Check against delivery.
Thank you, Tom, and good afternoon everyone.
Before I begin, I want to note that we do not have sign language interpretation for today’s update. This is due to a last minute scheduling change.
I know that many Albertans benefit from the amazing work of these interpreters. The services they provide are important, and I sincerely apologize to anyone who is impacted by their absence today.
We will ensure that they are available for our next update.
Today, I will provide a brief update on cases identified over the weekend and will do my best to answer whatever questions you may have.
On Friday, September 11, we identified 105 new cases and the provincial lab completed more than 12,700 tests.
For Saturday, we identified 173 new cases. On that day, our labs set a new record by completing 18,919 tests.
Finally, yesterday, we detected 140 new cases and conducted 14,451 tests.
I want to take a moment to recognize the significant efforts made by the Alberta Precision Laboratories and Alberta Health Services teams over the weekend to bring in extra staff for surge capacity to tackle the backlog of samples.
We should not expect daily testing to reach 19,000 tests per day – this has never been our goal to reach this level on a daily basis.
What it does show is the dedication of these teams to help reduce lab testing turn-around times, and this past weekend is one more example of all the work that is going into improving that metric.
Although our testing numbers from Saturday and Sunday are somewhat higher than they have been in the past while, put in context of the over 33,000 samples run in these two days, these identified case numbers are still manageable by public health.
As of yesterday we had 37 people in hospital with COVID-19 with seven of those in ICU.
Sadly, I must also inform you that 1 more death was reported over the weekend.
To date, there have been 254 lives lost to COVID during this pandemic.
Each one is a loss for their friends and family, and I know that many throughout our province continue to grieve.
Many others have lost loved ones to other causes during this time as well, and every death, no matter the cause, leaves a gap that we must grieve in different ways than we are used to, given pandemic precautions.
My sympathies go out to all those who have experienced loss and grief in this time.
Another toll on Albertans has been increased anxiety as we all are faced with living in a time of uncertainty.
We have heard that this is impacting students and teachers, with intense scrutiny on school re-opening.
I want to be very clear that we continue to act quickly to limit the spread of COVID-19 in schools, and that our commitment to transparency in reporting should not be seen as a heightened risk of COVID-19 in school environments.
With community transmission levels higher in the past few weeks, it is not surprising to see some cases in students and staff of schools.
We continue to identify cases in all sectors of our society.
What matters are the interventions in place to prevent spread in the school environment.
We will be closely monitoring these interventions to be able to make any necessary adjustments if needed.
As of this morning, Alberta Health Services has confirmed 42 cases that were present at 35 schools while infectious.
Since Friday’s update, we have confirmed three more school outbreaks, none of which have been shown to be associated with in-school transmission.
The new outbreaks were identified at:
- Lester B. Pearson High School and Auburn Bay School in Calgary Zone, and
- Ross Shepard High School in Edmonton.
All parents and guardians at these schools were directly notified by AHS and the school over the weekend, ensuring that they had the information they needed before school started today.
We have now updated the school map to keep Albertans informed as well.
As I mentioned last week, while we are calling these outbreaks, it is important to keep these in perspective.
We recognize that it’s important to act quickly when cases of COVID-19 are identified, which is why we are treating only two cases who are in a school while infectious within a 14-day span as outbreaks.
This is a very cautious use of this term.
As soon as even a small number of cases are identified, all necessary precautions are put in place within a school.
We believe this is important to containing the virus before it has a chance to spread.
However, two cases is also an extremely low threshold to meet, especially in larger schools.
I want parents to understand that notification of a small outbreak is a sign that health officials are acting quickly and doing everything possible to support students’ health and learning.
Also, while it’s important for Albertans to stay informed, we should remember that a small outbreak of two cases at a school does not indicate that other classes are at risk or that the broader community faces increased risks of being exposed to COVID-19.
All outbreaks are still under investigation by AHS.
As I mentioned, so far, there is no evidence in any of these outbreaks that transmission has happened within the school.
This means that the virus was brought into the school, rather than being spread inside.
We are also taking a very cautious approach to identifying close contacts right now, so if a student comes to school while infectious with COVID, our current approach is typically to require that all student’s classmates to stay home for 14 days.
I recognize that this is very inconvenient for families, and I regret the impact this is having on those students and their families.
I want to thank those families who are working through this inconvenience over the next few weeks, as the reason for this approach is to gather information about who is most at risk of getting COVID from a school exposure.
This will enable us to target exclusions in the future to only those who are most at risk.
For now, our exclusions are broad to minimize risk of transmission and to evaluate our close contact definition.
Even with a cautious approach, it is likely that, as the school year continues, we will eventually see some examples of transmission in schools.
Our goal is to keep transmission as low as possible, but we cannot prevent it entirely without imposing restrictions that themselves have harmful impacts.
Living with COVID-19 means seeking balance between limiting the harms of COVID and limiting the harms of COVID restrictions.
This is yet another example of when and how we need to keep working together to keep each other safe, both from COVID-19 and from a need for more aggressive restrictions.
I have been asked many times about when Alberta will see a second wave this fall, and how it will impact our schools, workplaces and continuing care facilities.
The answer is that we may well see rises in cases this fall. What this looks like is up to us.
Whether we see a sharp spike in cases, or whether we continue to see ripples where cases rise, level off and then fall, this depends on how dedicated we all are to following the measures in place, and how we collectively respond when cases are rising.
Our success in reducing the spread of the virus through community transmission will be determined by the actions of all us.
I know this is a message that we have heard many times before.
For half a year, Albertans have been following public health guidelines:
- washing their hands,
- keeping a two-metre distance from others,
- staying home if they’re feeling unwell
- and getting tested for the virus if they have any symptoms or have come into close contact with someone who is infectious.
For six months, we have made many sacrifices.
We cancelled or reconfigured our family gatherings. Weddings were postponed or altered and we have changed how we visit with loved ones in continuing care facilities.
Our efforts helped prevent the spread, avoided overwhelming our hospitals and protected those around us.
As we head into this fall and winter, our dedication cannot waiver.
We are now into fall, with Thanksgiving only a few weeks ahead and, before we know it, winter.
Cold weather will bring many of us into closer contact.
The best thing we can do to limit any second wave, to ensure a safe Halloween and to support a healthy school year is to keep community transmission low.
Each of us continues to be a shield protecting our family, friends and neighbours.
We can all help prevent school and workplace outbreaks by being extra diligent in the weeks ahead.
If we all keep washing our hands, staying home when sick and taking all the other small but crucial measures to prevent COVID-19 from spreading, we can and will come through it together.
Thank you and I’m happy to take any questions you may have.