Check against delivery.

Thank you, Tom. And good afternoon everyone.

Before I begin today’s update, I would like to say thank you to everyone who has made the time to get their flu shot.

In a little more than a week, more than 597,000 Albertans have already been immunized.

That’s an increase of more than 50,000 doses over this time last year.

Thank you for doing your part to help stop the spread of influenza and for helping our health system stay focused on the pandemic response.

For anyone who hasn’t received a flu shot, now is the time.

Please add it to tomorrow’s or the weekend’s to-do list.

It is a free and easy way to protect your health, and it’s more important now than ever.

The flu shot won’t prevent COVID-19, but it will reduce your chances of getting sick with influenza and spreading it to others.

The vaccine is readily available at participating pharmacies and doctors’ offices for anyone over the age of five.

And AHS is delivering it by appointment for younger children and their households.

If the pharmacy closest to you has long wait times, I’d encourage you to be patient but also to try others that are nearby.

Here in Edmonton, I know that some pharmacies are booking more than a week in advance, while others have openings readily available for tomorrow.

Influenza is not new like COVID-19, but it is very serious.

Getting immunized is an act of kindness, both to yourself and to the community that we all belong in.

Turning to today’s COVID-19 numbers, in the last 24 hours we have identified 477 new cases of COVID-19, while our lab conducted more than 12,000 tests.

More than 21,800 people have now recovered from COVID.

Currently 130 people are in hospital in Alberta, including 18 in intensive care. 

We continue to monitor hospital capacity very closely.

In the Edmonton Zone, the impact of COVID cases is still causing elective surgeries to be postponed.

The need to protect our health system from being overwhelmed is one of the reasons that we announced new mandatory measures for the cities of Edmonton and Calgary on Monday, and why we all need to do everything possible to limit the spread.

Sadly, I must also report 5 new deaths in Alberta.  

Every death, caused by COVID-19 or by something else, is a terrible loss for those who loved that person.

I want to express my heartfelt condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one to COVID or any other cause during this difficult time.

As of today, AHS has confirmed that students and staff at 153 schools that previously had alerts are now back in class and off the list.

There are active alerts or outbreaks in 249 schools, which is about 10% of all the schools in the province. Currently these schools have 730 active cases in total.

This number includes 111 schools that are on outbreaks, including 45 currently on the watch list.

So far, in-school transmission has likely occurred in 87 schools. Of these, 48 have seen only one new case occur as result.

As I have mentioned, we must strike a difficult but necessary balance in responding to COVID-19.

We must follow the evidence and take the steps needed to prevent cases from rising exponentially and overwhelming our health system.

At the same time, every element of Albertans’ health is important.

We must also limit the harms that our measures can have as much as possible.

This means we must be nimble, and avoid either-or approaches.

The choice is not between implementing another lockdown or letting COVID-19 run unimpeded.

Instead, we must make it as easy and safe as possible for Albertans to live with this virus for the foreseeable future.

This means implementing targeted measures when needed such as the 15-person limit on social gatherings announced on Monday.

But it also means using our own evidence, and learnings from other jurisdictions, to relax other measures that are not adding value when we can safely do so.

On Monday, I said that we were reviewing the symptom list for school-aged children.

I am pleased to say that our work is now complete.

Thank you to all the parents who have been using the checklist everyday to assess if their children are well or have symptoms of COVID-19.

I know this can sometimes feel like a tedious process, but it is an important part of our regular routines to keep our children, their classmates and their teachers healthy.

When we developed the symptoms checklist, we did so with the utmost of caution, with the information available at the time, and with an intent to prevent widespread transmission in schools.

As with all of our public health measures, we developed the list knowing that we would revise our approach if needed, based on new evidence and learnings from other jurisdictions.

That is why, starting Monday, we will be implementing a new symptom list for all Albertans under the age of 18.

This includes the daily checklist used for students in school and in all child care settings in the province.

We are making two significant changes that will help get Albertans under the age of 18 back into child care or the classroom as quickly and safely as possible, while minimizing the risk of COVID-19.

The first change is that we are removing runny nose and sore throat from the list of symptoms that require mandatory isolation for children.  

In the last week alone, more than 3,400 children and youth were tested for COVID and reported having a sore throat.

Of those, just a little over 700 had a sore throat as their only symptom.

Less than 1% of those tests were positive.

Similarly, more than 3,300 children were tested with a runny nose, with only 601 of whom having a runny nose and nothing else.

Less than 0.5% of those tested positive for COVID-19.

This shows us that these symptoms by themselves are very poor indicators of whether a child has the virus.

Based on our data so far, the risk that a child with just one of these symptoms has COVID is even lower if that child is not known to be a close contact of someone with COVID-19.

I want to be clear that this change is only for those who have not had a known exposure.

If a child has had close contact with a COVID case in the last 14 days, then a runny nose or sore throat is still enough to recommend testing, and they would still need to continue to stay at home in self-isolation.

The second change that we are making is to shift towards a more targeted checklist, one that takes into account the total number of symptoms that a child may have.

Any child who has even one of the core isolation symptoms – which are cough, fever, shortness of breath, and a new core isolation symptom of loss of taste or smell – must still isolate for 10 days or have a negative test result and resolved symptoms before resuming activities.  

That is not changing.

However, for all other COVID-19 symptoms, we are shifting to a more strategic approach.

Starting on Monday, if a child has only one of any of the other symptoms on the list, they should stay home and monitor for 24 hours.

If their symptom is improving after 24 hours, testing is not necessary and they can return to normal activities when they feel well enough. 

However, if the child has two or more of the symptoms on the list…then testing is recommended and they should stay home until the symptoms go away or they test negative for COVID-19.

To use a practical example, if a child has just a headache, they should stay home for the day and, if things improve, they can return to school as soon as they’re feeling able to do so.

But if they have a headache AND a runny nose, they should stay home and either get tested or stay home until the symptoms go away completely.

Once again, we are acting on the evidence, which shows that any one of these symptoms individually is a poor indicator that a child has COVID-19.

However, two or more symptoms increases the risk, and so changes the approach that we need to take.

Today’s changes align with similar ones made in B.C., Ontario and Quebec.

We have watched these jurisdictions carefully.

After they updated their lists, they did not see a corresponding increase in COVID-19 transmission in schools. 

I believe this is a step forward for children, parents, teachers and child care operators.

Of course, it is also another change in a year that has been full of other changes already.

I know that most parents and child care operators are used to the current symptom list and this new list may be a little challenging at first, as parents and operators adjust.

But these changes will help get Albertans under 18 back into classrooms and child care settings more quickly, while still keeping each other safe.

This means less time that parents have to spend at home, locating alternative arrangements, which can be difficult.

The new checklist will also allow our health care system to focus testing on those who are most at risk of COVID-19 and decrease wait times for all Albertans.

We will monitor the impact of these changes closely.

All other Albertans 18 years and over will continue to use the Alberta Health daily checklist already online.

This virus is still new, and we learn more every day.

We will continue watching the situation and emerging evidence closely, and will update our approach as needed in the days ahead.

I would also like to say a few words about Halloween, which is only two days away.

I know that many Albertans are quite fond of this day and I am too.

Unfortunately, after every holiday during the pandemic, we have seen a rise in the number of cases one to two weeks later.

This weekend, I am asking Albertans as clearly and strongly as possible to please be wise and be safe.

Follow the guidance we have provided.

If you are trick or treating, keep it to your household or close cohort and please ensure your children wear a non-medical mask under their costume.

If you are sick with even mild symptoms, please don’t go out and don’t give out candy either.

Stick to your family and your cohort, no matter what you’re doing.

This is not the year for large Halloween parties.  Please keep your social gatherings as small as possible, regardless of where you live.

For Edmonton and Calgary specifically, remember that there is a mandatory 15-person limit for social gatherings – including parties.

Let’s continue to protect each other, and enjoy the activities we are able to do.

Carve pumpkins. Dress up. Eat candy. Brush your teeth.

Watch your favourite scary movie.

Spend time with your household and your cohorts and remember:

We are all in this together, and we’re still all protecting each other.

Finally just a technical note that we will be doing routine maintenance on our COVID database system this weekend.

And to give enough time to ensure all numbers are correct before reporting publicly, my availability next week will be on Tuesday and there will be no data update on Monday.

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