COVID-19 Updates: Protecting Albertans from the Omicron variant.
Thank you. Good afternoon.
As the Premier said, we have 98 new cases of COVID-19 in Alberta over the last 24 hours.
This brings the total number of cases to 1,348.
Of these, 361 people have now recovered.
We suspect up to 204 of our total cases may be community transmission, an increase of 52 from yesterday.
Sadly, as the Premier said, today we are reporting 1 additional death related to COVID-19, a woman in her 80s in Calgary Zone.
This is the eleventh death that has occurred at the McKenzie Towne long-term care facility. I want to offer my condolences to her family and friends – and to the residents and staff of McKenzie Towne who are grieving the loss of so many lives.
To do our best to control spread and to save lives, as you know, our provincial lab is doing a tremendous job completing tests.
Alberta is second only to Australia in its testing rate.
It is extremely important that in addition to completing as many tests as we can, we are also being purposeful in our testing. This means that the groups who are eligible for testing will change, as we move through the evolution of the pandemic and as our testing capacity evolves.
Our testing priorities should fulfill several objectives.
First, they should allow us to diagnose and treat those individuals at greatest risk of severe outcomes, which is why we test those all those who are hospitalized with respiratory illnesses.
Second, they should allow us to trace the spread of the virus, with a priority on those who are at greatest risk of exposure, and identify steps to limit the spread.
That is why we seek to identify community transmission and transmission to front-line health care workers, including workers in continuing care facilities.
And, of course, who we test should provide us with accurate information about the effects our public health measures are having and help us determine if we need to take further steps.
With these goals in mind, and with recently enhanced capacity in our lab to test more samples per day, we have expanded our testing priorities to include individuals with shortness of breath, runny nose, cough, fever or sore throat who perform the following roles:
Group home and shelter workers, first responders, including fire fighters, provincial and federal correctional facility staff and those involved in COVID-19 enforcement, such as police, peace and bylaw officers and public health inspectors.
In addition, effective tomorrow morning, we are expanding eligibility for testing to anyone 65 years or older across the province who has fever, cough, shortness of breath, runny nose or sore throat.
Knowing that older Albertans are at increased risk of complications if they are infected with COVID-19, we are expanding testing access to enable early detection of infection in this group of people.
Identifying infections in all of these groups will help us to prevent the spread to high-risk populations living in close quarters, more closely trace any community transmission among the testing groups and provide more valuable information on the effects of our public health measures.
Not everyone who feels sick needs to be tested. That is why we have set these priorities, based on our current best information about this virus.
I want to remind you that if you are feeling sick, your first step must be to stay home.
Your next step should be to take the AHS online assessment.
There is an assessment tool for the public and one for health care workers, enforcement and first responders. So please take the assessment tool that is relevant to your situation.
The assessment will then direct those who need testing to 811 for arranging a swab.
Our knowledge of this virus and how it spreads continues to grow. One question that has been asked repeatedly is around the possibility of transmission from someone who is infected but feels well.
This has been shown to happen most often in people who eventually get sick, but may pass on infection to others in the day or two before their symptoms start.
I have always said that asymptomatic transmission is possible, but that evidence from the tens of thousands of cases in China indicated that it was not a major driver of spread.
What seems to be emerging from more recent data is that, outside of China, this asymptomatic spread appears to be happening more often than we had thought.
Our Canadian special advisory committee has been looking closely at the evidence around this, and yesterday we determined that we need to expand our approach to take this emerging evidence into account in our measures.
One of the major implications for this is the use of face masks by those who are feeling well. We discussed this on Friday after the CDC in the United States enhanced their recommendations.
And I have been getting a lot of questions around the effectiveness of face masks for the general public.
What we know is that people who are sick spread illness. We also know that even with more asymptomatic transmission happening than we previously thought, all of the recommendations we have made about keeping 2 metre distant from others, and having close contacts of cases or returning travellers stay home for two weeks from their last exposure – those recommendations are more important than ever.
In addition to, not in place of, following all of that advice, it may be an added benefit for those who are well and in places where they cannot keep 2 metres distant from others, to wear a face covering.
Wearing a non-medical mask, such as a homemade cloth mask, has not been proven to protect the person who is wearing it.
However, it may be helpful in protecting others around you.
This is because face coverings are another way to cover your mouth and nose to prevent respiratory droplets from contaminating other people or surfaces.
Additionally, wearing a mask may stop you from touching your nose or mouth.
If you choose to wear a non-medical mask or face covering, it should be well-fitted and not gape at the sides.
You should also be aware that masks can become contaminated on the outside.
Avoid moving or adjusting the mask. After wearing the mask, assume that it has been contaminated and take the proper precautions.
Critically, if you wear a mask, you must wash your hands before putting it on, as well as before and after taking it off.
Cloth masks should be worn only a short time, as there is some evidence that they can trap virus particles after they become damp, which may put the wearer at greater risk of being infected.
For those choosing to wear non-medical masks, it may be prudent to carry a bag with several clean masks in it, as well as a plastic bag that can be used to safely store used masks until they can be washed at home. It is critical that used masks be carefully handled to avoid spreading infection to others.
The most important steps you can take to prevent the spread of infection remain the same.
Consistent adherence to good hygiene such as proper hand washing, following all public health orders, staying home whenever possible, particularly if you are feeling ill and practicing physical distancing when you need to go out are the best ways to keep yourself and those around you healthy.
These practices will become even more critical in the following weeks.
As we see fewer travel-related cases, this is the time when community cases may start to rise.
We must do everything we can to prevent the spread of this virus from person to person in the community.
I know this is becoming increasingly difficult the longer this goes on and especially with a long weekend coming up when normally people would be gathering together.
But please continue to stay home.
The less you are out in the community, the less chance you have of contracting or spreading the illness.
Contact the AHS Mental Health Help Line if you are struggling.
And reach out virtually to those around you who may need extra support.
Even though we must continue to stay apart we can and should continue to stay connected.