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Good afternoon, thank you all for coming.
My name is Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Chief Medical Officer of Health for Alberta.
I am here today to announce that three new cases of COVID-19 have been detected in our province.
These are the fifth, sixth, and seventh cases of COVID-19 in Alberta.
Case 5 is a woman in her 70s from the Edmonton zone, who is a close contact of an Edmonton zone man announced on March 6th as a presumptive case of COVID-19.
She was also onboard the Grand Princess Cruise before returning to Alberta on Feb. 21.
Case 6 is a man in his thirties from the Calgary zone.
He is a close contact of the Calgary zone woman announced yesterday as a presumptive case of COVID-19.
He had travelled to Ukraine, Netherlands and Turkey and returned to Alberta on March 2. His symptoms began after his return.
Health officials had already reached out to all individuals who may have been in close contact with both of these new cases as a part of the previous investigations.
Identifying close contacts who have been exposed to COVID-19 is an important part of Alberta’s response to this outbreak.
As I mentioned yesterday, COVID-19 does not spread like measles. It does not travel through the air over long distances and times.
However, it can spread person-to-person by larger droplets, like from a cough or sneeze…or by touching contaminated objects or surfaces, then touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
This means that close contacts are the ones at greatest risk of contracting the virus, so these cases are not surprising.
Again, quickly catching these cases before they have a chance to spread is what our approach is designed to do.
In addition to these two cases, a seventh case was also identified yesterday.
Case 7 is a woman in her 50s who returned from a Caribbean cruise on the MS Braemar cruise ship on March 4. Her symptoms started after her return.
She was tested yesterday at the Calgary assessment centre, and her test came back positive late last night.
All three new cases are in isolation at home, and are expected to make a full recovery.
These cases are examples of public health in action.
Over the weekend, countless hours have been put in by staff all over the province to make our system work.
I particularly want to highlight the incredible work done to get assessment centres running over the weekend, expanding capacity at Health Link, and tracing contacts of cases.
I want to make special mention of our provincial public health laboratory, where capacity for running tests for COVID-19 has dramatically increased.
Yesterday alone, 700 tests for COVID were done, meaning that almost 1,000 tests have been completed in Alberta in the past two days.
This is a remarkable accomplishment and is a testament to the fine health care professionals in this province.
All cases of COVID-19 announced in Alberta are now confirmed.
From now on, positive samples tested by Alberta laboratories no longer require further confirmation from the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.
The events of the past week, both in Alberta and globally, are significant.
More countries around the world have cases, and some of these countries are grappling with large outbreaks.
At this point, it is likely that we will be dealing with this virus worldwide for many months to come.
I want to be clear that this virus is not influenza. In cases in China, about 1 in 5 of those infected with COVID-19 had a severe illness, which is much more than we would see with influenza.
Several weeks ago, influenza was a greater threat to Albertans because there was very little risk of exposure to COVID-19 cases globally.
The global picture has changed, and while the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in Alberta is still low at this time, worldwide the risk is rising.
What does this mean to Albertans? It means that all of us need to be engaged in this response.
We need to start thinking about what our new normal will look like over the coming months.
With no vaccine for this virus likely to be available for a year or more, we need to be vaccine for each other.
We can do this by covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands regularly, and most importantly, staying home and away from others when we are sick.
It is time to start greeting each other with elbow bumps or waves instead of handshakes. This is not an over-reaction, but rather a very practical way of limiting spread of germs.
I want to particularly underline that, if you are sick, do not visit loved ones in hospitals or long-term care facilities. People in these locations are at the highest risk of complications from both influenza and COVID.
All returning travelers from anywhere outside Canada need to be vigilant for illness, quickly isolate themselves if they feel ill, and call 811 for assessment and testing.
Do not go to an emergency department, urgent care centre or your family doctor’s office for this assessment.
While the current risk of catching the virus in Alberta remains low, this may change in the coming weeks.
Regardless of risk level, we will continue taking whatever steps are necessary to minimize risk and keep Albertans safe.
Together, we can protect each other and keep our communities healthy.
We will continue to keep Albertans fully informed as events unfold in the days ahead.
Our top priority is, and always will be, protecting the health of Albertans.
Thank you, and I will now take any questions that you may have.