Check against delivery.

Thank you, Sherene, and good afternoon everyone.

Before I get to today’s COVID update, I need to update information I shared last week about Bright Horizons Day Care and Out-of-School Care.

At that time, our numbers showed that the facility had six active cases over several weeks, however this was incorrect.  

Five cases have been linked to Bright Horizons: two staff and two children in the toddler room, and one child in the out-of-school room who had a source of exposure outside the facility.

I commend Bright Horizons for being more than cooperative in providing information and working with the team at Alberta Health Services, and I apologize for the incorrect information that was previously reported.

Turning to today’s update, I will share the data over the last 72 hours.

For the 24 hours on Friday, August 28, we identified 133 new cases and the provincial lab completed 10,220 tests.

For Saturday, August 29, we identified 184 new cases. On that day, 11,205 tests were completed.

Finally, over the last 24 hours we detected 109 new cases and 12,244 tests were completed.

Sadly, I must report two more deaths over the weekend – a male in his 80s in the Edmonton Zone and a male in his 90s in the North Zone.

My sympathies go out to all who lost loved ones this past weekend, whether to COVID-19 or any other cause.

Today, there are 1,370 active cases in the province. Forty-four people are in the hospital, including 8 in intensive care.

In all, 12,293 Albertans have recovered.

I also must report several outbreaks of note in the province.

There is a new outbreak I am reporting today linked to Calgary’s Kidanemhret (Kee-da-na meher-Rut) Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo (Tuh-wa-he-doh) Church, with 57 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

This outbreak was just identified in the last several days, and public health teams are still working to trace contacts and understand the full scope of this outbreak.

As a precaution, as we did for previous faith gathering outbreaks, we are asking anyone who attended this church in the last two weeks to get tested, stay home if they have any symptoms and wait to hear from public health.

Children who attended this church in the last two weeks, should not go to school this week as a precaution. 

While we don’t know yet if all who attended this church are close contacts, the case numbers we have seen to date are raising concerns that there could be more cases and we want those in this community to have this information.

As a precaution, we are making this request regarding children staying home from school to give our public health teams time to do the investigation and provide clarity to the congregation.

It is critical, as always, that members of this church be supported and not targeted or stigmatized. An outbreak can occur anywhere, and those involved need our compassion in this difficult time.

At workplaces, we were informed of an outbreak at an Edmonton Wal-Mart Supercentre, with 8 active cases among staff.

It is not clear at this time if these staff were exposed at work, or if there is a common exposure outside of the workplace.

The Lilydale chicken plant in Calgary has 24 cases, 3 of which are recovered and the Cargill Case Ready plant has one active case and 6 recovered cases.  

The Harmony meat plant has 66 active cases and 3 recovered cases.

I want to emphasize that management and staff involved in all of the outbreaks are working closely with public health to prevent the spread.

I have said this previously, but it is worth repeating today. Our goal is to keep daily case numbers low, avoid outbreaks, and manage them carefully when they occur.

When I say collectively, I mean all of us – you, me, health practitioners, families, employers and workers; retail managers and associates. Through our actions, each one of us has the ability to either pass along the virus, or stop its spread. 

Our case numbers over the past three days raise concerns and we will be looking closely at the new numbers to determine if any additional steps need to be taken.

School is starting this week in many places across the province, and the success of schools reopening depends on all of us.

As teachers welcome students back to classrooms today or prepare for the return of students this week or next, I would like to clarify Order 33-2020 that was issued over the weekend. 

I am very sorry for the anxiety and confusion that this order has sparked.

This timing was not meant to hide information. Ironically, it was meant to be transparent.

The intent was to ensure school authorities knew about the order, which codifies the guidance that has been online for weeks, before the order came into effect today.

I understand the concerns, especially as we move forward quickly, and the need to ensure that Albertans have accurate information.

I have committed going forward to a goal of only posting new orders Monday through Thursday and whenever a new order is posted, I will share this information online via social media.

My team and I continue to work closely with school authorities to provide accurate information and evidence to support the back to school experience for parents, teachers, students and administrators.

I must be clear that the order that was issued this weekend does not change our policy or my advice. Reports that indicate otherwise are not accurate.

No policy has changed since mandatory masking was announced on August 4.

As a part of a number of new school safety measures to combat COVID-19, mask use for Grade 4 to 12 students, and all school staff, is now mandatory.

This applies to staff and teachers in all settings outside seated classroom instruction where physical distancing of 2 metres cannot be maintained.

Students will be required to wear masks in all shared and common areas including hallways and on school busses.

I also want to clarify the order as it relates to physical distancing between students inside the classroom.

Physical distancing of two metre spacing whenever possible is a useful public health measure to help prevent the spread of disease. Increasing the space between persons decreases the risk of transmission.

In schools with respect to implementing the masking policy, we recognize that there could be impacts on communication and learning and so in our policy announced in early August and in our school guidance online we have always stated that masking is not required when the following is met.

Specifically, where 2 metres is not possible between desks, the greatest possible spacing is in place. And if 2 metres cannot be arranged between desks or tables, students should be arranged so they are not facing each other. For example, they should be arranged in rows rather than in small groups of four or a semi circle.

That way, if a student coughs or sneezes, they are not likely to cough or sneeze directly on the face of another student.

Non-medical masks are not required while students are seated in the classroom during instruction if following the physical distancing guidance that I have just articulated. This has been part of our school guidance for several weeks.

If close contact between students, or students and teachers or staff is occurring as a result of non-seated classroom activity, in this case, non-medical masks should be used for the duration of the activity.

The intention is to allow students a break from mask-wearing in the classroom when they are seated and not facing each other, and desks are spaced as widely apart as possible.

This is not new.

I would also like to clarify information on in-school cohorts.

The intention of in-school cohorts in our guidance is to minimize the number of people who would be exposed, should an infectious case be identified at a school.

In-school cohorts should be limited to those who are in a class together and should be kept small – limiting the cohort to just that one class.

Teachers are only part of their students’ cohort if it is not possible for them to keep distanced from their students.

Teachers are not cohorted with each other, and in fact, the risk of adult-to-adult transmission in between staff and in shared staff areas may be higher than student to staff transmission, particularly in lower grades with younger children.

Teachers and staff need to stay attentive to take precautions in these shared areas, and not let their guard down simply because they are away from students.

The guidance also requires all teachers and staff to wear non-medical masks where physical distancing is not possible with each other.

The successful re-opening of schools depends on the choices each of us makes every day that collectively keep our community transmission low.

It depends on the planning that parents need to do to keep children home if they are even mildly sick.

It depends on our testing and notification system completing and refining the work that is currently underway to speed up turn around times and rapidly complete contact tracing.

It depends on school administration doing advance planning on responses to exposures in their school

And it depends on students, teachers and school staff doing their best to adjust to the new normal and helping each other to make the necessary changes.

One of the great things about our school system in Alberta is that students from a diversity of backgrounds come together to learn and develop.

That means there will be a diversity of experiences and perspectives around COVID-19 and school can be a place for safe and respectful dialogue about how to navigate our path forward together.

Another area of health that is important to consider as school begins is our mental health. COVID exacerbated or triggered anxiety for many people, and re-entering school is a time of significant change for all those involved.

It is a change from what daily life has been like for the past several months, but also a change from what we are used to in early September.

Change and uncertainty naturally bring on anxiety, and I encourage anyone who needs extra support in this time of transition to reach out to formal or informal supports.

Formal supports are available 24/7 by calling or texting the Kids’ Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 or the Mental Health Help Line at 1-877-303-2642.

Both of these numbers can be found online.

You can also go online to the Alberta Health Services website “Help in Tough Times”, which offers a wide array of resources and information on how to get help, and how to offer help to others.

If you have a family member or friend who you think might be suffering from anxiety, depression, or any other burden, reach out to them proactively to let them know you’re thinking about them.

These are tough times for many of us, and we need each other to get through.

There will be a lot of change for many families in the next few weeks, and I ask us all to be kind to each other.

Let’s do our best to be patient with each other as we learn to adjust to new routines, new expectations, and new challenges.

We will get through this next challenge as we have the ones before – by working together, relying on evidence and adjusting our approach when needed based on new information.

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