COVID-19 Updates: Protecting Albertans from the Omicron variant.
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Good afternoon everyone.
Today, I would like to provide an update on COVID-19 in the province, as well as talk about mass gatherings this summer.
We have confirmed 319 new cases over the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of COVID-19 cases to 3,720.
Of these, 1,357 people have now recovered.
One of the new cases we are reporting today occurred in a worker from Sofina foods in the Calgary Zone.
To date, this is the only identified case at this plant, so it is not considered an outbreak.
AHS is working with the plant to ensure that prevention measures are in place, and plant operations have slowed due to the number of staff currently on isolation. AHS is offering testing to all employees, even those without symptoms.
I must also report there has been two additional deaths in the province. This brings the total number of lives lost to 68 so far.
I can also tell you today that the two deaths I mentioned yesterday in Brooks have now both been confirmed as cases of COVID-19.
Because one of these cases was confirmed only recently, it will be reflected in tomorrow’s online information. So our total deaths in our official report will read 67 today.
My sincere condolences go out to everyone grieving the loss of a loved one today. Every day, I think about the devastating impact that COVID-19 is having on many families in our province.
Not just those who have lost loved ones, but also those families who have loved ones in hospital or ICU or those who are impacted by having a surgery delayed or a business closed.
My thoughts are will all of those families and individuals who are suffering from COVID-19.
We continue to do everything possible to limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect the public health.
Some of my biggest concerns at this time are outbreaks in continuing care facilities and the outbreaks in High River and Brooks.
There are now 480 cases confirmed in workers from the Cargill meat-processing plant, and 124 confirmed cases in employees and contractors at JBS Foods.
As of today, there have also been 390 confirmed cases in continuing care facilities across Alberta.
I know these numbers can be alarming. We are working to ensure that every outbreak has aggressive intervention as soon as it is identified, so that it can end as soon as possible.
These interventions may be different in different contexts, but for every outbreak we must identify all cases as soon as possible, identify all locations where spread may be occurring, and put measures in place to stop that spread in all those locations.
I want to assure Albertans that these aggressive outbreak measures are being implemented, and they are effective.
Unfortunately, the long incubation period of COVID-19 means we will continue to see new cases in the days ahead, as exposures that happened before outbreak measures were put in place can continue to result in new cases for up to two weeks.
These outbreaks are a painful reminder of the ability of COVID-19 to spread rapidly when given the chance. In particular, mass gatherings are a significant source of concern during this pandemic.
The weather is finally getting nicer, and I know many of us want to be outside. I have repeatedly said that being outdoors and active is important for maintaining our mental health during these tough times.
However, we need to remember that a single case of COVID-19 can spread like wildfire in large groups of people.
That is why, today, I want to clarify that the mass gathering restrictions currently in place also apply to all summer events or festivals in Alberta.
To be clear, the orders in place prohibit gathering of more than 15 people. They also require people gathered in groups of fewer than 15 to maintain a distance of 2 metres from one another.
Albertans are prohibited from attending any event that would violate these orders.
I know summer festivals and events are incredibly important for many people. They provide fun and entertainment in every part of our province, and many people depend on them for livelihood.
This decision was not made lightly, but we must do everything we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
We have seen that festivals and large gatherings hold the potential to be super-spreader events, where one sick person can expose many others to the virus, spreading COVID-19 across households, communities and even large geographical distances.
Many event organizers in Alberta have already taken it on themselves to cancel or postpone events this summer, but I also know that others were waiting for clarification from me.
By providing this clarification now, I hope that organizers will be able to provide advance notice to help them limit unreasonable expenditures, and cancel contracts in a timely manner.
Of course, we all have a role to play here. I want to remind Albertans that all of our public health orders and recommendations still apply outside, and they will be enforced.
This weekend and in the days ahead, you must avoid large group activities.
I also strongly advise against going to summer homes at this time.
While we are all eager for a relaunch and wanting to see an easing of restrictions, now is not the time to have people moving throughout the province and possibly unknowingly spreading the virus.
Please continue to hold to the measures we need to take together to protect each other.
I know this is incredibly disappointing.
We all look forward to summer as a time where we can slow down, take time with friends and families, and enjoy the variety of summer festivals that are such a hallmark of Alberta culture.
This virus has taken many things from us, and this is one more loss to absorb. I don’t minimize that impact.
I do, however, want to tell you there are many things we can still do.
There are still outdoor activities where we can be physically distanced and there is no contact with frequently touched objects or surfaces.
This includes going for walks or bike rides, visiting parks and working in community gardens, where these distancing measures are able to be kept.
Albertans are an incredibly creative group of people, and we cannot provide a specific order or advice for every possible activity under the sun.
I would ask all Albertans to use their common sense, and apply these public health measures to whatever they are doing, inside or out.
These next few weeks are important. Our ability to maintain physical distancing and stop the spread is the key to continuing to flatten the curve and to be able to move forward.
Every day, we learn more about COVID-19, and every day we look at new ways to slow the spread here at home. In fact, I am excited to say that we are in the final testing phase of a new contact tracing app.
This mobile app will be completely voluntary and will speed up the contact tracing that health officials undertake when someone tests positive for the virus.
Albertans will have choice about whether to download the app, and all information collected is stored within people’s personal phones – not with the Government.
The app uses Bluetooth to note if you came into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. The app does not track Albertans’ geographic locations.
The benefit of this app is in speeding up information gathering to support the contact tracing work that our public health workers are already doing.
This is simply taking our decades-old public health approach into the 21st Century….and providing more efficient means for Albertans to work with public health in tracing contacts of cases.
These apps have already been used effectively in Singapore and South Korea.
I again want to emphasize that this is a voluntary app, and Albertans will be able to choose whether or not to download it.
I also want to ensure Albertans know that the Government has been in contact with the Information and Privacy Commissioner about this app.
We expect it will be available to all Albertans in the coming weeks, once the trials are finished and I am excited to share more details when it is ready to be released.
AHS has also developed a new, easier approach to ensure PPE is accessible to all community specialists, including ophthalmologists, surgeons, radiologists and other specialties.
Effective immediately, community specialists are able to order PPE for their clinics through their AHS Zone’s point of contact.
Contact information and additional details on this process are available on the AHS website. It is my hope that this new process will ensure that all those clinicians who need PPE will easily be able to get it.
I want to wrap up by reminding everyone that we are each other’s best defence.
In the face of a pandemic like COVID, equipment and technology are essential, but so is community and kindness. We have come so far together, and we can stay the course if we lean on each other.
With solidarity, generosity and community, we will overcome this together.