Thanks, Tom. Good afternoon.
Today, I am pleased to report that 6,811 Albertans have now recovered from the virus, leaving 386 active cases in the province.
Currently, 53 people are hospitalized, with six of those admitted to ICU.
We have now completed more than 325,000 tests. Out of 7,746 tests completed over the past 24 hours, we identified 30 new cases.
I am happy to say that no additional deaths have been reported.
As we enter stage 2 of the province’s relaunch today, I want to talk about what we can expect in the days and weeks to come.
First, I want to highlight two First Nation success stories that showcase the power of teamwork and community spirit.
Since the first COVID-19 case was detected in Alberta, the Blood Tribe Chief and Council have been working diligently to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on the Blood Reserve, supported by Alberta Health Services and the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch.
Staff in this community have implemented measures like establishing a 35-bed Clinical Isolation facility for community members who fall ill with COVID-19 or for those who are ill and need a place to isolate while awaiting swabbing results.
Another key accomplishment has been delivering 2,540 food and cleaning packages to Blood Tribe members, on and off-reserve, to ensure they received support immediately.
Also, the Community Health and Essential Services staff in this community are working hard to continue testing; contact tracing and care for those in quarantine and isolation, and all Blood Tribe Administration Programs and Departments have shown dedication to the well-being of their People.
In particular, local leadership asked that Rick Soup, the Disaster and Emergency Manager for the Blood Tribe be recognized for his support and leadership during these challenging times.
In Whitefish Lake First Nation, the community’s Goodfish Lake Business Corporation responded to the pandemic by adapting their garment facility to produce reusable masks.
This has not only enabled them to provide cotton masks to Elders, staff and every household on reserve….
…but also allowed them to now fill large orders of fire-resistant masks for Syncrude, Suncor and other energy companies.
These are both great examples of innovation, especially as I continue to encourage everyone to wear masks in crowded settings and to look out for your neighbours.
I know that many people are excited that stage 2 has arrived, and that many others are wondering what this will mean for our province.
Will we see increases in cases and new outbreaks? If so, how do we respond?
It is important for all of us to remember that this virus is not gone. COVID-19 is still circulating in our communities, and will do so for many months to come.
With the increased opportunity for activities and gatherings, there is increased potential for all of us to be exposed to COVID-19.
Over the past few weeks, province-wide, we have begun to see a younger demographic testing positive for COVID-19.
Sixty percent of our currently active cases are under the age of 40, and we are seeing a particular increase in those between 20 and 29.
It is important for younger Albertans to remember that, while you may not be at risk for severe outcomes of infection, your actions are critical to protecting those around you… who are at higher risk.
We are all in this together, and we have never needed each other more than now, in this relaunch time.
Recently, we have also seen a rise in cases in Edmonton. In the past three weeks, the number of active cases has risen from 58 to 149.
While any increase is concerning, there has been no single source or cause identified.
About two thirds of these cases are linked to known sources or outbreaks, and about one third are not yet linked to a known source.
We are watching these cases closely and will communicate to Albertans if there is any cause for alarm.
I have been asked if the increase early this week might partially be the result of recent protests in the city.
I can tell you that is not the case, as any transmission would take days to work through the system.
We have seen a rise in our testing numbers in the past few days as those who attended protests have responded to my recommendation to be tested…
…But to date, we have not identified cases where attendance at a protest was determined to be the source.
Having said that, it is important to stay vigilant.
The freedom to protest is a critical one, and preventing the spread of COVID-19 is also critical.
We have worked with several of the groups who organized recent demonstrations to put together a guidance document for organizers and attendees, with ways for demonstrations, marches and rallies to accomplish both goals, of raising voices and preventing spread.
Options include using virtual means, car rallies, and groupings of 100 with distances between the groups.
I would like to remind anyone participating in any future demonstrations to stay 2 metres away from one another, and to wear a face mask while attending.
I also strongly encourage anyone who attends a protest or any other large gathering to download the AB Trace Together app. This will help speed up contact tracing, should a case be identified.
As we get out and enjoy stage 2, I want everyone to be proud of how far we have come, and to continue following public health guidance in every facet of our lives.
We are all protecting each other.
I want to end by recognizing that today is not a celebration for everyone.
While many are excited to move into stage two, I know that some people will continue to feel anxious. It is natural to feel this way.
I am also keenly aware that many residents in continuing care centres and their families continue to feel lonely and isolated. I have heard these concerns, and I think about people in these settings often.
We are exploring ways to gradually lift some restrictions as the relaunch proceeds while still maintaining safety at these facilities.
We are balancing the duty to protect residents and staff within these sites with the natural need for human connection and social interaction.
The other piece I want to speak about today is that I know that many Albertans have been struggling with addiction and mental health challenges throughout this pandemic.
According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, one in five Canadians who drink alcohol and have been staying at home more due to the COVID-19 pandemic say that they have been drinking daily since the beginning of May.
I know this has been, and continues to be, a stressful time. Unfortunately, high-risk use of cannabis and alcohol can cause other health problems.
If you are struggling, I want to remind you that confidential support is available. You are not alone.
We are working to reduce any barriers that might be in place to access the mental health or addictions supports Albertans need.
Alberta’s Mental Health Helpline is available 24-7. It is toll-free and offers confidential support for mental health concerns.
Alberta’s Addiction Helpline is also toll-free and available 24-7. It also offers confidential support for alcohol, tobacco, drugs and problem gambling.
I encourage anyone in need of help to visit alberta.ca for more information on all the supports that are available.
I want to thank everyone for continuing to be mindful of your actions and following public health guidelines.
We are getting through this together, and we must continue to protect each other in the days ahead.
Thank you and I will be happy to take questions.