Check against delivery.

Thank you, Tom, and good afternoon everyone.  

Before I begin, I would like to take a moment to remind Albertans that influenza shots are now available.

Thank you to those who have already been immunized and I strongly encourage everyone else to make an appointment today.

I personally got immunized yesterday and will be booking appointments for my children this week.

This year, it is easier than ever to get your flu shot.

Participating pharmacies and doctor’s offices across the province can now give vaccines to those aged five and older.

This year, Alberta Health Services is focusing their resources on providing vaccines to

  • children under five years of age and their household members,
  • individuals without Alberta Health Care numbers
  • or those who live in a community where there are no other providers.

I understand that nobody likes getting needles.

But getting your flu shot not only helps protect you from the flu, but also helps prevent you spreading influenza to your loved ones, coworkers, teammates and classmates.

No one likes being home with a fever or curled up with aches and pains at the best of times.

This year, COVID-19 adds an additional headache.

By reducing your likelihood of influenza, you are reducing your likelihood of having to stay home and go for COVID-19 testing.

You are also reducing the chance of spreading it to your loved ones, causing them to have to stay home and go for testing.

Our actions and decisions have an effect on those around us, so I encourage everyone to do their part and get a flu shot or make an appointment today.

Turning to today’s update, 19,500 Albertans have now recovered from COVID-19.

That is almost 850 recoveries added since I last spoke on Friday.

Currently, 116 people are in hospital.

Last week I mentioned that the trend in higher hospitalization numbers is something that we are watching closely.

We are currently at a compounded daily COVID hospitalization rise of 3.1% across the province in the past two weeks, which is getting closer to the 5% trigger threshold.

I am concerned by the rise, which appears to be driven by a number of factors, mainly the increase in community case counts and several hospital outbreaks. 

There are currently 16 cases admitted into ICU, which means 23% of the 70 ICU beds allocated for COVID-19 patients are currently being used.

We completed more than 13,000 tests in the last 24 hours and identified 323 new cases of COVID-19.

Our provincial positivity rate yesterday was about 2.5%.

Sadly, I must report one additional death from COVID-19.

While I share these numbers for transparency and a reminder of what we are collectively working to prevent it is important to remember that we have lost many Albertans to many different causes since this pandemic began.

Every one of these was a person – not a number. Every one left behind loved ones who are having to cope with grief. 

All of us who know someone who is grieving a loss and we can reach out to offer support.

It is one of the many ways that each one of us can make a difference.

Turning to schools, there are active alerts or outbreaks in about 8% of all schools, with a total of 512 cases.

There are 96 schools on outbreak, including 26 that are on the watch list with five or more cases.

Health and school officials are acting swiftly every time an outbreak is declared or an infectious case is identified.  

That’s a key reason that, to date, we have seen in-school transmission in only 69 schools, including 44 of those that had only one new case as a result.

I continue to be concerned about the situation in the Edmonton zone, which currently has about 50% of the active cases in the province.

It has now been almost two weeks since we put additional voluntary measures in place for the Edmonton zone.

There is some good news in Edmonton. The rate of growth has started to slow somewhat – and our R value in Edmonton has come down from 1.35 to 1.17.

This is a good start, but the bad news is that anytime the R value remains above 1, the number of cases is still growing.

We need to bring this value below 1 to reduce the burden on our health system.

Please continue your efforts to bring the numbers down.  

In the past few weeks, across the province, we have seen several examples of how COVID-19 can spread from one person to many very quickly

This happens even when people are trying to do their best to follow public health guidance.

We have seen:

  • a wedding celebration where 49 of 63 people in attendance ended up with COVID-19,
  • we have seen a social party where we know of 8 cases out of 24 who attended and follow up is ongoing to determine if there are more,
  • And finally we have seen a workplace gathering where people who worked together attended a common social event. Of the 29 who attended, we currently know of 9 who are positive and 38 people who are excluded from that workplace as a result of subsequent exposure incidents.

I want to first thank all of the participants of these events for working closely with contact tracers to protect their loved ones and their community.

They did not set out to make this happen.

At these events, COVID-19 has spread quickly and dramatically among well-meaning people. 

I want to remind anyone planning any kind of social gathering that it is critical to

  • keep your gatherings small,
  • ensure that anyone with symptoms does not attend,
  • to make sure that all those attending are keeping distanced from each other and ideally as a precaution wearing masks as in social gatherings it is very difficult to keep distanced at all times
  • It is also important to make sure that everyone is regularly washing or sanitizing their hands.

COVID-19 really does love parties and we need to keep this in mind when planning or attending social events.

I know that no one wants to inadvertently spread COVID-19 to people they care about, whether family, friends or colleagues, so let’s be careful and thoughtful.

I also want to reiterate my request to please work with and support our contact tracers if you test positive for COVID-19.

This is an illness that anyone can get.

There is no shame in being exposed and it is the best thing that you can do for your community to help identify others who may have been exposed.

While it is completely understandable for people to be frustrated about the impacts that COVID-19 has had on their lives, one of the main ways we have to prevent widespread transmission is case identification and contact tracing.  

Your information is essential for us to identify potential contacts and break the chains of transmission.

Finally, today I am announcing a significant change in Alberta’s testing approach that I believe is a critical step to improving COVID control in the province.

You may remember that, in mid-September, I announced that our health system is facing a significant challenge over the fall months. 

The cold and flu season means that, in addition to potentially contracting COVID-19, Albertans will have a greater chance of catching a cold or the flu, which often have similar symptoms.

On September 17th, I announced that Alberta was shifting to offering asymptomatic testing for priority groups only.

This was a strategic move to help us prioritize our testing and focus where it has the greatest clinical value.

Even with this shift, since that time, our labs have been processing more tests than ever before.

Wait times for results have not decreased as much as they need to in order to use lab test information to prevent spread in an optimal way.

This is largely due to the increase in Albertans with cold and flu symptoms.

With both COVID cases and the number of symptomatic tests rising, we must take further action.

That is why, effective immediately, we will be pressing pause on all asymptomatic testing in those who have no known exposure.

This is an important and necessary step that will help us reduce testing wait times, get results to Albertans and limit the spread.

To be clear: we will continue testing any Albertan with symptoms and anyone who has no symptoms but is a close contact of a COVID case or is linked to an outbreak.

These are our top priorities and the people most likely to have COVID-19.

However, AHS and community pharmacies will no longer be booking new testing appointments for any asymptomatic Albertans who have no known exposure.

Appointments that have already been booked will be kept up to November 4.

I know that asymptomatic testing can provide comfort to some people but the evidence is clear:

asymptomatic individuals without known exposures are not significantly driving the spread in Alberta and this testing is not an effective way to identify cases of COVID-19.

We have now completed more than 659,000 tests on asymptomatic Albertans with no known exposure.

Of these, only 0.11%, have come back positive.

This has increased slightly from the previous statistic I shared of 7 in 10,000, but this is still very low – only about 1 in 1,000 people with no symptoms and no exposure has tested positive on average over the past seven months.

This means it is very rare to find cases in those without symptoms and without known exposure.

We need to focus our testing where it counts, so that anyone with symptoms, including children held home from school, and anyone who is a close contact or part of an outbreak gets results as quickly as possible.

In the last week alone, about 30% of all COVID-19 tests that our labs conducted were for Albertans who had no exposure and no symptoms.

By removing these from our system, we hope to get Albertans with the highest risk of COVID their results as quickly as possible.

Faster results also means that contact tracers will be reaching out to Albertans more quickly, further limiting the spread.

Quicker turnaround times will also help mildly symptomatic students, parents and employees get results quicker and, if they are found to be negative, to get back to work or school more quickly. 

I want to thank all the community pharmacies who helped with COVID-19 testing over the recent months.

They stepped up when we needed them, as they always do.

At this time, community pharmacies will not be booking any new COVID-19 tests, though all existing appointments, as I said, will be honoured until November. 4.

With influenza immunizations now available, this shift will also help Albertans get their flu shot in participating pharmacies as quickly as possible.

I want to stress once again that anyone with symptoms, anyone who is a close contact of a confirmed case and anyone who is linked to an outbreak can and should get tested.

COVID-19 is here and it is not going anywhere.

Given that, we must be nimble and keep adapting our approach based on what the evidence shows us.

We have clear evidence that shows where testing is most effective, and a lab system with significant capacity to identify cases and protect Albertans.

We are acting on the evidence, as we always do.

Our lab system is strong, and we are working hard to make it stronger.

We are all in this together, and we will get through this together.

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