of the need to self-isolate.
In advance of this formal screening, I want to ask all Albertans who returned from Italy in the last two weeks to self-isolate at home until 14 days have passed since they were last there.
In addition to this, all travelers returning to Alberta from anywhere outside Canada should consider limiting attendance at large public gatherings….and most importantly, should closely monitor themselves for any symptoms such as fever or cough.
If they experience symptoms, they should immediately self-isolate if they get these symptoms, and call Health Link at 811 for assessment and testing.
The sooner we can detect cases, the sooner we can isolate an individual and, if needed, launch a detailed investigation to find out if anyone they have been in contact with is at risk.
We are working hard to manage wait times on Health Link.
While I know it can be frustrating to wait on the phone, this is the best way to receive assessment and follow-up testing, if needed.
We are also recommending at this time that anyone over the age of 65 and those with chronic health conditions not travel outside Canada,
as the global risk is increasing rapidly and it is difficult to predict which travel destinations may put people at risk.
Even Albertans who are not in these risk groups should think carefully about their travel plans, and the possibility they may be exposed to the virus while traveling.
Another action we are taking at this time is moving forward with our plans to support family doctors with personal protective equipment.
With the increase in global spread, and travel related cases in the province, we want to be sure that family doctors have access to personal protective equipment in a time when they are having difficulty ordering these supplies from their usual providers.
Alberta Health Services zones will be working with primary care networks to move this forward, with priority given to those family doctors who are doing testing for COVID-19 in their offices.
Right now, I know many Albertans feel overwhelmed with the amount of information available in the news, online and in social media.
I want to encourage all Albertans to access reliable information about what is happening,
and do their part to stop the spread rumours and inaccurate speculation.
COVID-19 is going to test our health system and emergency preparedness, but our system is preparing for that test.
In the coming days and weeks, we will continue to implement aggressive public health measures to detect and isolate new cases.
We will continue to update our webpage – alberta.ca/COVID19 – twice daily.
We will continue to hold regular updates and share information with Albertans.
The risk of exposure to the virus is currently low in Alberta. That is a good thing, but it may change in coming weeks.
If it changes, we will alert you.
And we will continue doing everything possible to protect the health and well-being of everyone in our province.
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.