Check against delivery.
Thank you, Sherene, and good afternoon everyone.
With school opening next week, I know that concerns over the pandemic are adding to the usual back-to-school jitters.
I hope that parents, teachers, school authority staff and anyone who is concerned about school reopening has had a chance to look at the online toolkit produced by Alberta Education.
It provides a parent guide in seven languages on what you can do to prepare your child for the new school year.
The toolkit also lets you read all the guidance documents that apply to schools, including school re-entry, sports and libraries.
Those guidance documents are based on the best available science, and on reviews of educational experience from around the world.
They also provide the specific actions that all parties must take to keep students and staff safe and prevent spreading the virus in our schools.
I also hope that parents, teachers and anyone else with an interest in school reopening have had a chance to look at the Resource Guide for COVID-19 Outbreaks in Schools, which was released late last week.
That guide sets out specific protocols should a school experience a single person with symptoms, a confirmed case, or multiple cases leading to an outbreak being declared.
What is not specified in this document is what has to happen to trigger a school closure. This is intentional, and meant to ensure that each situation gets a full assessment.
Return to in school learning is complex, and a number of factors will inform any school closure decision.
Each situation will be different.
For example, it is possible that a social event outside of school results in spread, and many students who attend a school are impacted, either as cases or close contacts.
A school outbreak may be declared as a precaution during an investigation with this instance, but does not necessarily mean that the school environment is unsafe and should be closed.
Conversely, in an investigation of a small number of confirmed cases in a school, it may happen that a large number of exposures are identified, and closure of that school may be warranted based on that particular situation.
In order to ensure that all tools are available to public health and educational teams, as would be appropriate to the local context and situation, we are not pre-determining specific triggers for school closure.
We will be carefully monitoring the implementation of in-school learning in Alberta.
This close monitoring will be used to detect any early signs of concerns that will inform ongoing evaluation of our public health advice and school re-entry plan.
I know this may cause concern for parents and teachers who might prefer a single number to watch for.
I assure you that teams at AHS, Alberta Health and Alberta Education will monitor the situation in schools very closely.
We will be in frequent contact with school authorities and each other to exchange information.
We will be looking at factors such as absenteeism, school outbreaks, and community transmission rates.
I will continue to provide my best medical advice and Alberta evidence to help decision makers.
My advice will evolve, and will always be based on my assessment of the best balance of all health-supporting interventions in schools.
I have family members who teach and children in school, too. Both personally and professionally, I am committed to a successful return to school.
Now, I will turn to today’s update. I am pleased to report that 11,923 Albertans have now recovered from COVID-19.
We identified 108 new cases in the last 24 hours.
Six of those cases are at the Bright Horizons Day Care and Out-Of-School Care location.
The daycare closed on August 20. The infant and preschool room opened yesterday, August 26, because it had no reported positive cases.
And let me correct my previous statement, all 6 cases were not detected in the previous 24 hours.
These are cases that have been detected over the past several weeks.
We do continue to monitor the situation at Bright Horizons.
Today, there are 1,158 active cases in the province. Forty-nine people are in hospital, including seven in intensive care.
We completed 10,089 tests in the last 24 hours, bringing total tests to 922,397 so far, with 736,405 Albertans tested.
I must report two new deaths, bringing the total number of people who have died from this virus to 237.
Every one of them was a father, mother, son, daughter or other loved one to families and friends.
I offer my condolences to all who are grieving losses of any kind right now.
Protecting those we care about from sickness and death is why so many Albertans are taking distancing, sanitizing and masking seriously.
I thank those Albertans who are doing their part every day to stop the virus in its tracks.
I also want to thank school staff, administration and teachers as well as parents and students for all the work going into planning a successful re-entry to school.
Whether your family has students returning to school in person or online, this will be the first time any of us has gone back to school in a pandemic.
It is natural to feel nervous, excited, anxious, or any other emotion we may be feeling right now.
One thing that can help in addressing anxiety is information, and I want to address a few key questions I have received about schools.
One is about what happens if there is someone sick in a school group.
First, a student, teacher or staff member who develops symptoms at home cannot go to school.
Public health measures for schools include a screening questionnaire.
Parents should go through the questionnaire every morning before school to determine if the child can go to school or needs to stay home.
Students, teachers or staff who develop symptoms at school must be immediately isolated and sent home as soon as possible.
Anyone who is sick must stay home and away from others, and testing should be arranged through Alberta Health Services.
I want to remind everyone that pharmacies can only test people who have no symptoms and no known exposure.
If the person with symptoms tests positive for COVID, Alberta Health Services will identify and contact everyone who had close contact with that case, offer testing, and outline the isolation measures for those contacts.
Only the close contacts of that particular case are required to isolate.
Think of it like a relay race, only this is a race where the goal is to drop the baton.
If the first runner in a race (in this case, the COVID case) doesn’t give the baton to the second runner (in this case, the close contact), that second runner, the close contact, can’t pass the baton to the third.
Let me give you an example.
If my child is in a classroom where there has been a single confirmed case, and my child was in close contact with that case, they must stay home for 14 days.
While they are at home, they should be watched for symptoms, and they should not be in close contact with other family members for those 14 days.
If I and the rest of my family can stay distanced from them during this time, we do not need to also stay home.
Clearly, younger children will need someone to stay home with them, and they may also need close care.
If this is the case, one parent or guardian should be assigned to that responsibility, and others in the household should stay distanced if at all possible.
That way, if the contact becomes a case, there will be less likelihood that they will have passed the infection to others.
Another common question is how close contacts are determined. Generally speaking, anyone who has been within two metres of a case for a cumulative total of more than 15 minutes in a day without adequate protection would be considered a close contact.
There may be many classmates therefore who would be close contacts if a case was at school while infectious.
Also, any contact outside the classroom who shared food or drink, or had contact such as hugging or kissing, would be considered a close contact.
Non-medical masks are not considered sufficient protection for a student or teacher who has spent time in close contact in a classroom with an infectious COVID case.
So a student wearing mask could be considered a close contact, if again, they were within two metres for 15 minutes or more in the course of a day.
However, each case will be dealt with on an individual basis. Alberta Health Services’ investigators will determine who spent more than 15 minutes within two meters of the infectious case and they will provide advice and recommendations based on this assessment.
I have also been asked what constitutes an outbreak at a school.
We are defining an outbreak as two or more confirmed cases in staff members or students within a 14-day period, OR two or more confirmed cases that are linked to a school setting.
Parents, staff and teachers will be notified of outbreaks at the school that they attend or work at. They will also be informed if there is a single confirmed case identified in their school.
Confidentiality of the individuals involved will be protected.
But our protocols emphasize transparency at a school level to be sure everyone knows what is happening.
The school’s communication will also outline the next steps for staff, parents and students.
We will also publicly report on school outbreaks in line with other outbreak reporting.
If needed, Alberta Education will make decisions on alternative instructional delivery plans, or school closures, with input from local officials.
This will also be based on my best medical advice.
It’s also important to know that if an outbreak in the community poses an increased risk in a school, public health officials may direct schools to follow additional preventive measures.
I urge every parent to read the school resource guide and other guidance for yourself.
For added detail, please also read your child’s school and school authority’s specific COVID-19 plans.
Finally, I want to address the question about delays in accessing testing and completing notification and contact tracing.
The teams at Alberta Health Services have been working tirelessly to decrease the wait times, to speed up transportation of samples and entry into the lab, and to increase capacity of our frontline teams to notify people of their results and complete contact tracing.
This work is essential to get information on test results into people’s hands as quickly as possible and to complete contact tracing to make sure onward spread is minimized.
One key development in making this information access better is an update to MyHealth Records that was completed this week.
MyHealth Records is your portal to accessing your medical records, and it is the fastest, most convenient way for you to access your COVID-19 test results.
Effective immediately, when you sign up for MyHealth Records for the first time, you will now be able to access test results as soon as they are entered into the system.
This access expires after 30 days if account verification is not completed.
So please take the time to finish this step in order to keep your account available to you over the long term.
Albertans over the age of 14 can sign up to MyHealth Records on their own and view their COVID-19 test results, as well as other common lab results, immunizations, medication history and other personal health information.
There is a great deal of work being done by many people to protect our health in many ways, not just from COVID but from other risks as well.
Thank you to everyone who is giving their best work to making our new normal as vibrant and safe as possible.
Thank you, and I’m happy to take any questions.