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Thank you, Tom, and good afternoon.
Today, I would like to share the latest numbers on COVID-19, and provide an update on testing in the province.
First, I’d like to talk about the outbreak at Good Samaritan Society’s Southgate Care Centre.
At my last media availability, I incorrectly stated that AHS had taken over operations at the facility. This was due to a miscommunication between some of our staff.
I apologize if there was any confusion.
Sadly, I must report five new deaths today, all of them at the Good Samaritan Southgate Care Centre. There have now been 21 deaths at this outbreak.
This is a stark example of the devastation this virus can cause.
I want to offer my condolences to the families and friends of these individuals, and to all who have lost loved ones during this time when our grieving processes are altered by COVID-19 restrictions.
We are taking this outbreak extremely seriously. As with any outbreak, health officials have considered any and all possible options to protect the health of residents.
An order to “takeover” operations is a step that is not taken lightly, and occurs only when a facility is not able to fully comply with the mandatory orders we have in place.
This has not been the case here. Alberta Health Services has been working very closely with the Good Samaritan Society to monitor staffing levels.
AHS now has nursing and management staff on the site.
My colleagues are meeting with the facility daily to make sure that everything possible is being done to support residents and staff.
I have been assured that all mandatory outbreak protocols are in place. This includes screening and temperature checks twice a day, widespread testing and enhanced cleaning.
This is a difficult situation but local officials are doing everything possible to support all of those who are involved.
We will continue to closely monitor the outbreak and take whatever steps are needed to support the health of residents and staff.
Across the province, there are currently 91 people in hospital, 18 of whom are in intensive care.
We conducted almost 8,700 new tests yesterday and identified 113 additional cases in the province.
To date, more than 676,000 tests have been performed on more than 566,000 people.
We are working hard to reduce wait times for tests and speed up the time it take to get results.
I’d like to remind people that in order to get results quickly one option is to sign up for the my health records online so you can see results as soon as they are available.
Alberta Health Services has begun deploying more staff to assessment centres, extending the hours to meet increased demand, and is hiring more staff for the fall.
We are also looking at other innovative ways to make it easy for more Albertans to safely access testing.
That’s why I’m pleased to announce today that Alberta is now expanding COVID-19 testing in community pharmacies.
Last month, as you know, we began a pilot project to provide people with asymptomatic testing at a small group of community pharmacies.
This pilot was initially kept small to allow us to refine the process involved in working with the pharmacies, collecting swabs, and transporting and testing the samples.
This project was a success. More than 10,000 people were safely tested at the pilot pharmacies in the last month.
Based on this success, we’re expanding the program to any pharmacy that wants to offer testing and is able to meet the safety requirements.
Testing can begin as soon as the pharmacy is enrolled and receives the necessary test supplies from Alberta Precision Labs.
I have heard that many are excited to access testing closer to home, and many pharmacies are looking forward to providing this critical service.
However, I am asking Albertans to be patient for the first few weeks.
Pharmacies will need to complete an enrolment process to ensure patient safety and efficient distribution of supplies.
It may take pharmacies in your area a little bit of time to enroll and begin testing.
Some pharmacies may choose not to participate, and that’s okay, too. This program is voluntary.
AHS continues to offer testing across the province, and, as I mentioned earlier, is working to reduce wait times.
A list of all the pharmacies that are providing testing is now available online.
To find out if your local pharmacy offers testing, you can visit the Alberta Blue Cross website and click on the COVID-19 banner at the top of the page.
We encourage you to check back there often. The list will be updated frequently as more pharmacies are enrolled in the program.
To arrange for testing, check with your local pharmacy about the process they are using to sign people up.
And please, for the safety of yourself and others, only people with no symptoms and no known exposure to COVID-19 can be tested at a pharmacy.
If you have symptoms or if you know that you have been exposed to COVID-19, please book testing through AHS through the online self-assessment tool, or by calling 811.
I know that many Albertans are also keenly interested in serology testing, so I would like to update you on the targeted research studies announced last month.
As a reminder, serology testing is different from the swab testing that is offered by AHS and community pharmacies.
Serology testing detects antibodies in the blood from COVID-19. This can help us understand how many people were previously infected with COVID-19.
It does not tell us if someone is currently sick or contagious, and a positive serology test does not guarantee immunity from the virus.
That is why these tests are not being offered at an individual level but rather at a population level.
Because it can tell us more about how the virus has spread in the population, and help us improve Alberta’s response.
We have now received the first estimates from the COVID-19 Residual Sera study being done by Alberta Precision Laboratories.
Our labs have analyzed nearly 9,400 anonymous, randomized samples from blood tests that were collected for other clinical reasons during the first week in June.
This provides a baseline estimate of how many Albertans had antibodies for COVID-19 at that point in time, reflecting infections that would have happened before the middle of May.
This is important because – as with any virus – many people may not have been aware that they had COVID-19, or not gotten tested for it, especially in early spring before testing was widely available across Alberta.
Of the samples from early June, less than one per cent showed the presence of antibodies.
It is important to note that this was not necessarily a representative sample of the population.
But it gives us an approximate idea of how many infections there have been, at least in a group that was seeking health care.
Even with these limitations, if we take this percentage and apply it to the general population, as an estimate, we calculate that there were almost 36,000 COVID-19 cases in Alberta as of May 20…
…while as of that date we had identified just over 6,000 cases through swab testing.
We are using the date of May 20, as it takes approximately two weeks for antibodies to be reliably detected after an infection, and the blood samples were drawn in early June.
This indicates that Alberta’s testing program had at that point identified about 17 per cent of cases in the population. I know this number may sound low, but it’s actually very good.
Let me put these numbers into context.
British Columbia’s serological study results released last week show about 12.5 per cent of estimated cases by May were identified by swab testing.
Similar serosurveys in California, Spain and Sweden indicate between 1.3 per cent and 9.7 per cent of cases were identified by swab testing.
This data is an indication that our current PCR testing program is highly effective…
…and is identifying a higher percentage of actual cases than programs in many other jurisdictions.
Along with the data on case numbers and hospitalizations, this indicates that Alberta’s early efforts to flatten the curve and limit the spread of COVID-19 were successful.
The other thing this tells us is that, as of mid-May, a very low percentage of our population had been infected with COVID-19.
It is still early days for this study. While these are not definitive conclusions, they do provide a valuable starting point and new insight into cases in Alberta.
The study will be repeated monthly, so we can see changes in antibody prevalence as restrictions lift and time progresses.
Further analysis of the June data and upcoming data from July will inform our public health response…
…and any testing strategy adjustments that we need to make this fall.
I look forward to providing further updates as new information becomes available.
Another topic that I know is of great interest to Albertans is the discussion around masks in schools.
As I mentioned last week, masking is not currently mandatory, but there is still a lot of evidence from international sources and other jurisdictions that we are carefully reviewing.
Our guidance will be updated in the coming weeks when we complete this evidence review.
We are coming up on the August long weekend and I know that people are excited to get outside.
But we must keep in mind that, after Canada Day, we saw several events that resulted in the spread of COVID-19 among friends and families.
This is not the only reason that our case numbers have risen, but it has played a part.
I would like to encourage all Albertans to take precautions when celebrating this weekend. We all want to socialize and make happy, positive memories.
I am confident that none of us want to have those memories spoiled with a loved one getting sick, or friends and family having to isolate because we didn’t take simple precautions.
I know many people are tired of being told what they can’t do.
Instead, this weekend, let’s all think about the things we can do, and how to do it safely.
We can enjoy camping, going to a restaurant, having a barbecue, watching a hockey game with friends and family or visiting a loved one at a continuing care facility.
To do these things, we just need to make a few adjustments to make sure we’re following public health guidance to the best of our ability.
If you go camping or to the beach, please respect the health and safety of small communities along the way by planning trips with limited stops for gas or food.
Have a back-up plan if your planned destination is too crowded when you get there.
When planning the amount of people you want to have over for dinner or an NHL viewing party, plan for an outdoor gathering if possible.
Think about how many people would comfortably fit two metres apart – and stick to that maximum number.
If you go to a party, help the host out by following the guidance and helping them keep everyone safe.
Protect loved ones by encouraging everyone to bring their own food and drinks, and use their own utensils.
Follow all facility policies when visiting a loved one in continuing care and allow time for completing screening before visiting, make sure your loved one is in the caring hands of staff before you leave.
Wherever you go, physically distance, wear a mask in crowded places and wash your hands.
Be a champion for safety and speak up if others are unsure on how to follow public health guidance.
And while it may be disappointing, the greatest thing you can do for all of our loved ones is to stay home if you’re feeling unwell and arrange for testing.
Only by observing these measures can we all help prevent the spread while staying socially connected this August long weekend and beyond.
COVID-19 will not take a break because it is a holiday. Careless behaviour today can lead to sharp increases in cases next week and the week after.
I know there are many Albertans out there who feel alone or anxious, or who are unable to go out because they are at high risk of severe outcomes.
I encourage every one of us to reach out to members of the community who may be in this position. Text, call, or email your friends or family who are limiting their time with others because they are at higher risk.
To close, I would like to wish all Albertans a happy and healthy long weekend.
Be wise, be safe and let’s all look out for each other.
Thank you, and I’d be happy to answer whatever questions you have.