Thank you, Tom and good afternoon, everyone.

I want to start by mentioning that we have received several questions lately about COVID-19 cases identified in some Hutterite communities in the province.

It is important to know that, just as there have been cases in many other communities across the province, Hutterite communities have not been spared from this virus.  

As with any other community, Alberta Health Services works closely with both cases and contacts, as well as community leaders, to implement public health measures and stop further spread.

In fact, this work started months ago in collaboration with the Hutterite Safety Council. This is a volunteer body of Hutterite spiritual leaders, educators, volunteer firefighters, safety instructors, and medical first responders who serve their communities.

I would like to express my gratitude to this council and to the community leaders who are working closely with public health to protect their communities, both within and outside of their colonies.

As I spoke about on Tuesday, it is critical to remember that stigmatizing those who get tested or those who test positive is a barrier to controlling the spread of the disease.

This virus affects all of our communities.

As Albertans, we share a common responsibility to support each other through these challenging times.

For today’s update, I am pleased to report that 8,142 Albertans have now recovered from COVID-19. 

We’ve conducted more than 8,200 new tests, and unfortunately we have identified 120 additional cases in the province, which is up significantly from yesterday.

This is the first time since May 2 that we’ve identified more than 100 new cases in a single day.

Currently, 69 people are in hospital, eight of whom are in intensive care. Two more Albertans have died.

I would like to extend my condolences to family and friends of all those who have lost loved ones during this time.

In addition, we have added three new regions to the watch list, bringing the total number to seven.

These regions are all being monitored closely and no additional measures are being taken at this time.

While we have additional cases I want to speak about something that has been especially

difficult. This pandemic has been very very challenging for residents in continuing care facilities.

To date, 119 of 165 deaths in Alberta have been residents in these facilities.

Protecting residents from COVID-19 has required placing severe restrictions on visits, which helped limit and prevent outbreaks, but also took a toll on those living inside these facilities.

Last month, I heard from thousands of residents, family members and facility operators and staff, on the impact these restrictions have had, and on ways we can safely relax some of them.

There are no risk-free options with COVID-19. This virus is still here, and residents in these facilities remain uniquely vulnerable.

At the same time, we must also consider the overall health and well-being of those residentsand the risks of isolation brought on by strict, universally applied visitor restrictions.

These residents need hope, joy and connection, just like all of us.

Today, I am announcing that Alberta will be shifting from a ‘restricted access’ to a ‘safe access’ approach starting July 23rd.

We believe this will help people remain socially and emotionally connected while still protecting those who are most at-risk of severe outcomes .

So what does ‘safe access’ mean?

Under the previous restricted access policy, a resident could have only one designated family or support person spend time with them indoors, and only when physical care or quality of life needs could not be met by staff.

All other visits had to be outdoors, in designated areas, for only two visitors at a time, one of whom had to be the designated support person, and all visits were by appointment.

We heard clearly from residents and family that these restrictions were causing great distress and in some cases, profound declines in health status in residents who grew depressed, isolated and lonely.

We also heard very clearly from residents and family that COVID-19 remains a threat of concern, and that visitor policies need to retain measures to limit the risk of introducing infection into these facilities.

It is this balance that the new approach of safe visitation aims to improve.

We heard from our consultation that not all congregate care sites are the same with respect to:

  • the risk of severe outcomes for the people who live there,
  • the risk of transmission within the group,
  • and the risk tolerance, values, and wishes of the residents who live there.

That is why one key part of this new safe visitor policy is a requirement that each facility develop a local visitor policy for their site based on consultation with residents, families, and staff.

While the baseline for the number of visitors allowed will be opened up somewhat for all facilities, we are also setting out the possibility that some facilities may be less restrictive if their residents collectively agree to accept more risk.

Under the new approach, we are also explicitly recognizing that family and friends are part of the care team for individuals who live in congregate care facilities, not just social visitors whose time with residents is discretionary.

With the new policy, each resident can designate two support people who will be able to visit indoors for as long and as often as they wish, as long as they coordinate with the facility.

Depending on the resident’s health, outdoor visits will be allowed with up to four other visitors,  in addition to the resident,
no longer requiring the presence of a designated support person.

In some circumstances, when it is safe, these other visitors may also be able to visit indoors,
if a facility has a designated indoor visiting space as a part of their local plan.

We have also expanded the definition of when a resident would be considered to be at the end of their life.

And we have expanded access to visitors for palliative patients, and those experiencing
a medical or social crisis.

In addition, we heard concerns about the lack
of a process for appeals when there was a disagreement between residents, facility operators, and family about visitor requests.

There is now a requirement that each facility establish a formal appeals process for visitor decisions.

Finally, I know it has been difficult and painful to avoid hugging and holding hands with loved ones, so we have also developed guidance for doing so safely.

Of course, with more visitors comes more responsibility to keep people who live in these facilities safe.

We heard in the consultation that people who wanted to visit more were also willing to take on additional responsibilities.

The new restrictions give guidance on how to assess the risk of visitors potentially having been exposed to COVID, with more flexibility for low risk visitors than those who would be at higher risk.

Anyone who wishes to visit a loved one in a continuing care facility can facilitate more options for visits by strictly following public health measures in their day-to-day life.

Other measures, including staff and visitor symptom and exposure screening and restrictions on staff working at more than one facility, will remain in place.

COVID-19 is still here, and is still a risk to these facilities. Please, stay vigilant and act responsibly.

If you are visiting a loved one, check out the Safe Visiting Practices online, and the policies that your specific facility has in place to ensure the health and safety of residents, staff and other visitors.

As always, practice good hygiene and be sure to stay home if you are feeling even a little sick.

I want to repeat that this policy will come into effect not until next week to give facilities and operators the time to make sure that they work this through and they know how it will be implemented.

So anyone wishing to visit the current restrictions will remain in place until July 23.

We have also made a few small changes, in our restrictions in the province.

Effective tomorrow, we will also be permitting indoor exhibits and trade shows, outdoor vocal concerts and wind instrument performances, and outdoor hot tubs and whirlpools to open.

These activities will still need to adhere closely to physical distancing measures and the other public health guidance provided.

We are making these changes because the evidence shows us that these particular activities are not adding significant levels of risk.

And public health remains a top priority.

I’d like to take the opportunity today to remind everyone why physical distancing matters. It may seem odd that staying two metres apart is still important as we re-open so much of our society, but it still is.

Combined with other public health measures, this is one of the more effective ways to limit the spread of COVID-19.

It is also one of the easiest to forget, or possibly ignore.

COVID-19 is mainly spread through respiratory droplets—that fine mist that comes out of our mouths and noses when we cough, sneeze, sing or puff after physical exertion.

When you think about being outside in the cold that mist that you can see when you breathe is the droplets.

Those micro-droplets do not spread far, so the closer you are to someone spreading the virus, the closer, the greater your risk.

As you’ve heard me say so many times: we must keep two metres apart from people who are not in our household or cohort group.

For high-intensity exercise indoors, that distance goes up to three metres.

I understand that physical distancing can be hard in some places, like restaurants and cafes, and we have heard from the tourism and hospitality industry that business is impacted by this restriction.

I also know that beach space can be difficult to come by in Alberta and crowding is sometime happening on beaches.

It’s true that some countries have different standards: parts of Europe require 1.5 metres, some countries require one metre, or don’t specify but just recommend staying distant from others.

The World Health Organization recommends at least one metre.

However, in Canada, we have adopted two metres—which is the same  as countries like the U.K. and South Korea. 

That is because physical distancing works.

If you are more than a metre away from someone with COVID-19, you are five times less likely to get an infection than someone who is closer, and the risk is even lower when that distance is two metres.

The farther apart you are, the safer you are.

It isn’t always easy, but it is important. Wherever you go this weekend – whether it’s to the beach, a hiking trail or an activity indoors – please stay two metres apart from others.

I also want to remind us all that those who have responsibility for keeping us safe, like provincial parks staff, should be treated with respect when they are doing their job.

I have heard reports that over last weekend, in several provincial parks, these parks staff were subjected to verbal abuse and aggressive behaviours at places like Gull Lake, Kananaskis, and Wabamun when they did their job to enforce public safety measures.

This is not how to treat people who are doing their part to keep our parks as safe and healthy places to visit.

This weekend, if you plan to visit a beach or other area that might be a popular destination,
I encourage you to have a back-up plan if the space is full when you arrive.

As always, remember that, in taking these steps, you are protecting everyone around you—including those who are at higher risk of severe outcomes from the virus.

Remember who you’re protecting.

Treat all those around you as if they were that person you know and love who would be at high risk of a severe outcome.

We are each other’s best defense.

So be wise, be safe and lets all look out for each other.

Thank you, and I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.