Thank you Tom, and good afternoon everyone.
Today, I would like to update you on the COVID-19 case numbers over the long weekend…
…and announce a shift that we are making to help make testing safer and more efficient at assessment centres.
There are currently 97 people in hospital in Alberta, including 13 in intensive care.
We have seen an increase in acute care admissions in recent weeks, primarily linked to the outbreaks at the Foothills Medical Centre and Misericordia hospital.
Forty one per cent of our current COVID hospitalizations are due to acute care outbreaks.
We are watching our province’s health system capacity carefully to ensure that hospitalizations and ICU admissions remain within our province’s capacity.
We identified, on average, 240 cases of COVID-19 a day over the long weekend.
Breaking it down by day….
On Friday, 236 new cases were identified, while our lab conducted more than 16,000 tests.
On Saturday, we completed more than 13,800 tests. We also identified 259 new cases.
On Sunday, we diagnosed 246 cases and almost 16,700 tests.
And yesterday, the lab conducted more than 11,000 tests, and identified 220 new cases.
As I noted last week, due to the long incubation period of COVID-19, it will be at least a week or two before we start to see the impact of the voluntary measures announced last week for Edmonton Zone.
I continue to be concerned by the rise in cases.
The Edmonton zone remains the hot spot in the province, with 1,444 active cases right now.
Sadly, I must report that there have been 4 deaths from COVID since my last update on Thursday.
Any death, at any time, for any reason is devastating for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one.
It can be especially difficult during a holiday, like Thanksgiving.
And it’s made even harder by the pandemic, which makes gathering with friends and family more difficult at a time where you need their comfort most.
My heart goes out to everyone suffering a loss at this time.
Turning to schools, as of today, AHS has confirmed that 70 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 209 schools. That is about nine per cent of all the schools in the province.
Currently these schools have 464 active cases in total.
This number includes 88 schools that are on outbreaks, including 21 currently on the watch list.
So far, in-school transmission has likely occurred in 53 schools. Of these, 33 have had only one new case occur as result.
While we have seen a rise in cases being identified within children between the ages of five and 19, this mirrors a similar rise that we are seeing in the community, and comes as we have also seen significant increases in testing in this age group.
Testing rates in this age group of five to 19 are more than double other age groups, and we continue to see a less than 1% positivity rate in school-aged children.
As I’ve said before, one of the best ways to limit cases in schools, hospitals and continuing care is to limit transmission within the community.
COVID-19 is a difficult virus to contain…
….and the more cases and spread we see in our communities, the more likely it becomes that we will see it other places as well.
That is why we all play a role in protecting each other and why I encourage all Albertans, especially those in the Edmonton zone, to be extra diligent right now in:
- staying home if sick,
- keeping distanced from those outside your household or cohort,
- wearing masks when you can’t,
- regularly washing or sanitizing your hands,
- and following the public health measures every day.
It is also why we are making a strategic shift in our testing approach.
Starting tomorrow, we will be shifting to an appointment-only approach to testing at AHS assessment centres.
This means that Albertans will now be required to book an appointment to get tested at these assessment centres.
For most people, this will have no impact on your testing experience.
Drop-in testing is only a small part of the testing currently being done.
In fact, about 93% of the tests are already being booked by appointment, online or by calling HealthLink.
By shifting to a province-wide by-appointment process, we will make on-site testing quicker and more efficient.
We will also reduce crowding in lines, and help ensure that everyone is tested as quickly and safely as possible.
Anyone can book an appointment online.
If you don’t have access to a computer, you can also complete the assessment and booking process by calling HealthLink at 811 and speaking with a registered nurse.
I also want to ask those who book appointments to be sure to keep them, or cancel online if you are no longer able to attend.
The assessment centres are seeing a high no-show rate lately, which causes further delays in making appointments available for those who need them.
For example, Calgary saw a 14% no show rate this weekend.
It is easy and convenient to change or cancel your testing appointment online, freeing up your spot for someone else.
Please help us make the system as effective and efficient as possible.
We are committed to reducing the time it takes to get tested and receive your results.
We are looking hard at ways to make this happen. Cold and flu season has begun, and as I’ve said before, we are seeing a rising number of people with COVID-like symptoms that increases our demand for testing.
At the same time, we are conducting more tests than ever, averaging more than 16,000 per day.
We are actively exploring ways to make our testing approach faster and more strategic, and I hope to have more updates to share in the coming weeks.
There is another trend I want to talk about with respect to recent cases that is concerning.
Contact tracers are reporting that an increasing number of people are reluctant to share information about
- where they may have been exposed to the virus,
- where they have been while infectious,
- and who they have been in contact with.
It is understandable that people are tired of COVID and angry at the ways that their lives have been disrupted.
Unfortunately, choosing not to work with contact tracers does not make that better, it makes it worse.
If we are not able to trace contacts and prevent the virus from spreading, the impacts will continue to grow.
If you are diagnosed with COVID, please don’t turn any understandable anger against the contact tracers who are doing their job as part of a collective effort to maintain manageable levels of transmission.
It is critical that all of us show compassion and support for those who are cases or contacts, to make it as easy as possible for those impacted to be able to work with public health and prevent onward spread.
I know that, for many people, it seems like COVID-19 has been around for years.
It can be easy to feel like you don’t have a voice, or a say.
But your thoughts and experiences matter.
Last week, the Health Quality Council of Alberta released survey results that highlighted some of the many ways that COVID-19 has affected Albertans.
This feedback emphasized the importance of the balanced approach we are seeking – preventing widespread COVID-19 transmission while at the same time minimizing the impacts of public health restrictions as much as possible.
It highlighted that, in the spring, some people were choosing to not seek care for other health issues due to fears of COVID-19.
Also, through documentation of the increase in anxiety that people were feeling, it emphasized the importance of the resources that have been made available to Albertans to support mental health.
The Health Quality Council now has a survey asking for your perspectives on the pandemic and how the response has unfolded at this time.
I want to encourage everyone to go to albertacovidsurvey.com and fill out the survey.
As I’ve said before, there is no perfect path through this pandemic.
Every choice comes with benefits and potential harms, and we must seek a balance between the harms of COVID and the harms of restrictions.
This is best done by listening to diverse input,
so I hope you have a moment to have your say.
Thanksgiving is now over and we know that winter is around the corner.
The days are getting colder and the sky darker.
I am asking all Albertans to embrace the challenge of the coming months.
I know that many people missed out on the family connections that we usually enjoy this past weekend.
There have been many sacrifices we have had to make over the past seven months, and while I wish it were possible to end these now, unfortunately we are not there yet.
For us all, the only way to get through this is to continue working together and protecting each other.
If we all keep doing the basics:
- hand washing,
- physical distancing,
- mask wearing when you can’t stay two-metres apart,
- staying home when sick,
- avoiding crowds and staying safe….
…together, we can lower our rate of transmission.
It takes all of us, but together we can find the right balance to both minimize the risks of COVID and to minimize the risks of restrictions.
Thank you. I am happy to take any questions.