COVID-19 Updates: Protecting Albertans from the Omicron variant.
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Today, I am pleased to report 5,584 Albertans have recovered from COVID-19, leaving 1,004 active cases in the province.
Currently, 61 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, with 8 of those admitted to ICUs.
In the last 24 hours, out of 2,428 new test results there were 33 new cases. I’m pleased to report there are no new deaths today.
I want to inform you today of a new positive test result in a resident of McKenzie Towne long-term care.
This resident was part of a group who had not previously had tests done and was being tested in a precautionary way. So it is not clear whether this is a new infection with the virus or shedding from previous mild infection that was not identified earlier.
The facility is working closely with Alberta Health Services to understand the implications of this result and what it means for their outbreak.
While it is too early to see the full impact of relaunch, so far our case numbers in the province have held steady.
We are not seeing any increase so far in numbers in Calgary and Brooks, and overall, as I mentioned, our cases are stable.
We have now received results from just over 3,400 asymptomatic tests done in Calgary. Of these, 430 of those test were done on close contacts of confirmed cases and in that group there were 75 positive results.
There were only 48 positive results in the remaining 3,000 people tested, showing that the likelihood of infection is much greater when there is a known exposure.
Those who signed up for asymptomatic testing prior to Monday will be offered testing throughout this week.
We need to remember that being safe while relaunching the economy can save lives.
The virus is still with us, and we must do everything we can to prevent the spread at home, when we are out and when we are at work.
I want to remind you that working remotely where possible is still recommended until stage two of our relaunch.
For businesses looking for information on how to protect their staff and the public, please consult the workplace guidance on the Alberta BizConnect website.
Sector-specific guidance is available, and my team is working hard to develop more of these documents.
A template is also available to help employers plan to reduce transmission risk in their businesses.
At my last update on Friday, I said this plan was mandatory for businesses that are re-opening at this time.
After hearing feedback from many stakeholders, we have altered this requirement.
Completing the template is now recommended, but voluntary, for all businesses.
I apologize for any confusion this may have caused.
We are working to determine the best course of action to keep case numbers low and support businesses in meeting the requirements to prevent spread of disease, while also not placing undue burden on struggling business owners.
All businesses must have measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The planning template is one tool to help them determine what measures are appropriate for their workplace, and communicate these measures to their staff and the public in a transparent way. I encourage businesses to use this tool to adapt guidance to their specific context.
As we move into relaunch, we continue to learn more about the virus and about how other parts of the world are responding to this pandemic.
I have received many questions about Sweden’s approach, where the government put minimal stay-at-home or physical distancing orders in place. Instead, Sweden made recommendations for its people to take these steps where ever possible.
I, too, have been following Sweden’s experience. There are a few things to note about the impacts they have felt, and the differences between Sweden and Alberta.
First of all, more than half of all households in Sweden are single-person households. This means that distancing from others in daily life is much easier.
In Alberta, less than a quarter of all households have only one person.
Secondly, there have been restrictions in Sweden such as capping gathering sizes at 50 people, and closing high schools and post-secondary institutions.
In addition, social distancing restrictions have been enforced where needed. For example, some restaurants have been required to close when distancing measures were not followed.
Finally, Sweden’s advice-based rather than regulatory approach came at some cost.
As of yesterday, their toll was 3,698 deaths. That is 36 deaths per 100,000 in their population, which is 12 times Alberta’s rate of three per 100,000 population. In addition, their ICU admission rate was 18 times Alberta’s.
For a more complete picture, we have posted a graph that compares the rates of cases and severe outcomes in Sweden and Alberta.
You can find this information on the COVID-19 modelling page.
Despite Sweden’s less stringent approach, their economy has also shrunk in a similar way to neighbouring countries who used much more aggressive containment measures.
My point is not that there is one right or wrong way to deal with the pandemic, but rather that there are costs to every choice.
In Sweden, there has been a cost of higher death rates.
In Alberta, as elsewhere around the world, there has been a cost of temporary restrictions on some freedoms.
We have not seen a high attack rate or death toll here, because Albertans have protected each other by our actions.
We continue to learn from the approaches other jurisdictions are taking, and we must continue to protect each other as we move slowly back into opening businesses and some social activities.
I want to remind Albertans that public health orders remain in place for that reason, including limiting outdoor gatherings to 50 people or less and indoor gatherings to 15 or less, as well as isolating when feeling ill, and maintaining physical distance between ourselves and people outside our household or cohort families.
I also encourage you to download the AB TraceTogether app to help speed up contact tracing.
Last week, AHS identified the first COVID case who had the app and information from it helped validate the contact tracing process. The more people who sign-up, the more effective this tool will be.
These actions continue to be necessary to prevent a surge in cases as we re-open our economy.
I know we are all eager to return to normal, but as I have said, even as we resume some normal activities, we are not going back to the way our society was before the pandemic.
We are moving forward while continuing to be cautious and taking all necessary steps to protect our most vulnerable family, friends and neighbours.
That is why I was pleased to hear Minister Shandro’s announcement of additional funding for continuing care operators.
We need to continue to support the safety of residents and staff at these facilities.
They face serious challenges in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and complying with public health orders.
The risk to continuing care residents is very real, and we cannot let up on the measures we’re taking to protect them.
There is no change to the visitor restrictions currently in place, and family and friends who wish to arrange outdoor visits must call ahead to arrange these.
We must all continue to take precautions, staying home when ill, and acting responsibly when resuming some activities as restrictions are slowly lifted.
I thank all Albertans for the sacrifices they have made to get us to this point.
To continue moving forward, we must take measured steps.
We must work together.
And we must continue to support each other with kindness and compassion every step of the way.
Thank you. We will be happy to take questions.