Check against delivery.

Thank you, Tom and good afternoon everyone.  

I’ll begin today by updating you on the latest case numbers and outbreaks from the weekend, and then I would like to address a few questions that I’ve heard around cohorts.

Provincially, the number of people in hospital or ICU with COVID-19 remains stable, with 51 people in the hospital, including 9 in intensive care.

This is a slight increase from Friday, but well within our health system’s capacity.

It is good news that our hospitalization numbers have been generally declining or stable since peaking at 93 hospitalizations on July 22.

Our public health and provincial lab teams continued working hard to identify new cases and process tests through the weekend.

On Friday, September 18, we identified 119 new cases while the lab completed more than 12,400 tests.

For Saturday, we identified 102 new cases and conducted about 9,700 new tests.

And yesterday, we confirmed 137 new cases and completed more than 12,700 tests.

Finally, I am happy to say that more than 15,000 Albertans have now recovered from the virus.

We continue to closely monitor schools and, when new cases are identified, our health and education officials are working quickly to limit any possibility of spread.

In five schools, alerts have ended, and all students and staff who were self-isolating at home have gone back to class with no in-school transmission resulting from the potential exposure.

There are currently 81 schools with active alerts or outbreaks where one or more individuals have attended while infectious. So far, a total of 126 cases are linked to those schools.

This includes six new school outbreaks that have been identified, bringing the total to 19 in the province.

Alberta Health Services is working closely with these schools to investigate close contacts.

I want to remind you that we define an outbreak as two or more confirmed cases in individuals who have been present at the school in the last 14 days.

That is a very low number to reach, and is not an indication of uncontrolled spread.

I recognize there is anxiety that comes with students returning to the classroom and I am being as transparent as possible when I share information about cases.

That is why I want to let you know that we have also identified another two schools where in-school transmission has likely occurred.

This transmission was identified in cases at

  • Vimy Ridge School in Edmonton, and
  • Springfield Elementary School in Peace River.

As I stressed on Friday, this is not unexpected and is not a cause for alarm.

As we have seen transmission in other settings, we will see some cases where this happens in classrooms.

We are working with schools and Alberta Health Services to keep these numbers as small as possible, and prevent broad spread within a school.

Anyone potentially exposed has been or will be contacted and asked to self-isolate.

Finally, I want to speak about the fact that we now have two schools on “Watch” status. This is simply an indication that an outbreak has five or more cases.

The Vimy Ridge School has crossed this level with six cases, and will therefore be shown on the map as in Watch.

The only thing this reflects is the number of cases, not ongoing risk.

While I know that the safety of schools is of utmost importance to all of us, it is important to remember that

  • only 3% of all schools in the province have had any COVID-19 exposure to date,
  • and, of all those schools that have had one or more exposures, transmission has only been identified in about 3% of those.

So, overall, only about one school in one thousand has had a transmission episode in the last three weeks.

We will continue to monitor closely, as always, but this is a positive start.

While our school numbers remain encouraging, sadly, I must report that one additional death occurred over the weekend.

This death was in a patient at the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary, and I would like to extend my condolences to this individual’s family and loved ones.

We take any outbreak in an acute care facility very seriously.

To date, 14 patients and four staff members on three units have now tested positive for COVID-19.

The public health investigation is still underway, but AHS has taken swift action to ensure that all staff and patients who may have been exposed are isolated and getting tested.

I’ve been assured that all necessary outbreak protocols have been implemented.

With widespread testing underway, it is likely that we will identify some additional cases in the coming days.

I know that any outbreak is concerning, especially in a care facility, but any patient with symptoms, or who has tested positive for COVID-19, is isolated and treated in designated rooms.

The Foothills Medical Centre remains a safe place to visit and to receive care – there is no increased risk to patients coming to the hospital.

There has also been an outbreak identified at the men’s residence of St. Joseph’s College at the University of Alberta.

There are currently five cases linked to this outbreak.

AHS and the University’s Public Health Response Team are working together to support contact tracing and to care for the health and isolation needs of those impacted.  

Before ending today, I would also like to talk a bit about cohorts, as I know many Albertans have had questions.

A common question that I’ve been asked is: what exactly is a cohort?

A COVID-19 cohort, also referred to as a bubble, circle, or safe squad, is a small group whose members can interact regularly without staying 2 metres apart.

Your core cohort is your family or household group and up to 15 other people with whom you have chosen to spend time where rules about distancing can be relaxed.

This should be the same 15 people at all times, who are all committed to this cohort, and even in the cohort, anyone who is sick should not have close interactions with others.

Smaller core cohorts are less risky than larger ones.

All other cohorts will vary depending on what you are doing, so the people you interact with in a sports league, in a childcare setting, or at school would be cohorts.

Co-workers or attendees of the same church are not considered cohorts, and should maintain distance and public health precautions in their interactions.

Another common question I have had is how many sports cohorts a child should be in?

That is a difficult question. We recognize that staying active is important for our mental health and physical well-being.  

At the same time, it’s important to recognize that the more activities a person participates in where distancing cannot be maintained, the greater their risk of exposure.

Many different factors can also impact the safety and risk of exposure that is faced by participating in a sport or activity.

For example, it is easier in some sports to maintain 2 metres of distance between players, and a cohort model may not even be needed if distancing can be maintained at all times.

With other sports where players are inevitably in close contact with one another, risk of transmission if someone is infectious while playing is greater.

This means the cohort model is an important way to keep that risk contained.

Each family and team must determine what level of risk is right for them and what level of risk they deem to be acceptable.

While this conversation is challenging, it is part of what being on a team is all about.

Part of playing a team sport is working together for what is best for the team, and discussion about cohorts is another element to that.

I encourage families to limit the number of cohorts that their members are part of, including sports cohorts.

But I also can’t set a single number that will be right for every family or every team.

Teams or sports organizations may choose to limit their players to just one cohort, or they may set a minimum number of cohorts that their members can belong to.

This is based on risk tolerance and conversations with players, coaches, and parents where applicable.

When in doubt, I recommend keeping sports cohorts as limited as possible during the coming fall and winter, as it is possible we will see a rise in transmission of COVID as the weather gets colder and activities move indoors.

Finally, I have been asked whether we will lift the current restriction limiting sports cohorts to 50 participants.

We continue to monitor this closely, however, at this time there is no plan to raise the cohort number in the immediate future.

Alberta Health is closely monitoring all the factors above to determine whether and when an increase in cohort size is appropriate. 

We will continue to closely monitor the spread of the virus in Alberta.

If changes are needed in the future, we will make them.

As I have said countless times, we are all in this together and it is only together that we can find the right balance between limiting the harms of COVID and the harms of restrictions.

Thank you, and I am happy to take any questions you may have.