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Good afternoon, everyone.

Today, I want to provide an update on COVID-19 cases in the province and speak a bit more about the Alberta’s rise in active case numbers.

I am pleased to report that more than 8,500 Albertans have now recovered from COVID-19. 

However, we conducted over 8,200 new tests yesterday and identified 114 additional cases.

Currently, 106 people are in hospital, 21 of whom are in intensive care. Sadly, 2 more Albertans have died.

This leaves two more families grieving their loved ones, and my sympathies go out to them. My sympathies go out as well to those who are in hospital or ICU, and to the families who are watching their loved ones battle this illness.

This is yet another reminder of how serious this virus can be.

Our current acute care utilization is approaching the highest number of admissions on any single day that we have had…which was a peak of 113 overall hospital admissions on April 30, and specific to ICU, 23 admissions on May 1.

This needs to be a wake up call. I am very concerned by these numbers.

Recently, our active cases have risen sharply. On July 9, we had 590 active cases; today, we have nearly 1,300.

Two weeks ago, we had 7 Albertans in the ICU; now, we have triple that number.

This is also a reminder that severe outcomes are not limited to the elderly. Twenty-four of those currently in hospital are under the age of 60, including 7 who are between the ages of 20 and 39.

In addition, there is no zone spared from the increase.

Even rural areas such as Central Alberta, which has not seen high case numbers so far, now has 33 cases in hospital, 7 of whom are in the ICU.

We have seen a rise in cases across the province and as such, precautions need to be taken in all parts of Alberta.

I believe the recent increase in numbers is, in part, reflects the fact that fatigue has set in. After several months of not catching the virus, it is easy to say that you feel fine, so why wash your hands? Why stay two metres apart in public? Why avoid sharing food at a barbeque?

While it is true that younger people who catch COVID-19 have a lower risk of severe outcomes, lower risk does not mean zero risk. In addition, we are all still at risk of catching the infection and passing the virus to others.

To illustrate this point let me give you some real-life Alberta data on the risks that do exist.

In this province, one out of every 50 diagnosed cases between the ages of 30 to 39 has needed to be admitted to hospital.

Between ages 40 and 69, that risk is greater. One out of every 20 diagnosed cases has required hospitalization.

And when we talk about older Albertans being more at risk, what exactly does this mean?

One out of every 10 diagnosed cases between the ages of 70 and 79 has died. For those over 80, the numbers are even worse -- 1 of every 4 cases has died.

This risk of death does not seem to be much different when comparing those living in continuing care versus those in the community.

Think about those you know who are over the age of 70, or 80.

In my life, I have many dearly loved family members and friends in this age group, and I would not want to gamble their lives with these odds.

It is also important to remember that surviving this virus can still be awful, and life-changing.

There is some emerging evidence of the long-term outcomes of COVID-19, particularly for those who have more severe illness such as an ICU admission.

There can be long-term damage, such as higher risk of diabetes, and lung damage that doesn’t go away when the infection ends. Regardless of age, we don’t yet know what impact COVID-19 will have on your lifelong health.

This is not something to take lightly.

The guidance we have put in place is the manual for how to live with COVID-19 for at least the rest of this year and likely beyond. It is not an optional suggestion that can be disregarded when inconvenient.

To those who are wondering if it might be better to just accelerate the spread of infection across the population to “get it over with” and achieve herd immunity, it is important to remember that we don’t yet know if getting infected actually gives a person immunity.

Emerging research shows dropping antibody levels over time after infection.

While we don’t yet fully understand the implications of this, this is a cause for some concern that even widespread natural infection would not provide long lasting herd immunity.

It would, however, place a crushing load on our acute care system. It would also mean less system capacity for dealing with all the other health concerns that Albertans have.

Currently, research is underway worldwide to find a vaccine. Exciting progress is being made but we cannot say whether a highly effective vaccine will be developed in a few months or years, or even ever.

Even if there is one, there is no way to know how quickly we will be able to vaccinate Albertans.

The message is clear: We need to learn from our own experiences and the experiences of others.

We need to take current numbers as a warning, and do what we need to do to prevent infections from spreading widely and quickly.

We all are tired of COVID-19, but this virus doesn’t care.

We have no choice but to learn how to live with it.  This means learning how to reduce risk while conducting a barbeque, or visiting with our cohort. It means we need to minimize and the risk of contracting the virus and the risk of spreading it to others.

It also means protecting those most at risk, while not isolating them to the point of suffering.

The updated Guidance for Safe Visiting in Licensed Supportive Living, Long-term Care and Hospices becomes effective today. 

As you heard when I announced it last Thursday, the changes include the expectation that operators develop a safe visiting policy and process in collaboration with residents and families. 

While the operators have had a week to start that process, please be patient.  There is a lot for them to consider and plan for, working with residents and families, and they may not have had enough time to finish getting input.

 But they are getting started and will continue to work with you, as time goes on, to mature and implement their plan.

With the increase in cases we have seen over the past few weeks, it is particularly important that this safe visitor policy be thoughtfully and carefully implemented.

Today I’m also announcing that we are posting a short video on our website that is directed to residents and their families.  If you are someone who may visit, or who lives at one of these sites, please take a look. 

The video will help you orient yourselves to the new approach to visiting and your role in helping to ensure a safe visit.

This new policy will help people remain socially and emotionally connected while still protecting those most at-risk of severe outcomes. It is critical that we continue to protect our seniors. They are at a high risk because of their age, and Albertans should be considerate and careful when interacting with our loved ones who are seniors—by wearing masks, physically distancing, and staying away if sick.

The evidence is evolving, but suggests that younger children may be less likely to transmit COVID-19.  Despite this, some children who contract COVID-19 may not show symptoms, but could potentially transmit to their grandparents and older relatives if precautions are not taken.

When schools open again, we have to safely monitor adult-to-adult transmission, which is likely a greater risk than transmission occurring amongst young children. At any rate, we must all protect seniors in our lives by keeping masked and two metres distant, whether we are symptomatic or not.

For the sake of our families and communities, we all need to act each day as though everyone we spend time with could have the virus, even if we’re among friends, and even if we feel perfectly healthy.

That is one of the messages that I want to stress today. When you are feeling well, it is tempting to think that you don’t need to be careful.

Yet whether the case numbers go up or down in the weeks ahead will depend in large part on what precautions we take over the next 10-14 days and beyond. The numbers of new cases we are seeing today reflect trends in behaviour one to two weeks ago.

Even if we all implemented all public health guidance perfectly starting tomorrow, we will still likely have increased numbers for at least one to two more weeks.

If we want to bring this under control by early August, now is the time to act.

What will you do to stay healthy? How will you physically distance, wash your hands, and do all the other steps that will help keep you from contracting the virus and spreading it to others?

The power is in our hands. No rule or order from me could change that. If you don’t want to make these changes for yourself, I ask you to make them for others.

Make the changes for the front line health care workers who are dealing with increasing numbers of COVID cases in acute care.

Make the changes for your loved ones who are at higher risk of severe outcomes.

Make the changes for your kids who want to be able to go back to school in the fall.

Simple steps save lives, and can slow the spread.

This weekend, I am encouraging everyone to go the extra mile.

Wash your hands, physically distance, wear a mask when you can’t, and if you’re even slightly sick, stay home and get tested.

I’m also encouraging Albertans to talk about COVID-19. Ask your friends what they are doing to stay safe.

Ask each other about what’s the hardest measure to follow, how often you wear a mask and offer ideas and support to each other about how you can make things easier to follow. Be the champion for safety among everyone who doesn’t watch these updates.

I know that people may have different opinions about how we should address the spread of the virus.

Sometimes conversations can get heated when opinions are different, but I would encourage all of us to focus on listening to understand.

If you are in conversations in the next few weeks, whether in person or online, with someone who has a different opinion, I would like to challenge you to listen to understand their perspective.

If we share information with compassion, and find ways forward together, we will all be better positioned to deal with COVID sustainably over the long haul.

There has been a great deal of discussion around masks recently.  It is something that I continue to discuss regularly with my counterparts in BC, Ontario and across the country.

I believe that masking is critically important and we’ve undertaken many efforts to normalize and promote the wearing of masks over the last several months.

This includes the government’s distribution of more than 40 million masks across the province.

We are looking at the evidence around mask use in school settings and our guidance for schools will continue to evolve in the days ahead.

As always, we are assessing the best and most reliable evidence available. There is still a lot of new evidence emerging on school settings, and there are reports from international sources that we are carefully reviewing.

Also, let me be clear: I am strongly recommending that Albertans wear masks.

As a physician, and as a parent myself, I encourage all parents across Alberta to include reusable cloth masks on their back to school shopping lists this year

If you are watching this and don’t wear a mask, please start today.

 Do it for yourself and for everyone around you.

I want to end by noting that we are a remarkable province. I believe in Albertans and the power of our collective action. We can pull together to turn this around.

If you need motivation to distance, wear a mask, wash your hands, or stay home if you’re sick, remember who you are protecting. We are each other’s best defense – today, tomorrow and in the weeks and months ahead.

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