Check against delivery.
Thank you, Tom, and good afternoon everyone.
Before I begin my update today, I would like to correct an error I made on Monday when answering a question about asymptomatic testing.
In my answer, I said that our testing of those who have no symptoms and no known COVID exposure has yielded, on average, only 7 positive results per 1,000 people tested.
The actual number is about 7 positive tests per 10,000 people tested, which again emphasizes the fact that this testing is not contributing significantly to the new cases that we are seeing. I apologize for any confusion this caused.
I would also like to recognize that today is World Patient Safety Day.
Patient safety is crucial to any health system, and I know that improving safety has been a priority in Alberta for years.
This year’s theme focuses on health worker safety, and it is a fitting one.
Every day, health workers commit to keeping those in their care safe from harm.
For them, this pandemic has brought new challenges, including illness, stigma, fatigue and even the risk of severe outcomes.
They have worked long hours and incredibly hard in stressful environments for months now, often while putting their own health and well-being at risk.
The success we have had in limiting spread, and the low number of cases seen in acute care and other settings, is a testament to their commitment to patient safety.
I want to take a moment to thank all the health care workers in Alberta for their dedication to patients and to safe, quality care.
We are grateful for all the work you do, and the way that you do it.
Turning to today’s update, we identified 146 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday and the provincial lab completed more than 13,000 tests.
Currently Alberta has 1,483 active cases.
41 people are currently in hospital, including 8 in intensive care.
There have been no additional deaths since our last update.
This pandemic has forced us to talk a lot about case numbers and data trends, but I want to remind us all that every person who contracts COVID-19 needs our support and compassion during a difficult time and each of these numbers represents a person.
This is particularly true of those behind our school numbers.
As of this morning, AHS has confirmed 64 cases that were present at 48 schools while infectious.
While the people behind these numbers are at a low risk of severe disease, they are finding themselves collectively subject to intense scrutiny.
Please remember that these are individuals and they are not bad people. They and others at their schools need support to navigate this time of transition that can sometimes be made worse by false assumptions about risk in these schools.
Since yesterday, we have confirmed one new school outbreak at Chris Akkerman School in Calgary, bringing the total number of outbreaks to 10.
A reminder that we are using the term “outbreak” very cautiously.
Two cases are a sign that we are taking action and watching closely, but not a sign that the school is unsafe.
So far, there is no evidence of transmission within schools.
However, as I mentioned on Monday, we do expect that this will happen eventually.
That is why we are being extra cautious in declaring outbreaks, and AHS is working closely with school authorities to ensure all close contacts are quickly isolated to limit any spread of COVID-19.
Today, I also want to update you on a change we are making to improve Alberta’s testing approach this winter.
From a public health perspective, we are facing a significant challenge over the coming months.
COVID-19 is still here, and is not going anywhere. At the same time, influenza season will soon begin.
This means that, in addition to potentially contracting COVID-19, Albertans will have a greater chance of catching a cold or flu, which have very similar symptoms to COVID-19.
More people with symptoms means that we will see more people needing to be tested.
Our lab system needs to support cases of both COVID-19 and influenza.
Winter also means that we will be spending more time indoors and COVID-19 is a virus that spreads easily through close contact, especially indoors.
More time indoors increases the risks of exposure, which also increases the need for us to increase access to quick and timely testing.
What’s more, COVID-19 testing will remain crucial to supporting a safe school year and keeping Alberta’s economy open throughout the winter.
The result is that we, and every other province in Canada, must prepare for a surging demand for tests this winter.
We must prioritize our testing, especially as we prepare for the flu season, to ensure that testing is scheduled and results are returned as quickly as possible.
I am tremendously proud of our lab system, and the remarkable health professionals who work in it.
On May 29th, Alberta became the first province in Canada to offer widespread voluntary asymptomatic testing to any Albertan.
As you may recall, when we expanded this testing, I was clear that this broad eligibility was to enable population surveillance to understand more about COVID trends in the general Alberta population, not for individual case finding.
I want to thank everyone who participated in the asymptomatic testing program in the recent months.
This testing has given us a far better understanding of how COVID-19 is - and isn’t - spread.
We have conducted more than 233,000 voluntary asymptomatic tests since May 29th. This is a tremendous number.
These are tests on people without symptoms and without known COVID exposure.Of these 233,000 tests, only about 7 per 10,000 tests, have come back positive.
This means that it is very rare to find cases in those without symptoms and without known exposure, and this testing is not driving the new cases we are seeing.
The asymptomatic testing program has also helped our labs prepare for the high volumes of testing we will need in the months ahead.
We processed a large volume of tests this summer which has helped “stress test” our system and identify places where we need to improve.
Now, we are acting on these lessons learned.
Today, I am announcing a shift to a more targeted approach to COVID testing in Alberta.
We will continue testing any Albertan with symptoms while targeting asymptomatic testing for those who most need it and where it is most likely to identify positive cases.
This is the best way to limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health of Albertans during the winter and flu season.
Let me be clear: Anyone with symptoms, anyone who is a close contact of a confirmed case and anyone who is linked to an outbreak will continue to be tested.
These are, and always will be, our top priorities and are the highest value clinical tests.
In addition, asymptomatic testing for those with no known exposure will continue to be offered for priority groups that are most at risk of spreading COVID-19 to vulnerable or at-risk populations.
- residents and staff in congregate settings,
- health care workers,
- school teachers and staff,
- And Albertans experiencing homelessness.
Asymptomatic testing is no longer recommended for other Albertans who have no symptoms and no known exposure to COVID-19.
Any Albertan who has no symptoms but has already booked a test will still be able to get tested.
We also know that for some who are travelling internationally there are requirements for a negative test.
This group of people will also still be able to access testing going forward.
This change to focus on priority groups will help ensure testing is scheduled as quickly as possible and shorten the length of time that Albertans are waiting to get results.
In the past, I’ve said that we must be nimble and keep adapting our approach based on what we learn.
This shift is an example of that. We have conducted more than 233,000 asymptomatic tests and are acting on what we’ve learned.
I know that this has been a long pandemic.
But we have learned much, and today’s change is part of how we are continually updating our approach to incorporate what we learn.
We have clear evidence that shows where testing is most effective, and a lab system with significant capacity to identify cases and protect Albertans.
We will continue to monitor the testing approach, and make any additional changes that might be needed in the future.
Our system is strong and getting stronger.
We are all in this together, and we will get through this together.
Thank you, and I am happy to take any questions.