Check against delivery.

Thank you, Sherene, and good afternoon everyone.  

Before I share numbers for the past 24 hours, I want to talk about shame. This is a common theme I have been hearing over the past few weeks, reported by our contact tracers who are talking with people who test positive and their contacts. This worries me.

Shame is an emotion that drives people to hide, or to cover up what they are ashamed of.

It can be triggered by anger and judgment from others, or by an individual’s own beliefs about what has happened.

The more that COVID drives shame, the harder it will be to prevent, as people will be less willing to be forthcoming about their symptoms, less willing to be tested, and less willing to be honest with contact tracers about their activities.

We need to fight shame with compassion. Let’s be honest. Living with COVID-19 is really hard.

We are all tired. It is easy to be frustrated or even angry if our lives are disrupted further by an exposure to COVID from someone in our circle.

And yet, many of the cases and outbreaks we are investigating have been triggered by a series of unfortunate events.

I confess that I sometimes forget to sanitize my hands after opening a door and touching the door handle. None of us is perfect.

We all make mistakes. We are all trying the best we can to follow the rules as much as possible, but one slip at the wrong time and place can lead to transmission.

We must be compassionate with those who test positive. We must support those who have even mild symptoms to stay home and away from others without shame.

Our success depends on this.

As we head into one of the last weekends of summer, I want to share a quote by Mary Anne Radmacher that was shared with me a few weeks ago that I think is helpful as we continue this pandemic journey.

She says: “Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, I'll try again tomorrow.” If we face COVID-19 with courage and compassion, we will get through.

Turning to today’s numbers: We identified 103 new cases in the last 24 hours. There are now 1,084 active cases in the province.

Currently, 43 people are in hospital, including 12 in intensive care.

Tragically, I am reporting one additional death today. It is tempting to become numbed to these numbers after a while, yet each number represents a person who has left behind grieving family and friends.

I offer my condolences to all who are grieving losses of any kind right now.

Overall, more than 855,000 tests have been completed on over 690,000 people.

The lab completed more than 9,200 tests in the last 24 hours.

I anticipate these increases are likely, due, in part, to teachers and school authority staff who are choosing to be tested.

I continue to encourage all teachers and school authority staff to get tested before the start of the school year.

As I have mentioned, this testing is helpful as a baseline only, and will not guarantee safety in our schools. I know that many parents, teachers and students still have questions and worries about Alberta’s school re-entry plan.  

Many of these questions are around what evidence informed the public health recommendations we provided to the school return plan.

My advice is based on a review of evidence on what has worked or not worked around the world, and on what science and medicine have learned about children and their experiences with the COVID-19 virus.

Some may wonder why we would reopen schools at all during a pandemic. My answer is that we must look at the overal health of our population, and everything that contributes to health.

We cannot simply focus on COVID-19 alone, as there are other risks that must be factored in.

We know a great deal more about the virus now than we knew six months ago when we were dealing with our first cases.

We also know, very clearly, that measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID came with their own risks to health and wellness.

We must learn how to live with this virus, and how to find the right balance between preventing uncontrolled COVID spread and preventing the harms that come from shutting down essential parts of our society.

The Canadian Pediatric Society, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other pediatric organizations agree that a safe return to school is critical to the physical and mental health
and wellbeing of students and families.

School is about more than education. It is equally important to a child’s socialization, mental health, food security through school nutrition programs, and protection from other harms that may result from additional stress or financial hardship if parents are not able to work. 

The multi-faceted value of school is clear.

To open schools safely, my recommendations were based on a review of all available evidence, including summaries by many groups such as the European Centre for Disease control, and AHS’ COVID-19 Scientific Advisory Group.

I looked at data on infection rates and transmission patterns by age, and at models of school closure and the impacts of community transmission levels on school reopening experiences in other countries.

There is a dizzying array of information available on schools and COVID-19 transmission in children.

It can feel hard to make sense of it all, especially when it sometimes seems to be contradictory.

That’s why it is so important to look at the entire picture, not just one or two examples.

What this review told us is this:

First of all, if children are infected with COVID-19, they are more likely to be mildly sick, and fewer are hospitalized.

Secondly, childhood infections, particularly in younger children, do not seem to drive community transmission. This was equally true in places like Sweden, where elementary schools never closed and in Finland, where schools did close.

Third, young children seem less likely than adults to infect others while older children seem to transmit infection in a way more similar to adults. 

This was seen in high school outbreaks in France and Israel where elementary schools in similar areas did not experience the same spread.

Having said this, it’s important to remember that the outbreak in France occurred early in the pandemic, before public health measures were in place, and Israel’s outbreak occurred in a context with almost 40 students per classroom, and during a time when a heat wave meant that mask use was paused.

Finally, it is abundantly clear that one of the main predictors of successful school reopening in COVID is the level of community transmission outside the school.

Places with high community transmission have experienced much more spread in schools than places with low transmission.

Places in the United States, like Georgia where school outbreaks have recently been identified, have a much higher daily new case rate than Alberta – in Georgia’s case, this is more than 12 times our new daily case rate.

It is also encouraging to look at some examples of COVID-19 exposures that happened in schools before school shut-downs occurred.

There are several case reports from around the world, including Australia, Ireland, France and Finland where a total of 17 COVID-19 cases in all these countries were identified as having attended a school while infectious.

Detailed reports of these cases concluded that of the over 1,900 contacts who were identified between all of these cases in these four countries, on follow up, resulted in only one case of secondary transmission. This was before any COVID-19 modifications were in place in schools and, this included high school settings in both Ireland and Australia.

We must take the pandemic seriously, and we also need to look at the whole picture.

We must consider all the risks to our children and our communities.

We can reasonably expect some infections at schools.

Our job is to limit the number of these infections, prevent large outbreaks, and prevent onward spread of these sporadic cases.

There are families for whom the risk of a sporadic infection is significant, due to chronic conditions in the student or a family member. Each family must weigh their options and make the best choice for their situation.

Teachers and school authority staff, like any workers, will need to be protected from hazards. This remains true.

As always, I continue to monitor new evidence as it emerges, and will adapt my advice on the school re-entry plan as needed.

As a parent of school-aged children, I have decided the value of in school learning outweighs the risks for my family.

That’s why I’m sending my children back to school in September.

But I want to be clear, there is no wrong decision about a return to in school or online learning.

Each parent is uniquely positioned to make the best decision for their family, and school authorities have worked to provide innovative options to support student learning wherever that may be.

Regardless of your choice, taking precautions is our new normal for all ages, including our children.

I believe, together we can help our children reclaim this part of their educational and social development, and minimize the risk to students and staff in schools.

Today we are also posting updated detailed guidance on how we will respond to any students or staff who have symptoms in schools and what protocols will be followed if COVID cases are identified in a school. This can be found online on our COVID-19 website. And I hope this will help answer many of the questions we have been receiving.

Again, I want to state, we are all in this together and we will succeed if we work together.

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