Check against delivery.

Thank you, Tom, and good afternoon everyone.  

Before today’s update, I would like to offer my condolences to the family and friends of
Dr. Reynolds, a physician who died following an attack while working at a Red Deer medical clinic earlier this week.

We are all shaken by this tragic event.

I imagine that, though this was an isolated incident, it leaves a mark on all health care professionals….as we wonder about the safety of our own workplaces…..and the personalized patient care that is the bedrock of our profession.

It is in times of tragedy that we most need to feel connected to those around us.

COVID-19 restrictions mean we aren’t able to do that in the ways we have been used to.

Despite the need to make adjustments for our new normal, I encourage all who are experiencing grief, whether due to this situation or other losses,
to find ways to reach out to others and bear the burden of grief together.

Before turning to today’s numbers I also want to mention an update that we are making to the retrospective hospitalization data that is available online.

When the website is updated today, there will be a decline in the hospitalization numbers for May and June. We have committed to always being transparent, so let me explain why.

When the outbreak occurred at the Misericordia Community Hospital last month, an error in the system code used for our online statistics meant that patients who caught COVID in the hospital were being retrospectively counted in our hospitalized case data.

Most of these patients were first admitted weeks or even months before the outbreak.

Yet, they were counted as hospitalized with COVID from the day that they first entered the Misericordia, not the day they were diagnosed with the virus.

This led to an increase in our retrospective totals, which I know some Albertans have been wondering about.

Thanks to the hard work of our surveillance team, this issue has now been fixed.

Obviously, any decrease in hospitalizations is a good thing. This error had little impact on our current hospitalization counts that we have been reporting daily, and did not affect any of the COVID-19 policy decisions that we have made.

Turning to today’s numbers: Currently, 50 people are in hospital, including 13 in intensive care.

We identified 121 new cases in the last 24 hours. There are now 1,040 active cases in the province.

This is a reminder that COVID-19 continues to be with us, and we cannot turn our backs on this virus.

Tragically, I am reporting one additional death today, at the Good Samaritan Southgate Care Centre. This death occurred yesterday and was reported earlier on their website.

My heartfelt condolences go out to everyone who has lost a loved one to COVID-19 or any other cause during this pandemic.

The lab has completed more than 8,000 tests in the last 24 hours, and more than 785,000 tests overall.

I saved the testing data for last, because that will be the focus for my update today.

Testing is a powerful tool that helps us limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect people from infection.

One in seven Albertans have now been tested at least once, and that is a significant accomplishment for our province.

Our labs have come a long way since COVID-19 was first diagnosed in Alberta.

We have consistently had the most open testing approach in Canada.

Our labs have conducted more than 316,000 asymptomatic surveillance tests.  

These are tests on people who had no symptoms and were not part of an outbreak or a close contact of someone who had COVID-19.

Of these 316,000 tests completed so far, just 0.1% have come back positive — meaning that 99.9% of asymptomatic tests on those who had no known exposure have come back negative.

This is encouraging.

This testing shows that broad asymptomatic testing is not primarily useful in identifying a significant number of new cases.

However, it can help us track the spread of the virus in Alberta, which aids our public health response.

We are now about three weeks away from schools reopening. I know that many parents and school staff have questions about whether or not they should be tested.

Today, I want to provide some advice.

In addition to the most critical testing of anyone with symptoms, I am recommending that all teachers and school-based staff, even without symptoms, should get tested once before school begins in September, and regularly throughout the year.

This is entirely voluntary.

However, asymptomatic testing of staff in school settings will help us with a baseline understanding for school re-entry…

….and, ultimately, help us even more closely monitor the virus in the coming year.

My recommendation today comes with a caveat.

There are about 90,000 school staff and teachers across Alberta. Our testing capacity has expanded greatly, but no province in Canada can collect and process that many tests all at once.

I am asking teachers and educational staff to arrange testing proactively. Do not wait until the day before you are set to return to your school.

More information will be shared via your superintendents in the coming days.

I am also asking other Albertans who feel completely well and who have no known exposure to COVID-19 to delay their testing until after September 1.

This will help ensure the system has capacity
so that all school staff can access this voluntary testing before the school year starts.

To be clear: if you have any symptoms, no matter your occupation, you can and should still get tested.

If you have no symptoms, but you are a close contact of a case of COVID, or part of an outbreak, you can and should still get tested.

If you feel completely well, and have not been in contact with a confirmed case, we are just asking you to consider waiting until after September 1st to book a test.

Parents can continue to access testing for their children whenever they want.

However, I am only recommending that children be tested if they have symptoms or pre-existing medical conditions that have symptoms similar to COVID-19.

This is because, in students, our priority is to make testing available to all those with ongoing mild symptoms that may mimic COVID-19, such as allergies.

Parents should book all such tests through Alberta Health Services. Do not go to your local participating pharmacy as these tests are for those who have no symptoms and no exposure.

Having a test done before school to ensure these unchanged symptoms are not a sign of COVID helps as a baseline for parents to monitor from as their children go back to school.

In addition, all parents should monitor children for new symptoms. This is part of the daily routine that all of us parents must start getting used to.

If children experience new symptoms at any time, then testing is the right choice and available through AHS.

I know that testing wait times have been a concern, and we are expanding public testing capacity to help meet this demand.

I will have more to say about that in the weeks ahead.

Now, it’s important to remember that there is no magic bullet for COVID-19.

Testing – while a powerful tool – is only one layer that we are using to help limit the spread of COVID-19 in schools.

Even more important are the other measures in place, such as daily symptom screening, enhanced sanitizing, washing hands, use of masks, and adjusting class routines and school approaches to minimize spread.

We are creating public health protocols to help schools and parents know exactly what will happen if a student or staff tests positive.

I hope to be able to share these protocols very soon.

I know that this is a difficult time for many of us. There is still no risk-free approach to living with COVID-19.

It is natural that many feel anxious about the coming school year.

I believe that, when everyone in the school community does their part, we can limit the number of cases in schools and keep children, staff, and teachers as safe as possible.

Jurisdictions around the world are trying to determine the most effective way to reopen schools.

We will continue to watch their experiences closely and continue to act on the best evidence available both from other jurisdictions and our own local evidence.

This is part of living in the new normal of COVID-19. We must be agile, adaptive and guided by the evidence as it emerges.

As I’ve said before, COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon. We all need to embrace our new normal, and that includes self-care.

I will be taking a few days off to spend time with my family.

We will continue to update the website every weekday with new numbers and my next availability will be next Tuesday afternoon.

I want to end today on a positive note.

I understand that living in uncertainty can be disheartening and difficult, and the news lately has been hard to listen to.

It’s important in times like these to remember the many good things that are happening…

…the ways that Albertans are supporting each other and showing their care.

The AlbertaCares hashtag has highlighted some stories lately that can remind us of this.

I want to recognize Eva Ketch-mark, a 12-year-old who donated her 4H steer to the Lethbridge Soup Kitchen, providing meat that will last for six months…

I want to recognize the Rockpointe Church volunteer youth group who took care of outdoor maintenance and gardening at the Bethany Care Society in Cochrane….so its residents could enjoy the outdoor space during this pandemic.

And I want to recognize the Sage Seniors Association, which distributed 200 personal protective equipment packages to seniors in Edmonton.

These serve as important reminders that we are surrounded by people who care.

We are part of something bigger than ourselves, and, as always, we are all in this together.

Thank you, and I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.