Check against delivery

Good afternoon.

Today, I’d like to report an additional 54 new cases of COVID-19 in Alberta over the last 24 hours.

This brings the total number of cases to 6,017.

Of these, 3,809 have now recovered.

Sadly, I must also report an additional 2 deaths, bringing the total number of deaths in the province to 114.

As always, I want to extend my condolences to the friends and family of these individuals, and all Albertans who have lost loved ones.

As of today, there have been 632 cases of COVID-19 in continuing care facilities across the province.

With the daily numbers declining lately, and discussions about relaunch underway,

I know that many faith communities are keenly interested in planning how they can start to safely meet again, and I sympathize with this wish.

Our lives have been profoundly disrupted by this virus, and being able to gather with others in a religious community would be a source of comfort for many.

I want to share a story with you about why it is so important that we are cautious about restarting practices of gathering in person as a way of preventing future outbreaks.

I had the opportunity recently to talk to a faith leader whose faith community gathered together in mid-March, before many of our public health measures were in place.

I want to thank this faith community for being willing to share their story so others can learn from their experience.

The congregation had a worship service, and then gathered together after the service for a celebratory social event.

There were only 41 people present, and they were careful to observe 2 metre distancing and good hand hygiene.

Food and drink were served by a small number of servers wearing gloves.

No one was ill at the time.

They followed all the rules, and did nothing wrong.

 Unfortunately, within a week of the event, one person who had been there tested positive for COVID-19.

Many others followed.

In total, 24 of the 41 people who attended were confirmed to be cases, three of those people ended up in hospital, and two of them died.

It isn’t clear what the source of the virus was for the people at the gathering that day.

It could have been environmental contamination from others who had previously been in the building.

It could have been that someone who attended had been exposed elsewhere, was unknowingly infected and able to pass the virus on to others before their symptoms started.

We may never know exactly what happened, but the message is clear.

Even with the precautions they took, more than half of those who attended that day got sick.

Two lives were lost and those left behind are grieving their absence and the incomprehension of how what should have been a joyful event turned tragic.

I share this story as a cautionary tale and an example of how informal gatherings, even when trying to follow distancing rules, can result in large spreading events.

We all want to be able to gather again. We humans are hard-wired for connection, and physical closeness is not fully replaced by virtual gatherings. Whether a religious gathering or social gathering, I know we are all missing being together in ways that we once took for granted.

Despite this, I am asking you to remain cautious. I am asking you to keep being creative about other ways of connecting and sharing meaningful moments.

Gatherings of no more than 15 are allowed, but as you plan ways of connecting, please consider all your options and make sure that any gathering that happens in person is well-planned and ensures physical distancing, no sharing of food or drink, and make sure you are thinking about ways for those who are at higher risk of severe outcomes from COVID to participate remotely.

I acknowledge that the absence of information can make us feel scared or anxious.

Another example of this is I’ve heard concerns from hair stylists and barbers who are wondering why their personal services are being opened up for stage one rather than later, when they don’t have a professional association to provide guidance.

In preparation for the staging of Alberta’s Relaunch Strategy, public health officials have considered a measured approach to opening up sectors, including personal services.

In this sector alone, there are over 80 unique types of personal services in Alberta, from hair styling and nail services, to tattooing and laser hair removal.

Some of these services carry more risk than others.

When considering that hair salons and barbershops could open as part of stage 1, a key point that factored into public health advice was that these professions have provincially regulated training and certification standards.

This certification includes a provincially recognized public health component on infection prevention and control.

This means that hair stylists and barbers already have some familiarity with protocols aimed at limiting customers’ risk of exposure to infections.

But I’ve also heard that there is anxiety within this industry related to things like physical distancing, personal protective equipment including masks and whether blow drying is safe or can multiple stylists work with one client.

Our website includes general workplace guidance for Alberta’s relaunch that provides foundational expectations for minimizing COVID-19 transmission risks in all workplaces.

However, we are continuing to work on additional risk mitigation information for barbers and hair stylists in preparation for Stage 1 of relaunch.

This approach, opening only barbers and hairstylists of the personal services at the first stage, mirrors relaunch strategies in other jurisdictions across Canada and in Europe.

I would also like to remind these businesses that there is no obligation for a business to open when stage 1 begins.

Businesses that feel they need more time to ensure the safety of their patrons or their staff, should take the time they need to be prepared and have additional health and safety protocols in place for cleaning and physical distancing.

For any business wanting to resume operations, no matter the stage of relaunch, I encourage you to consider what additional information, support and training your workers may need in infection prevention and control.

Finally with respect to hair stylists and barbers, we are working on guidance specific to this sector and we anticipate it will be completed soon.

We are holding many things in tension right now – the need to protect ourselves and others from COVID-19, our need for human community, and our need to mitigate the social, economic and health impacts of a prolonged shut down.

In these next months we need to strive for balance between these things. There is no one perfect way forward, but whatever comes, I know two things. One is that we need each other to get through this. And the second  is that we will get through this.

Thank you. I would be happy to take questions.