COVID-19 Updates: State of public health emergency declared.
Check against delivery.
Thank you, Tom and good afternoon everyone.
Before I begin my update, I want to address some questions and concerns I have heard about the outbreak in the Kidanemhret Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church in Calgary.
First of all, I want to express my gratitude and appreciation to church leaders and members who proactively went for testing and who are working with Alberta Health Services to understand this outbreak.
Second, I want to clarify that the recommendations I talked about on Monday apply only to those who attended the church from August 9 to 23.
That is, I recommend that anyone who was at the church on those dates go for testing, that children who attended the church should temporarily stay home from school while information about the outbreak is being gathered so we can better understand who is at risk.
Anyone who did not attend between August 9 and 23, even if they are a church member, is under no additional restrictions.
I cannot emphasize enough that supporting those involved in outbreaks is critical to our collective success.
I have heard that this community is now being targeted and stigmatized because of this outbreak, and I will say again that when that happens, we are all put at risk.
Stigmatizing those with this illness only increases the possibility that fear of this negative attention will keep people from being tested and will drive the virus underground.
We cannot fight COVID in the dark, and no region or group in society is immune from this virus.
We are all best served by offering support and compassion to those who are dealing with outbreaks or isolated cases.
Turning to today’s update, we identified 130 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday, and the provincial lab completed 9,500 new tests.
I’m pleased to announce there were no new deaths identified in the province.
Alberta currently has 1,415 active cases.
46 people are in the hospital, including 9 in intensive care.
Today I want to talk about a few changes we are making to our guidance and orders.
First, we are making a minor change to our guidance for casinos and racing entertainment centres to allow table games.
They can occur provided physical distancing measures, barriers and other health measures are in place, as outlined in the guidance online.
Second, I want to talk about an updated framework for continuing care facilities that will be coming into effect in two weeks.
Earlier this morning, I signed a new order to update our approach in these settings.
As part of the commitment I made to Albertans on Monday, I would like to explain what this order means.
Throughout this pandemic, we have closely monitored Alberta’s continuing care facilities.
These residents are most at risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19.
As I’ve said before, the strict restrictions implemented this spring helped limit the spread of the virus, but took a toll on other aspects of residents’ health.
We must always balance the need to protect people from COVID-19 with the need to support the overall health and well-being of those who are being protected.
These residents need joy, hope, and connection, just like the rest of us.
Since updating our approach in July, we have continued to closely monitor continuing care facilities.
While there have been a limited number of outbreaks, we have not seen a trend in these being caused by visitors.
Rather, it seems that when community transmission levels are high, the risk of staff being exposed outside of work also rises.
Most of our outbreaks in these facilities have been limited to one or two cases with no onward spread, thanks to the hard work of staff and management in these locations with the support of Alberta Health Services.
We have also heard from residents, operators and families who are seeking greater adaptability in applying our current restrictions when risks are low.
The updated order signed today will help address their concerns.
It will allow operators of continuing care facilities more flexibility in adapting restrictions to balance the needs of their residents.
Operators can now shift to a risk-based approach when residents return after being away from the site.
In our previous approach, when residents left the facility, we used a measure of time spent off the site to determine when a resident needed to be in quarantine when they returned.
This meant that any resident who was offsite overnight, for any reason, needed to be in quarantine for 14 days when they returned and there were no restrictions on those who left for shorter periods of time.
We heard clearly that this did not serve residents well.
There are times when someone can leave the site for a weekend in a very low risk way, and times when a resident may choose to attend an event for only part of a day, such as a family wedding, that may put them at higher risk of exposure.
Because of this, we are adjusting the requirements for quarantine on return to the facility to apply to high-risk outings, independent of the length of time the resident is away.
Medium and low risk outings will have less stringent precautions applied, such as continuous masking of residents once they have returned, or enhanced symptom monitoring.
Facilities can also choose to permit volunteers back on-site, while providing volunteers with guidance for maintaining safety.
We have heard of staffing challenges with some of the requirements like regular screening of staff and visitors and this could be addressed with volunteers helping to achieve this requirement.
So we are making adjustments to help operators with additional tools like the ability to use volunteers to support the safety and well-being of residents.
We are increasing flexibility when risk is low, but not reducing the overall protections in place.
Other measures, including staff and visitor symptom and known exposure screening and restrictions on staff working at more than one facility, continue to remain in place.
I encourage residents and loved ones to be patient, and give operators time to implement this order.
While the order was signed this morning, it does not come into effect for two weeks, giving operators time to make the necessary adjustments.
I would like to thank the operators and staff of our continuing care facilities for remaining vigilant, and for keeping the safety of their employees and residents a top priority.
I also want to thank those who are working hard this week as students return to classrooms.
I know that many Albertans continue to have questions about schools.
As students return to the classroom this week, including my own, who start tomorrow, as a parent I know that we are feeling a mix of emotions.
Some parents are relieved that their children will get to see their friends and teachers in person again.
Some parents are relieved that they have kept their children home for remote learning.
At the same time, we are worried about their health and well-being, and have anxiety over the uncertainty of our new normal.
We are, after all, the first parents in several generations whose children are going to school during such a serious global pandemic.
Sending them back to school means putting our trust in each other, in the public health officials who are working with school authorities to help keep everyone safe, in the teachers and school staff who are leading the classrooms, and in our fellow parents who are screening their children for symptoms each morning.
It also includes trusting our children to remember to follow new rules to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
We must also trust ourselves, as parents, that we have made the right choices for our own situations, and that we continue to make the right choices to protect their school and our community.
One the most important things we can do as parents is to complete the health assessment with our children each day.
I know this is not an easy task, particularly in arranging childcare when parents need to work.
But today I want to highlight the importance of keeping children home if they are unwell, and staying home if you are sick too.
Wearing masks and keeping our distance reduces our risks of spreading the virus, but they cannot eliminate all risk of exposure.
It may sound over simplistic, but keeping sick children home from school will be critical to limiting exposure in schools and keeping schools open under Scenario 1.
It will be equally critical in keeping our workplaces safe and limiting community transmission in the weeks and months ahead.
I know that this will be challenging. Having a sick child at home is more complicated than it was before the pandemic.
Now we will all have to plan which parent will provide comfort, so the other parent can support other children and household members.
And in households with only one parent, this becomes very challenging.
We will also need to think about practical steps, such as how to limit contact between a sick child and other members at home, and how to keep the family functioning while waiting for the symptoms to end and test results to come back.
The same goes for parents too.
If we are feeling unwell this fall and winter, we need to stay home, arrange to be tested and continue to isolate until our symptoms are gone.
We all need to reject the mindset that working while sick is a sign of toughness, or that working through a cough or fever shows dedication to our jobs.
Staying home when sick is a good thing. It shows we care about the health of our family and about the health of those around us.
I know that this will be difficult for many parents, and that for some staying home may create difficult financial, personal and other stresses.
I also know we are all longing to get back to how things used to be, but COVID-19 is not going anywhere.
We all have no choice but to work together and support each other during the days ahead.
Staying home when sick is crucial to our success during the coming months.
This is not the time to let our guard down.
We are all in this together, and by continuing to work together, we will get through this.
Thank you and I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have.