COVID-19 Updates: Protecting Albertans from the Omicron variant.
Thanks, Tom. Good afternoon everyone.
We have confirmed 216 new cases over the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of COVID-19 cases to 4,696.
There are currently 87 people hospitalized due to COVID-19 with 20 of these individuals in intensive care.
So far, 1,664 people in our province have recovered from COVID-19.
I must also report there have been 2 additional deaths in the province. This brings the total number of lives lost to 75.
I do not want this number of deaths to become just one more statistic.
The same is true of all those in ICU and hospital, where numbers of those needing hospital treatment has increased over the past few days.
These cases illustrate that infection with this virus has serious consequences for many people.
Families are grieving those who have died.
Other families are worried about loved ones in intensive care or hospital, with visitor restrictions causing separation on top of this worry.
These are the reasons we cannot give up on our work to prevent spread. This virus can only be defeated by our collective efforts to protect each other.
We also need to protect those who are most vulnerable. There are currently 458 confirmed cases in Alberta continuing care facilities.
Outbreaks in these facilities remain a major concern, which is why we expanded testing eligibility to include asymptomatic staff and residents in any facility with an outbreak.
There were some initial difficulties in getting this up and running in some Calgary facilities given the volume of outbreaks that are being experienced. But AHS has worked hard to bring in additional teams to make testing available in these sites.
It is also a concern that over the weekend, we have identified four cases of COVID-19 in Calgary’s homeless population.
Alberta has specifically prioritized testing in vulnerable populations, including the homeless population.
Over 1,000 symptomatic individuals experiencing homelessness have been tested to date.
All results had been negative up until yesterday morning, when the first positive results were reported to Alberta Health.
Alberta Health Services is investigating to determine if there were any further exposures and is following up to ensure steps are taken to limit the spread.
This is a concern, as homeless Albertans don’t have access to the same kinds of supports and resources that many of us have available and take for granted.
As part of outbreak management, we have implemented testing of all contacts (both symptomatic and asymptomatic persons) at the Centers that are affected. This testing began yesterday.
In addition, in both Edmonton and Calgary, a process is being put in place to offer testing to a sample of asymptomatic people experiencing homelessness. Alberta Health is discussing this testing process with shelters and physicians in those cities for individuals who consent to this testing.
This step is a precaution to help us identify cases as quickly as possible and reduce the chance of outbreaks occurring in shelters and similar settings.
More details on this testing will be shared in the coming days.
We have also, as you heard earlier, been informed of 14 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Bearspaw First Nation in southern Alberta.
As you heard, this community has an experienced emergency management team in place that managed through the 2013 southern Alberta floods.
This experience meant this First Nation knew how to prepare and plan for sufficient equipment, personnel and plans in place to treat those affected with COVID-19 and most importantly, to have measures in place to help contain the spread.
I am confident the system is working and the community is able to manage the outbreak.
Another situation I want to talk about is in the Edmonton Zone, where there are two investigations underway of small hospital outbreaks where swift action has been taken to contain the spread.
These are at the Sturgeon General Hospital and the Royal Alexandra Hospital where a small number of cases seem to be linked within each facility.
There are no links between the two facilities.
Another case identified at the Edmonton General has also been linked with the Sturgeon Hospital outbreak as a result of a patient transfer.
A quick response to these cases means that spread of the virus is being prevented and patients and staff are being protected.
It is important to be transparent about these situations so Albertans know we are sharing information as soon as we have it.
This means that numbers may change over the coming days as more is understood about these situations. Updates will be provided as we learn more.
It is encouraging that we have been able to identify cases quickly so we can immediately take steps to limit further infections.
Precautionary steps are taken when even a single case is identified at an acute care facility and I’d like to remind you that we publicly post facility names when there are two or more cases, meaning there is evidence of some transmission within the facility.
It is also important to note that cases at these acute care facilities are limited to a single unit and not spread throughout the site.
Stringent processes are in place to limit the spread and hospitals remain safe thanks to the diligent efforts of health care workers.
Starting tomorrow, we will post the total cases of health care workers who have tested positive.
We are doing this in the interest of transparency and I must remind you there is no reason to assume health care workers may present a higher risk of spreading infection.
We need to support these workers and their efforts to protect patient health not to create fear or stigmatize them.
Finally, I’d like to touch on what I spoke about last week with respect to summer events.
I know many Albertans are disappointed that organizers are cancelling summer events.
Some may be wondering if we’ll have restrictions on mass gatherings all summer long.
Right now, the order in place prohibits gatherings of more than 15 people.
No decision has been made on when we will be able to relax this limit on gatherings, but it is something we will continue to monitor as we see the results of our collective efforts to prevent the spread paying off.
We have seen in Alberta that gatherings of even a small group can cause the virus to spread to many others.
So it’s critical we don’t rush this decision and undo a lot of the progress that we have seen over the past weeks.
Thank you for continuing to be patient and making these sacrifices every day to ensure your loved ones, neighbours, coworkers, and fellow citizens stay safe.
I know Albertans are tired of staying home. I know we all need to feel like we can see the end of this restriction, especially as the weather gets nicer and we all want to be outside. We are planning how we can move towards easing restrictions in a way that does not rapidly increase the risk of transmission with more ICU admissions and deaths.
In the meantime, please know you can go outside and enjoy the sunshine. Anyone who is not sick or a close contact of a confirmed case can be outside with a small number of friends as long as you stay at least 2 metres way from each other and you don’t share food or drink.
We will get through this. There will be an easing of restrictions when it is safe to do so. Please stay the course and protect your friends, family and neighbours as they are protecting you.
Thank you. I will be happy to take questions.