COVID-19 Updates: Protecting Albertans from the Omicron variant.
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Before I begin my COVID-19 update, I’d like to acknowledge National AccessAbility Week, which calls on all of us to recognize people of all abilities in Alberta and work towards a more inclusive society.
I want to thank the many individuals living with disabilities, their caregivers and service providers who have reached out to provide feedback and ideas on how we can make COVID-19 information more accessible for all people and also to consider how these individuals may experience unique challenges and barriers in COVID-19 prevention, diagnosis or treatment.
Today, I am pleased to report that 6,587 Albertans have recovered from COVID-19, leaving 344 active cases in the province.
Currently, 48 people are hospitalized, with six of these in ICUs.
In the last 24 hours, out of 4,997 new tests there were 19 new cases.
Sadly, I must also report two new deaths. I wish to extend my condolences to the friends and families of these individuals, as well as to all Albertans who have lost loved ones during this time.
We are now in our fourth month of pandemic response and we continue to take steps as a province, as communities, and as individuals to prevent the spread of infection.
I’ve read and listened to stories of how individuals and communities big and small across Alberta have worked together to respond to this pandemic.
I am continually inspired by the ingenuity and generosity of our communities.
This includes Indigenous communities across the province who have shared their stories with me.
I want to express my gratitude and admiration for all the ways that they are keeping their members safe.
Today, I’d like to recognize just a few of the many specific examples of actions taken by Indigenous groups across the province who have acted quickly to protect their community members.
The Metis Settlements General Council has made emergency funding available to Settlements for local emergency plan implementation, and their Health Board has had weekly meetings with Alberta Health Services to bring about some much needed health and safety services such as remote access to doctors, local testing, and access to personal protective equipment in the community.
The Métis Nation of Alberta pandemic supports have included financial assistance for those facing economic hardship due to COVID-19, and the development of Métis-specific public health communications.
The MNA has also helped transition cultural celebrations such as the annual Métis Fest to online platforms.
This recognizes that Métis community, culture and kinship ties are key to sustaining the strength and resiliency of Métis Albertans during this difficult time.
The Aboriginal Friendship Centre of Calgary assembled an Indigenous COVID-19 Task Force to ensure their most at-risk community members have access to basic necessities to carry them through and to provide much needed wrap-around supports and services.
This includes delivering food and non-food hampers and providing social services, virtual cultural supports, and mental health supports to Aboriginal peoples in Calgary.
In the Saddle Lake Cree Nation, located on Treaty 6 territory, they worked hard on COVID-19 testing, making sure it was easily accessible for community members.
Chipewyan Prairie First Nation, on Treaty 8 territory, also made testing a priority after confirming their first case.
Both these Nations established drive-thru services and worked with their health centres to help test community members.
This easy local access to testing has helped make testing available to all in Chipewyan Prairie, and has ruled out COVID-19 in all those who have been symptomatic in Saddle Lake.
Stoney Nakoda, on Treaty 7 territory, helped support their members by proactively creating a dedicated space for those who needed to isolate but were unable to do so at home.
Their isolation facility supports up to 150 individuals, and nurses and other health providers are on hand to help support anyone isolating.
While this facility has not yet been needed, it stands ready to make sure that safe isolation is supported for anyone who should be ill.
Finally, the Alexis Nakota Sioux First Nation, on Treaty 6 territory, has started a national social media campaign, called #ProtectOurElders.
The campaign encourages Indigenous youth living in Canada to be partners in protecting Elders from exposure to COVID-19. (For more about the campaign, visit protectourelders.ca)
I want to congratulate all those involved in these efforts for their locally-driven work to support those in their communities.
And I also want to honour the ways that their community members are supporting each other through this difficult time.
These are only a few snapshots of great work being done across the province.
So I also want to commend all the other work being done by First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities and Indigenous-serving organizations across the province to protect their communities from the spread of infection.
There are many aspects to preventing the spread of COVID-19. We continue to study the virus and learn about how it affects people, and to develop new ways of testing.
One subject I receive many questions about is serological, or antibody testing.
This form of testing is used to detect the presence of antibodies in a person’s blood. A positive test means that someone contracted COVID-19 at a point in the past, even if they have now recovered.
Not all antibodies protect from re-infection, and antibody levels can drop over time.
Because of this there is still not enough evidence to conclusively determine if a person who previously contracted COVID-19 would subsequently be immune.
This is a key research question for scientists around the world.
Until we have this evidence, it is not possible to determine who is immune, or for how long.
Alberta’s provincial laboratory is in the final stages of validating a number of different types of serology tests.
Initially, when it’s available, the testing will be used for research purposes to determine the proportion of Albertans who have been exposed to COVID-19.
Please be very cautious of products marketed as home serology tests.
These tests may not be accurate and could produce false results; either false positives or false negatives.
We will share more information on serology tests in Alberta when it is available.
It’s important to remember that serology tests are not used to diagnose an active infection, but rather a past infection.
As we still have active cases in our communities, our focus remains on diagnosing these active infections and preventing the spread.
The test used for this is a molecular test, which is done with a nose or throat swab.
I want to remind all Albertans that this molecular testing is now available to everyone, whether or not you have symptoms.
Booking a test can easily be done online at the AHS website for a location and time of your choosing. If you have a disability that might make it difficult for testing, please call 811 to find out next steps.
I encourage all Albertans to participate in our population-based testing to help us better understand where we have active cases across the province.
We are still learning about the virus, but some things remain clear. Our best tools of defence right now remain staying home when feeling sick, maintaining physical distance when we go out, and wearing a mask in crowded spaces, frequently washing our hands, and making sure that we support each other in taking these steps.
These practices are part of our new normal and will remain part of our daily routines for the foreseeable future.
Albertans have done and continue to do a tremendous job of taking these steps wherever possible.
That hard work has brought us to this point – where the total number of active cases continues to decline and the increase in new cases is manageable.
We will continue to rely on our collective commitment to protect our family members, neighbours and friends to ensure we keep moving forward toward the next stage of our relaunch.
Thank you and I’ll be happy to take questions.