Check against delivery.
Thank you, Tom, and good afternoon everyone.
Before I begin today, I want to address a number of questions that I have heard about testing for government officials.
A priority list for expedited testing was approved by Cabinet this spring.
Essentially, tests for a few officials who are crucial to the pandemic response are completed as quickly as possible.
It ensures that anyone who is contagious is identified quickly to avoid disruption to the pandemic response.
This is standard best practice for emergencies, and similar approaches are utilized in other jurisdictions.
It ensures that health services and government can keep functioning during a pandemic.
You may recall the two times that I appeared at a press conference remotely.
The two times that I had symptoms, I personally had tests on an expedited basis to ensure that any necessary follow up would happen swiftly if I had tested positive.
No family members, friends or colleagues of these individuals are given access to priority testing.
This is simply for a small number of key decision-makers, and it occurs very rarely.
I’ve also heard on another topic, a lot of questions about whether we should, and how we can safely celebrate Halloween this year, so I want to take a moment to talk about this as well.
As a parent, I know this can be an important and fun time for every member of a family.
I have always loved the fact that we open our doors to our neighbours to celebrate this holiday, and to me it embodies the community-oriented spirit that we need so much right now.
As a public health physician, I also know that it can be tempting to let our guard down during those times when we are having the most fun.
We have posted tips and advice online to keep this Halloween safe.
I’d encourage everyone who is planning activities to review this information.
However, there a few key pointers that I’d like to flag now.
First, please avoid large gatherings.
This is not the year for Halloween parties. Keep your celebrations with just your household and cohort, no more.
Let’s keep it small and let’s keep it safe.
If you or your kids are feeling sick, even with mild symptoms, please stay home and please don’t hand out candy.
Halloween is for bringing home treats, not viruses.
With respect to the question of whether or not trick or treating should still happen with this increase in our case numbers recently, I believe that trick or treating is a safe activity if done outdoors and within a household group.
To keep things safe, make sure your child wears a non-medical mask, either under their Halloween mask, or as a part of their costume.
Keep distanced from others while you’re trick or treating.
Encourage your kids to call out “Trick or Treat” from the sidewalk instead of ringing the bell or knocking.
If you’re giving out candy, wear a non-medical mask and find creative ways to hand out prepackaged candy only, for example by using tongs or a grabber.
I am encouraging people to have fun and utilize other creative solutions, like building a candy slide.
When kids get home with their candy, make sure they wash their hands and disinfect packages before they sample their treats.
This year, we will need to do things a little differently, but we can have a safe Halloween if we all take reasonable precautions.
Turning to today’s update, more than 20,000 Albertans have now recovered from COVID-19, about 500 more since my last availability on Tuesday.
Currently, 112 people are in hospital, with 18 cases in the ICU.
As I’ve mentioned, this is something that we continue to watch very closely – not just the numbers but also the health system’s capacity at large, including staffing and other supports.
We completed more than 14,300 tests in the last 24 hours and identified 427 new cases of COVID-19.
Our provincial positivity rate yesterday was 3%.
Turning to schools, there are active alerts or outbreaks in about 9% of all schools, with a total of 561 cases.
There are 101 schools with an outbreak, including 27 that are on the watch list with five or more cases.
I also want to alert you to a couple of outbreaks that will be posted online tomorrow.
An outbreak has been declared at the Edmonton General Continuing Care Centre.
A total of 23 cases have been linked to this outbreak, including 19 residents.
My local colleagues have assured me that all residents and patients on the affected units and all staff who have worked on those units have been tested.
Outbreak protocols have been implemented to limit the spread and protect the health of everyone involved.
There is also an outbreak at the Calgary Correctional Centre.
To date, 24 cases are linked to this outbreak, including 20 inmates.
Centre-wide testing and isolations are in place, and outbreak protocols have been implemented.
It has now been two weeks since we announced voluntary measures within Edmonton Zone.
As I mentioned on Tuesday, we saw a decline in the rate of growth, in the data to the end of last week, which is a positive early sign.
It is proof that collectively, by making simple changes to our everyday lives, we can reduce transmission and bend the curve.
It is another reminder of our collective power.
But, unfortunately, this is not a cause for relaxation.
In the past few days our numbers have risen again, and while I do not have an R value at this time, case numbers have recently been rising again in a concerning way.
As a result of this rise in cases, and the current and future need for hospital beds, Edmonton Zone is activating new surge capacity measures in order to support safe patient flow through hospitals in the area.
With the rise in COVID-19 cases, we are seeing an increase not only in our hospitalization numbers, but also an increase in the number of frontline health care workers who are off due to quarantine restrictions.
Because of this, AHS has made the decision to postpone non-urgent surgeries and some ambulatory care clinic visits in the Edmonton Zone.
Urgent, emergent and cancer surgeries will continue.
Edmonton Zone remains committed to meeting surgical targets for the year and will reschedule surgical cases as soon as possible.
AHS is taking these measures to ensure that we are able to provide care to those who most need it.
While these health system impacts are primarily in Edmonton at the moment, Calgary and other parts of the province have also seen a rise in cases recently.
The leading source of exposure for active cases right now is close contacts and many of the cases that we are seeing now are the result of spread over Thanksgiving, when families gathered together.
People did not mean to spread COVID, but it is a reminder that social gatherings where distancing and masking are not used consistently are a significant risk for spread.
I want to be clear: I am very concerned about the rise in numbers.
We are looking seriously at the spread and determining what our next steps should be.
I know that – after more than half a year, we are all tired of COVID-19 restrictions.
But COVID-19 is not tired of us, so we must remain vigilant.
Today, I’d like to take a moment to talk about the impact of COVID-19 on younger Albertans, and why this is something that we all need to take seriously.
In no way are young people the sole cause of the rise in cases that we are seeing.
However, adults in their twenties and thirties are the largest group of active cases we have today.
Much has been made of the fact that younger people, especially those without underlying health conditions and under the age of 40, have a low chance of dying or experiencing a severe outcome.
This is absolutely correct but these are not the only risks that come with contracting COVID-19.
As T.S. Eliot said, “Life is long.”
We do not yet know the long-term consequences of getting infected.
We are starting to get some clues from findings from other countries that show even low-risk people could face prolonged recoveries and long-term health risks from a COVID-19 infection.
There is growing evidence that some people are experiencing longer-term COVID-19 symptoms, or “Long COVID”, after their initial infection.
These long-term symptoms vary in severity and duration.
A recent study in the United Kingdom followed the health of 201 low-risk patients with an average age of 44 who were diagnosed with COVID-19.
Only 18% of these patients needed hospital care for their COVID-19 infection, so this is a group of patients who had relatively mild disease.
Despite this, the study found almost many of these people still had symptoms like fatigue, headache, shortness of breath or muscle aches four months after their initial symptoms.
The Centre for Disease Control has also reported that heart conditions are associated with COVID-19 illness, and that these can affect younger people, including athletes, and that the long-term effects are unknown.
Similarly, data from the COVID Symptom Study, which uses an app that enables millions of people throughout the United States, United Kingdom, and Sweden to share their symptoms, suggests that one in 10 people with COVID still have symptoms after three weeks.
While we do not yet have Alberta-specific data, we are working with Alberta Health Services to develop pathways for care for those who have prolonged symptoms, and to gather data on how many Albertans are experiencing this prolonged illness.
In short, while it feels like we have been facing COVID-19 for an eternity, in terms of the scientific method and understanding of how this illness affects the body in the long term, these are still early days.
The virus does not discriminate and it can have long term and potentially devastating impacts on people’s health.
No one of any age can take COVID-19 lightly.
You have heard me speak before about my concerns about the idea of herd immunity from natural infection, and I want to reinforce that concern again.
First, those infected can have long term risks we don’t fully understand, as I have just explained.
Second, our age-specific hospitalization rates from COVID-19 have not changed significantly over time, and some younger people with COVID-19 still need hospital care.
If we let the virus spread freely, even if we could limit spread just to younger groups, there would be a terrible impact on our acute care system.
Finally, we are interdependent and interconnected.
There is no way to successfully age-segregate our population, and increased community spread puts our elders and those with chronic conditions at risk.
We are all in this together, and our best and only protection both from COVID and the impacts of restrictions remains each other.
These days right now are our chance to avoid stronger measures. We need to take it.
Alberta, we have brought down our infection rates before, and we can do it again.
If you are waiting for that moment to take COVID seriously, to start going the extra mile, this is it.
Tomorrow and this weekend, let us all be extra-careful, and extra cautious.
We are all in this together and we are powerful together.
Thank you, and I am happy to answer any questions you may have.