Check against delivery.

Thank you, Tom. Good afternoon everyone.

I want to speak a little bit before I begin today about the opioid report that the government released yesterday.

COVID-19 is one of the most significant public health challenges that we have faced in several generations.

At times, it has forced us to make difficult choices and implement aggressive restrictions to limit the spread, prevent our health system from being overwhelmed, and protect those most at risk.

The impact of COVID-19 and the impact of the restrictions that we have implemented are far-reaching.

It will take many years for us to understand the full impact that this pandemic has had and is still having on our mental, physical and emotional health.

The report released yesterday showed the challenges that many Albertans who use opioids and other substances have faced and the dire impact that this pandemic has had on their lives.

During the first six months of 2020, 449 people died from apparent unintentional opioid poisoning – this is an average of 2.5 people per day.

Tragically, 301 of these deaths occurred between April and June.

That is a staggering number.

My heart goes out to everyone who has lost someone they loved.

It can’t be ignored that deaths rose during the first few months of the pandemic, which we know caused challenges for many Albertans.

This includes challenges in accessing the supports and services they depend on, and increases in isolation, stress and anxiety.

The impact goes beyond simply the number of lives that were lost.

There were also more than 3,000 emergency and urgent care visits related to opioids and other drug use between April and June.

These numbers are difficult and troubling to hear.

We know that other jurisdictions are seeing similar trends, as the far-reaching impacts of COVID-19 are felt across our society.

Over the past several months, we have adjusted COVID prevention policies to try and make sure that individuals who use drugs can continue to access critical services across the spectrum, from harm reduction to treatment and recovery.

But I know there is more to do.

This pandemic is still going to be with us for many months.

I will continue to work to minimize the impact of COVID-19 prevention measures on access to services.  

If any changes are needed, we will make them.

I also want to let anyone experiencing addiction, either personally or in a loved one, know that you are not alone and help is available.

If you use drugs, please don’t use alone.

If you want help but don’t know where to turn, there is a 24-hour phone number you can call to access support at 1-866-332-2322 or go to Alberta Health Services website, Help in Tough Times.

I also want to urge all of us to check up on our friends and family. This is a time when we need to connect with each other and support each other.

We need to look out for each other, now more than ever.

The rise in deaths from opioid poisoning is a reminder that the ripple effects of COVID-19 are large, and that we need to continue seeking a balance in our response.

We must embrace two needs at once:

  • the need to minimize the impact of COVID-19,
  • and the need to minimize the impact that these restrictions have on the rest of our health.

Our collective efforts to prevent a sharp rise in cases remain in place, with 158 new cases of COVID-19 identified yesterday out of more than 12,700 tests completed by the provincial lab.

This gives us a provincial positivity rate of 1.02%.

Currently Alberta has 1,462 active cases.

58 people are currently in hospital, including 14 in intensive care.

Turning to schools, as of today AHS has confirmed that 13 schools that previously had alerts have had no transmission and students and staff are now back in class.

There are active alerts or outbreaks in 97 schools with 163 active cases in total.

This represents about four  per cent of schools in the province.

There are 32 school outbreaks, seven of which have had likely transmission within the school in at least one case.

And of which have 5 or more cases and are therefore listed in the watch category on our website.

I remind everyone that two confirmed cases in a school may qualify as an outbreak, it is not a sign that the school is unsafe.

In fact, we have looked at our data on school-aged cases over the past several months and have seen that the weekly number of cases in those aged 5 to 19 has been most impacted by community transmission trends.

Our highest weekly number of cases in this age group to date was in April, at the time of our peak overall, when we had 216 cases in this age group in one week, out of 2,257 people tested.

School aged cases have fluctuated with community transmission.

But since school started on September 1, we have actually seen a week over week decrease from 205 to 183 to 122 cases per week in school-aged children.

This is despite a significant increase in testing, with over 11,000, 18,000 and 14,000 children tested in these three weeks respectively.

I want to highlight these numbers not to minimize the importance of school safety but rather to stress once again the importance of limiting community transmission to make school re-entry successful.

Sadly, I must report that there have been one additional death from COVID-19.

This was in a patient at Foothills Medical Centre, and this was first reported yesterday by AHS.

My condolences go out to this person’s family members and friends, and to all those grieving the loss of a loved one from any cause.

The outbreak at Foothills Medical Centre is concerning, and AHS is working very hard to protect staff and patients, and limit any spread.

There are now 29 cases linked to this outbreak, including 17 patients.  

Sadly, there have been three deaths as well.

AHS continues to conduct testing and isolating of anyone who has been exposed, and has significant precautions in place to prevent further spread.

Multiple staff swabbing sites have been set up to increase testing capacity for staff on outbreak units.

And staff on the affected units are being screened twice daily for symptoms.

As I said on Monday, I know that any outbreak in acute care settings is concerning.

And it is natural for Albertans to wonder if our hospitals are at risk.

Multiple teams are working daily to determine

  • where the infection may have started,
  • how it was transmitted
  • and who needs to be contacted and tested to limit the exposure.

AHS has strong processes in place to protect those at hospitals and other care facilities.

These were essential in limiting cases in the spring, and will be equally vital to the coming months.

However, I also want to stress that policies and processes are only part of the equation.

We all need to do our part to keep our communities safe.

This fall and winter, it is imperative that anyone who is sick not visit or enter a care facility, and that we all follow all the public health measures to the letter while inside a care facility.

As I’ve mentioned before, whether its going to school, going to work or visiting a loved one, staying home while sick or even experiencing mild symptoms is incredibly important.

I recognize that this is inconvenient, and financially difficult for many.

I continue to advocate that employers support their employees whenever possible to help them stay home when sick.

I want to express my gratitude to all those who have been doing so, as I also recognize this is a difficult time for many employers.

I want to end today on a lighter note.

The vernal equinox was on Tuesday.

We are officially into fall. In a couple of weeks, many families and communities will be celebrating Thanksgiving.

This year, I think we are all very much more aware than usual about how much we have to be thankful for.

First, the care and support of our loved ones as we navigate through and adapt to this new normal.

Also, the health workers and community pharmacies who have tested about 1 in 4 of us and the health professionals who provide for us and our loved ones with any kind of health issues.

The teachers and school staff who are helping to keep our children from harm by limiting the spread.

The generosity of people and organizations who help care for the homeless and vulnerable.

And the researchers who are tirelessly working to develop an effective and safe vaccine.

Pre-COVID, we may have taken some of these things for granted. No more.

And so it is natural for people to want to come together and celebrate Thanksgiving with a new level of appreciation.

At the same time, we all want Thanksgiving to be a safe holiday that keeps everyone healthy.

Guidance to help Albertans have a safe Thanksgiving has now been posted on, and I’ll tweet out a link this afternoon.

To summarize, it is best to keep gatherings within your established cohorts of up to 15 people outside your household.

Smaller is safer. This is not the time for large gatherings.

When shopping for your Thanksgiving dinners, maintain physical distancing, wash or sanitize your hands often, and observe local mask requirements.

Food plays a big part in many holiday get-togethers. Please have one person plate everyone’s meals so people are not sharing serving utensils.

Or, even better, consider having pre-portioned servings, ordering take-out or perhaps having guests bring their own food.

If you are visiting loved ones in care, do so by appointment only and follow all facility protocols.

A few common sense precautions will help keep everyone safe.

It’s also important to remember that getting outside is a mentally and physically healthy thing to do, and as Canadians we don’t have to let the changing weather stop us.

We can embrace the outdoor weather, dress appropriately, and find a wealth of things to do through the fall and winter.

Just maintain physical distancing outside of your cohort, wear a mask when you can’t, observe good hygiene practices, and stay home if you are sick.

I want to particularly emphasize that last point.

If you are feeling any symptoms at all, it is important that you stay home and away from others.

This goes for Thanksgiving, Halloween and every other day as well.

We are all protecting each other.

The spread of the virus and the safety of the holidays we cherish is on each one of us.

 We are all in this together.

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