Check against delivery.
Thank you, Tom and good afternoon everyone.
Before I begin, I would like to let Albertans know that we have made a small change to our guidance on swimming to allow indoor hot tubs, dry saunas and steam saunas to open, provided enhanced cleaning, distancing between cohorts and other measures are put in place.
To date, we have not seen any cases linked to outdoor hot tubs or whirlpools which have been open for several months and other provinces like British Columbia have already allowed their indoor whirlpools and saunas to safely open without reporting concerns.
Turning to today’s numbers: we identified 113 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday.
43 people are currently in the hospital, including 7 in intensive care.
Alberta currently has 1,494 active cases, which is 91 fewer than yesterday, but still a concerning total.
Sadly, I must report five additional deaths today. These deaths occurred in the last few days and I extend my condolences to the loved ones who are forced to grieve during this difficult time.
I know that schools and our current case numbers are top-of-mind for many of us.
As I mentioned yesterday, we are doing media availabilities every day this week to try and answer questions to the best of our ability.
To date, Alberta Health Services has confirmed 24 cases that were present at 21 schools while infectious.
Since my update yesterday, as of this morning Alberta had confirmed its first three school outbreaks, with 2 confirmed cases in individuals at the following schools.
- At Henry Wise Wood High School in Calgary,
- At the St. Wilfred Elementary School in Calgary,
- And at Chinook High School in Lethbridge.
I want to stress that while we are calling these outbreaks, this is a very cautious use of the term.
We are acting out of an abundance of caution by treating two cases who are in a school while infectious within a 14-day span as an outbreak, even when the cases are within one family.
This is an extremely low threshold to meet.
All outbreaks are still under investigation by AHS.
There is no evidence of transmission within the school in any of these outbreaks.
Rather, in each of these schools, there are two confirmed cases that were present in the school while infectious.
We are striving to help parents have the information they need to best understand the risk of exposure that their children face.
Any time one confirmed case is identified as having been infectious while in a school, and any time an outbreak is declared, all parents and guardians at the school will receive a letter sent by AHS through the school.
This is sent as soon as either of the situations is identified to ensure that those who are most impacted, the staff and families at the school, are informed of the outbreak, the actions that are being taken, and any next steps.
It also ensures that parents with children can make timely choices about what this means for their family.
We recognize that the public has a keen interest in this information as well, which is why the map was updated today to reflect these three outbreaks.
We are committed to updating the map every weekday with information that we have validated as of that morning.
Alberta is the first province in Canada to launch this kind of interactive map.
I want to stress that the map is a tool to keep the public informed, but it is not the vehicle for alerting parents when there is an outbreak at their school.
That is done by Alberta Health Services and the school.
There will be times that parents are notified of a COVID-19 case or outbreak during the day, but the map would not be updated until the following afternoon, given our daily reporting timelines.
We will be having ongoing discussions to make sure that our reporting process is meeting the needs of parents, teachers, and students, and are committed to making any necessary adjustments to provide clear communication about the risks in schools.
As mentioned yesterday, this includes discussing how to post information about schools on a map when an alert with a single case is identified.
Some stakeholders have expressed concern that this will unfairly violate patient confidentiality, especially in smaller schools and communities.
We are currently working to find solutions to address these concerns.
This is new for all of us and I recognize that many Albertans want as much information as possible.
I am committed to working with all of our partners to keep improving the reporting process around outbreaks and school cases.
I am also happy to note that the provincial lab completed 9,711 tests yesterday.
During the last week, our labs have averaged more than 11,000 tests a day, which is a testament to the incredible work that is being done, day in and day out, by so many people.
Alberta’s first official case of COVID-19 was detected by the labs on March 5th.
Many have asked whether it was possible that cases went undetected before this time. In the past, I have said that it is possible.
With any virus, including influenza and H1N1, only a fraction of the cases are detected by the health system, often because individuals don’t seek treatment or experience symptoms so mild they are not even aware they had the virus.
However, it is important for us to understand when the virus began spreading in Alberta.
That is why earlier this summer, Alberta Health Services and Alberta Precision Laboratories undertook a retrospective study of more than 23,000 samples that were originally taken for other respiratory illnesses.
This additional testing did not impact lab testing turn-around times in the rest of the system.
These samples were originally collected between December 1st, 2019 and March 7th, 2020, two days after the first case was detected.
From these more than 23,000 samples, I am pleased to report that we detected only 1 case of COVID-19.
This was from a sample collected on February 24, 2020 – 9 days before our first detected case.
The individual had returned from travel in the United States and was originally tested for influenza, but not COVID-19, as Alberta had not yet expanded its testing criteria at that time.
We did so just a few weeks later, the first province in Canada to broadly expand our travel testing approach.
The fact that we found only a single retrospective case, and that it was detected not long before March 5th is positive news.
As a comparison, similar retrospective testing from China is reported to have found a first case in November, almost two months before official confirmation.
Similarly, France’s retrospective testing has found that its first detected case was actually collected in December, in someone with no travel history.
Our results highlight the strength of Alberta’s pandemic preparedness and our response in the early days of this pandemic.
From where we stand now, I have heard Albertans’ concerns about the length of time it is taking to get their test results back.
We are working hard to streamline every facet of the testing and notification process to reduce wait times across the province.
That’s why I am pleased to announce that Albertans can now get their COVID-19 test results – positive or negative – through text messages or through an auto-dialler phone system.
Albertans will be able to select their choice of notification options when they book their appointment.
This is in addition to the existing auto-dialler system, previously used only for negative results, and, of course, the option to access records on My Health Records online.
It’s important to note that those who test positive for COVID-19 will still be contacted by phone by an Alberta Health Services public health professional for follow-up and case management.
The text messages or auto-dialler option simply gives people the ability to be notified as soon as the lab result is available, with the follow up phone call for positive results to ensure that people understand what to do to prevent spread, and to complete contact tracing.
Also, if you opt-in to receive a text message, you can receive your test result anytime, day or night, as soon as the lab result is available.
Parents and guardians will also now be able to consent to receive automated test results for dependents.
Each individual test result will be delivered by a separate call or text.
This is another step forward and will help us get test results to Albertans quicker, which will be vital to limiting the spread of COVID-19 in the coming weeks and months.
I encourage all Albertans who arrange for a COVID-19 test to sign up for the results approach that works best for them.
This notification is only one part of the process, and we are working to expand capacity and speed in other areas as well.
I hope to be able to share more in the coming days.
I know this is a challenging time, but I want to remind Albertans that we have dealt with uncertainty and overcome rising case numbers before.
The solutions remain the same. Our public health system must be nimble, watching the spread of the virus closely and responding based on the best available evidence and epidemiology within the province.
And we, as citizens, must each do a little more, take a little more care, to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
The day-to-day choices that each of us make, matter.
We have the power to slow transmission in our communities, if we all work together.
Thank you and I am happy to answer any questions you may have.