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Thank you. Good afternoon everyone.
Before I begin, I want to take a moment to recognize National Custodial Day, held on Friday, and World Teacher Day.
This has been a school year like no other. I want to thank both school custodians and teachers for their hard work to limit the spread of COVID-19 and to keep schools and students safe.
For today’s update, I would like to review the case numbers identified over the weekend, and then update you on the latest results from the ongoing serology study being undertaken by the provincial lab.
Currently 62 people are in hospital in Alberta, including 14 in intensive care.
The recent increase we have seen continues to be driven in large part by the outbreak at the Foothills Medical Centre.
We continue to closely monitor these numbers.
On Friday, 97 new cases of COVID-19 were identified, while our lab conducted more than 12,600 tests.
On Saturday, the lab completed almost 17,500 tests and we identified 263 additional cases.
And, yesterday, we identified 218 new cases, while the lab conducted nearly 16,000 tests.
The large number of cases identified over the weekend are concerning.
This is the first time that Alberta has topped more than 200 cases identified in a day since April 30th.
The trend is particularly concerning in the City of Edmonton:
- where we have seen an escalation in cases,
- an increase in the reproductive number to 1.3 last week,
- and a rise in active cases to 894.
We are taking this seriously and looking closely at what causes are driving the increase that we are seeing.
Through conversation with local public health and the city, we are determining if additional measures should be recommended in the city to bring transmission down.
One alarming trend we have seen in our review of current active cases is about 11% of cases are attending work or still going to social gatherings when symptomatic, while awaiting results.
This is a significant risk, and is one of the factors causing our case numbers to rise.
I want to be clear: If you are sick, you need to stay home.
If you are sick, you should not go to social gatherings of any kind. This includes the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend.
I know that we are tired, and that staying home can create very hard choices for some.
The lab has been working hard to reduce turn-around times, so that results are delivered as soon as possible after swabs are taken.
This is the system’s side of the bargain – to give results as quickly as we can.
But our side of the bargain as Albertans to stay home when sick while waiting for results is fundamental.
We cannot prevent a second wave or limit the spread of COVID in Alberta if we do not all take these basic steps.
I continue to ask employers to do whatever they can to support their staff in staying home while sick.
This is an important juncture. If together we cannot control the spread, we may be forced to consider additional, more restrictive measures.
Turning to schools, as of today, AHS has confirmed that 43 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 149 schools, which is about 6% of all the schools in the province.
Currently these schools have 319 active cases in total.
This number includes 65 schools that are on outbreaks, including 10 currently on the watch list.
As always, I want to remind everyone that we define an outbreak as two confirmed cases in a school.
Our intention is to be as cautious as possible while acting quickly to take measures to limit the spread, even after only a couple of cases.
Declaring that a school has an outbreak does not mean that school is unsafe.
In fact, in-school transmission has likely contributed to one or more cases in only 18 schools – in 15 of which, this is only 1 case.
I am also sad to report that there have been 8 additional deaths from COVID-19 since Friday.
That is a difficult update to give.
I know that grieving during a pandemic is difficult for everyone who has experienced loss of any kind.
My sympathies go out to all who are grieving right now.
While we are all tired of this pandemic, let’s not forget one of the key lessons it reinforces:
That community matters, and we must support each other now more than ever.
I ask all Albertans to keep supporting each other during this difficult time.
I would like to take a moment to speak briefly about the monthly serology study that is underway in Alberta.
I know many Albertans are interested in the serology testing being done by our labs.
As a reminder, serology testing is different from the swab testing that Alberta Health Services and community pharmacies offer.
Serology testing detects antibodies in the blood against the virus that causes COVID-19.
This can help us understand how many people were previously infected with COVID-19.
It does not tell us if someone is currently sick or contagious and we don’t know if a positive serology test relates to immunity to the virus.
Also, it is not yet clear how long antibodies stay in the blood after someone has the virus.
Some evidence shows that antibodies may fade after just a few months.
Research and evidence are still emerging on all of these points.
In June, I shared the first estimates from the COVID-19 Residual Sera study being done by Alberta Precision Laboratories.
This looked at about 9,200 anonymous samples from leftover bloodwork being done for other reasons in the first week of June and found antibodies in 1.01% of them.
This allowed us to get an estimate of how widespread the virus might have been a few weeks before those samples were taken, because it can take several weeks for antibody levels to rise after an infection.
This also helped us estimate how many Albertans had antibodies in their blood in early June.
After continuing the study in July and August, we have now analyzed more than 35,000 samples in total.
What we’ve found is that from early June to early August, the proportion of people in Alberta with antibodies did not increase.
In fact, the July positivity rate was only 0.55% across the province, and the August positivity rate was 0.74%.
There are several reasons why, since June, this drop could have happened.
The most likely reason is just a variation in sampling.
The sample size in June was smaller than in July or August, and could therefore be less reliable.
This is supported by the fact that July and August results from our lab are similar to the results of the Canadian Blood Services antibody study released last month.
They found an unadjusted positivity rate of 0.43% in Alberta blood donors, with blood samples collected between early May and mid-June, roughly the same time frame as the first APL samples.
It is also important to remember that, because the tests in the Alberta Precision Laboratory study are being done on leftover blood samples, they are not representative of the general Alberta population.
They are a snapshot only of the population that has needed health care and blood tests in that timeframe for some reason.
Obviously, further research is needed and is underway.
What this tells us though is that our swab testing program is almost certainly not missing large volumes of cases.
It tells us that we are achieving what we set out to achieve, and the protective measures that Albertans have been using have prevented widespread transmission.
We are protecting each other.
We must continue to do so.
We cannot rely on hopes that sufficient antibodies will slowly build up in enough of the population to limit spread of the virus after enough time has passed.
We must continue to employ strategic measures to prevent widespread transmission and protect our communities.
Alberta Precision Labs will continue to repeat this study so we can see changes in antibody prevalence as time progresses and adapt our approach to the pandemic accordingly.
With this low antibody prevalence, it reinforces the importance of our collective work to keep our loved ones and communities safe.
Particularly with the rising numbers we have seen over the past few days, I want to reiterate my strong recommendation for safe Thanksgiving events this weekend.
I know that many are planning for gatherings this weekend.
And I sympathize with the desire to be with the people we love most to celebrate all that we have to be thankful for.
However, this is not a normal Thanksgiving.
I urge you to keep your gatherings limited only to your household and cohort members, no more.
I ask that you keep your gatherings as small as possible, eat outdoors if possible, and don’t share serving spoons or dishes.
As I said earlier, if you are even slightly sick, don’t go to a Thanksgiving event and don’t host one in your home.
The greatest tragedy would be to have Thanksgiving dinner turn into an opportunity for COVID to spread to our loved ones, potentially with severe consequences.
Let’s celebrate all that we are thankful for by protecting each other, not taking chances.
We remain in this together, and the future is in our hands.
Thank you and I’m happy to take questions.