Check against delivery.
Thank you, Tom, and good afternoon everyone.
Today’s update, as Tom said, will once again be done remotely.
Although I’m feeling a bit better, and I hope to be back at work soon, in keeping with my advice to all Albertans, I am staying home until I am feeling well.
It can be frustrating to stay home while sick, but it’s a crucial part in keeping each other healthy this winter.
Before I begin my update today, I want to highlight an important change to MyHealth Records that will help parents receive their children’s test results more quickly.
As you know, we have been working very hard to streamline every facet of the testing process to reduce wait times across the province.
I know the time it takes to get results still isn’t as fast as we would like it to be, and work continues to shorten this.
In addition, we have heard concerns from parents and guardians about their inability to access their children’s results as quickly as possible, and to get a written record of negative results.
Effective today, all parents and guardians in Alberta can now access COVID-19 results for their children through MyHealth Records.
Once a child is tested, parents will be able to log in and see their child’s test results as soon as they are available, anytime, day or night.
This information is accessible to parents and guardians of any child under the age of 18.
As an added feature, parents will also be able to print their children’s COVID-19 test results and show them to others if needed.
Sign-up is free and all that’s required is government-issued ID and your personal health number.
Information is available at alberta.ca/myhealthrecords.
I encourage all parents to sign-up.
I recognize there is still more to do, and we will continue to look for ways to reduce testing wait times and meet the demand.
Turning to today’s update, there are currently 64 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 12 in intensive care.
We identified 173 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday and the provincial lab has completed more than 14,000 tests in the last 24 hours.
Currently Alberta has almost 1,600 active cases.
There have been 2 additional deaths since our last update.
I have also been informed of an additional death today at the outbreak at the Foothills Medical Centre, which will be included in tomorrow’s online update.
As always, it is essential that we never forget that these deaths are more than a number.
They are people who were loved and whose absence creates a tremendous hole for their family members and friends, which is true of all those who have died recently, no matter what the cause.
Health officials continue to work hard to manage the COVID-19 outbreak at the Foothills Medical Centre.
To date, a total of 35 patients and 29 positive healthcare workers have tested positive, along with three visitors.
Contract tracing continues, and the situation is being closely monitored.
Enhanced screening measures among patients and unit healthcare workers have been implemented, and the hospital has increased infection prevention and control measures.
The investigation into this outbreak and the sources of exposure is still underway.
Turning to schools, as of today, 28 schools have come off of alert status with no transmission, and affected students and staff are back in the classroom.
There are active alerts or outbreaks in 133 schools, which is about 5% of all schools in the province.
There are currently 257 active cases at these schools.
There are 52 schools with an outbreak, including 7which are currently on the watch list with 5 or more cases.
I want to remind everyone that a school outbreak is called with just two cases in a school, and does not mean the school is unsafe.
In fact, only 11 of these schools have had any likely in-school transmission, with most leading to only 1 case.
It has already been one month since students first started to go back to school.
More than 101,000 tests have been completed for school-aged Albertans since Sept. 1, with a positivity rate of less than 1%.
I want to thank all parents, teachers, students and school staff for their hard work and dedication during these last four weeks.
You are a big part of why we have kept cases under control and have so far prevented widespread transmission within classes and schools.
This is an unprecedented time, and I know that resuming classes has been a difficult transition for many.
I know that many parents have questions about whether symptoms such as a runny nose will be removed from the stay home checklist, or how long entire classes will be required to stay home as close contacts of a single case.
We continue to monitor the spread of the virus in school cases and watch the developments in other provinces.
As soon as we have enough evidence to update these approaches, we will do so.
It is particularly challenging right now, as we are starting to see the impacts of the usual increase in rhinovirus and enterovirus infections that typically happens at this time of year.
These two virus families are key players in causing the common cold, and since the middle of August, we have seen a slow and steady rise in the numbers of people with an infection caused by viruses in one of these groups.
These infections are almost always mild, but the symptoms are identical to what a mild COVID infection looks like, so it is not possible to tell them apart without testing.
That is part of the reason why, despite re-focusing our testing on symptomatic Albertans and those in priority asymptomatic groups, we have not seen our test numbers go down.
We are entering cold and flu season and we must be prepared.
To prepare our health system, we shifted our testing approach two weeks ago to help support the increase in people with COVID-like symptoms who needed testing.
Alberta has also ordered 1.96 million doses of the influenza vaccine this year.
That is a record for our province, and more than 20% more than last year.
Today, I want to highlight the importance of getting your flu.
As usual, health practitioners will begin outreach to vulnerable populations as soon as they receive the vaccine, no later than October 13th.
This work will help ensure that vulnerable Albertans, including those in continuing care facilities, are immunized as quickly as possible.
For the rest of us, six months and older, Alberta’s immunization program begins on Monday, October 19.
Getting immunized this year will look a little different than in the past.
As we learn to live with COVID-19, we are adapting influenza service delivery to reduce transmission of the novel coronavirus.
We will be encouraging all Albertans aged five and over to get immunized free of charge at any participating pharmacy or through their physician’s office.
Immunization at public health clinics will be only by appointment and focused on delivering vaccines to:
- children younger than five and their parents or other household members,
- individuals who don’t have a provincial health care number, and
- those who live in a community where there are no other immunizing health care providers.
As well, for the first time, Alberta will be offering a high-dose influenza vaccine for residents of provincially funded long-term care beds, who are 65 and older.
I know that some may wonder if getting a flu shot will put them at risk of COVID exposure.
All pharmacies and doctors offices will also have booking processes and other measures in place, to ensure that physical distancing and other health measures keep you safe while you are being immunized.
While the program does not start for another few weeks, I am speaking about this now because it is important.
I am strongly urging all Albertans, especially seniors and those who are high risk, to get immunized when this program opens later this month.
Do it for yourself, and do it for those around you.
When you get immunized, you protect not just your own health, but the health of your loved ones, as well as more vulnerable seniors, young children and those with chronic health conditions.
By keeping the number of influenza cases and low, you will also help our health system focus on the COVID response.
Finally, I’d like to end today by answering something I have heard many questions about: Halloween.
I know Halloween is a favourite day for many. And I know many parents are already planning costumes and activities.
I have no plans to suggest that Albertans cancel Halloween this year. My own children would never forgive me.
In many ways, Halloween is actually safer to celebrate than other holidays.
Unlike Thanksgiving, for example, where families traditionally gather inside to enjoy dinner together, most of Halloween’s activities take place outdoors and largely within one family.
However, we do need to make it as safe as possible to celebrate this year.
That is why we have created a page with tips and advice on how you and your family can enjoy a Halloween that is still fun and scary – but for the right reasons.
You’ll find it at alberta.ca/Halloween.
We’ve also created posters you can print and put in your window or on your door, to let trick-or-treaters know if you’re handing out candy this year or not.
If you choose to hand out treats, or if you have children trick-or-treating, please review the tip sheet in detail.
However, let me summarize a few key points right now.
First, please avoid hosting group get-togethers or Halloween parties.
Instead, trick or treating should be done with your family and cohort, staying within your community and avoiding contact with common touch-points like doorbells or hand railings.
Dressing up and trick or treating is the best part of Halloween for many children, and this can be done safely by choosing costumes that allow children to wear a non-medical mask.
Like elsewhere in public, try to minimize your contact with others and maintain two-metre physical distancing whenever possible.
If you’re handing out candy, wear a mask.
And if the weather is warm enough, consider handing out treats outside on your driveway or front lawn.
Try to get creative and have fun with ways to minimize the risk of exposure that comes when giving out candy, like the candy slide I mentioned earlier this week, and please use prepackaged candy, not homemade treats.
As always, the safest way to ensure we have a safe Thanksgiving, Halloween and school year is to limit community transmission.
I wrote an op-ed earlier this week stating that the future is in our hands, and this remains true.
We are all in this together.
If we all do our part , and stay vigilant, we can keep each other safe and limit the need for any future restrictions that could impact other elements of our health.
Thank you, and I am happy to take questions.