COVID-19 Updates: Protecting Albertans from the Omicron variant.
Thank you Minister. Good afternoon.
Today, we are reporting an additional 70 cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases in Alberta to 5,836.
Of these, 2,942 people have now recovered.
Since my last update, we have also confirmed 9 additional deaths in the province. This brings the total number of lives lost to 104.
Reaching more than 100 deaths is a somber milestone.
Four of the nine deaths reported today occurred within the last 24 hours the others occurred in previous days or weeks. Sometimes it takes time to confirm a death was related to COVID-19.
As the number of deaths in our province increases, so does the number of grieving families and loved ones.
To everyone who is feeling the pain of losing someone to this virus, I extend my sincere condolences, as well as to anyone grieving the loss of a loved one from any cause.
As of today, there are now 621 COVID-19 cases in outbreaks in continuing care facilities across the province.
At High River’s Cargill meatpacking plant, there have now been 936 cases. 810 of whom have now recovered.
There have been 469 confirmed cases in people who work at the JBS plant in Brooks.
Including these, there have been 998 total confirmed cases in the city of Brooks, underlining that this is not an outbreak limited to a work site, but a complex outbreak that needs interventions across all settings.
I want to emphasize what that means for how we need to support those who are impacted.
I have heard stories of discrimination against newcomer families, with assumptions being made that any workers at Cargill and JBS and their families are a risk to others.
People who are cases or close contacts will be supported by public health to self-isolate, but this is not required of all employees or their families.
When people are stigmatized or targeted, it blocks our collective ability to control the spread as people may fear getting tested or talking to public health.
We should be supporting people who are in this situation, not stigmatizing them.
As I have said before, when we focus on a single site without taking a comprehensive approach to stopping spread in all settings, we will not be successful in outbreak control.
I also want to make clear that this statement is focused on how our formal outbreak response plans have improved over time.
Employees at these plants should not be blamed or shamed for spread of the virus.
We are all in this together and our success in controlling spread will be based on how effectively we can help each other to take the measures that are required.
One final note I want to make is that cases do not require a doctor’s note to return to work.
Public health works with every case to ensure they have information on when they can safely return to their activities, and this information is the best indicator of the date on which their isolation can be ended.
I want to also tell you today about an outbreak at the Purolator distribution centre in Calgary with 30 cases in employees.
The company is working closely with Alberta Health Services public health, putting in place outbreak precautions and supporting AHS to offer testing to all employees.
I also want to update you on two sites where prompt reporting and early intervention led to prevention of spread.
Both at the Sofina and Mountainview chicken processing facilities, a prompt report to public health of just one or two confirmed cases meant that testing of all workers; isolation of cases and contacts; and outbreak precaution implementation all took place within days of the notification.
So far, only 5 cases have been identified at Mountainview and 2 at Sofina, and some of those cases may have been acquired outside the workplace.
We continue to learn from our experiences and from other jurisdictions to improve our public health response.
This includes things such as use of masks when physical distancing is not always possible, promotion of early identification of ill people through health screening, and follow up to prevent further cases from occurring by rapid identification of their close contacts and the use of testing.
As we look forward to when public health measures will be relaxed, these control measures become ever more important.
Success in containing outbreaks relies on participation of all stakeholders, and I want to thank all employers who are proactively putting measures in place to prevent spread; reporting to public health if cases are identified; and working on implementing recommended measures.
We have success stories from these measures.
I also want to acknowledge all Albertans who are going online or calling 811 if they have symptoms of COVID 19 and arranging to be tested.
As of today, 164,722 tests have been performed in the province, including 3,775 in the past 24 hours.
Our aggressive testing approach is helping us identify cases quickly and coupled with improved contact tracing ability thanks to the AB Trace Together app we will enhance our success in preventing further spread of the virus from confirmed cases.
Today, we are further reinforcing our ability to detect new cases by expanding our testing eligibility and the list of COVID symptoms that qualify a person for testing.
Individuals who have any of the following symptoms are eligible for testing:
- A new cough or worsening of a chronic cough;
- New or worsening shortness of breath or difficulty breathing;
- Sore throat or painful swallowing;
- Stuffy or runny nose;
- Muscle or joint aches;
- Feeling unwell in general, or new fatigue or severe exhaustion;
- Gastrointestinal symptoms including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or unexplained loss of appetite;
- Loss of sense of smell or taste, or;
- Conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye.
This expanded list is based on new and emerging information on the virus.
The AHS self-assessment tool online has been updated to include all of these symptoms.
Adding these new symptoms will allow us to be more confident that we can identify as early as possible the small percentage of cases that may present with more unusual symptoms.
One of the other things we have seen in emerging evidence is the possibility of cases that remain asymptomatic throughout the course of their infection.
While most people who get infected will eventually feel sick, there are some who do not.
In order to improve our chances of finding these cases who may not experience symptoms, today we are also expanding the availability of testing to all close contacts of confirmed cases, whether they are feeling symptoms or not.
Considering what we now know about how this virus spreads including that people can pass it on before they feel sick and the need to identify and contain cases as quickly as possible, this is a necessary step.
The information gleaned from asymptomatic testing does have limitations.
It only offers a point-in-time snapshot and a negative test does not guarantee a person is in the clear.
They could still go on to become positive and infect others, which is why close contacts of confirmed cases who test negative will still need to complete a 14 day period of isolation from others.
But asymptomatic testing of close contacts is one more tool we can use to prevent further transmission in our communities by identifying positive cases as soon as possible.
Finally, one additional testing expansion we are putting in place is a protocol to test all those who are newly admitted to any continuing care facility in the province as well as testing those who live in these facilities when they are admitted to hospital or when they are discharged from hospital back to a facility.
We will continue to use all the tools available to us as we build our plan to re-open businesses and public places over the coming weeks and months.
We need to gather as much accurate information on how the virus is spreading as we can.
This will help us to make informed decisions that weigh and balance the intertwined goals of protecting Albertans from spread of COVID-19, while cautiously enhancing social and economic activity, which also support Albertans’ health.
I am encouraged to see the AB Trace Together app now has more than 103,000 users.
I hope more Albertans will choose to download the app to increase our contract tracing ability.
I know we are all looking forward to moving into the relaunch stages.
We will get there sooner if we continue to follow public health orders, stay home and take the AHS online assessment if you’re feeling unwell and get tested if you are instructed to do so.
This will help provide a clear picture of how the virus is affecting our communities.
Thank you. I am happy to take your questions.