Check against delivery.
Thank you Zoe. And good afternoon everyone.
I apologize for today’s delay. There was a technical issue that resulted in needing a bit of extra time.
I would like to start today by recognizing Albertans in Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge, Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie, Red Deer and all enhanced status areas for quickly adapting to the new measures that came into effect Friday.
I know that this was not an easy weekend for many.
Whether you arranged for your employees to work from home or temporarily closed your fitness studio, or your hockey game, yoga class or choir practice was cancelled, or you participated in a wedding, funeral or faith-based service virtually instead of in person, or you postponed a movie night at your house with friends or a birthday dinner with extended family, thank you for taking action and embracing the importance of making these sacrifices.
We did not make the decision to implement these measures lightly.
After implementing new measures on Friday, we heard from several faith leaders who quickly rose up to protect the health of their communities.
I’d like to recognize Central Church of Christ in Lethbridge for installing new plexiglass barriers, and River West Christian Church in Edmonton for moving to online services and all those who did not tell us what they did but did remarkable things to protect their communities.
Both have responded to the enhanced measures and made decisions that were right for them and their congregations.
As I’ve said before, there is no one perfect approach to COVID-19; but there are many ways to step up to the challenge and protect our communities.
I know this next while will be challenging, but as we have seen with recent numbers – and will see with today’s – it is critical that we all continue to do our part and look at changes that we can make to our daily lives to reduce transmission.
One way we can do this, as I have stressed many times, is to stay home when sick.
We have had too many cases result from Albertans going to work with symptoms.
We continue to encourage employers to work with employees to make sure people stay home when they are not feeling well.
But I know this is difficult for many. Albertans have bills to pay, and staying home can feel like an out of reach luxury.
So I want to remind Albertans that there are supports available.
The Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit gives income support to employed and self-employed individuals who are unable to work because they are sick or need to self-isolate due to COVID-19, or have an underlying health condition that puts them at greater risk of getting COVID-19.
If you are eligible, you can receive $500 for a 1-week period.
The Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit gives income support to employed and self-employed individuals who are unable to work because they must care for their child under 12 years old or a family member who needs supervised care.
This applies if their school, regular program or facility is closed or unavailable to them due to COVID-19, or because they are sick, self-isolating, or at risk of serious health complications due to COVID.
If you are eligible your household can receive $500 for each one week period up to a total of 26 weeks.
Both programs are available through the Canada Revenue Agency and more information is available on their website.
Turning to today’s numbers, over the past 24 hours we have identified 860 new cases of COVID-19 and completed just over 12,000 tests.
This means our provincial positivity rate sits at about 7% and our active case number has risen to 10,031.
There are 264 people in hospital, of those, 57 are in ICU.
These numbers continue to be concerning. While we have spoken of Edmonton’s hospital capacity and surgery cancellations, I want to stress that this is a concern across the province.
Since my last update, a new outbreak has been declared on a unit at the Queen Elizabeth the second hospital in Grande Prairie, where two health care workers and one patient have tested positive for COVID-19.
In addition, the outbreaks at Chinook Regional Hospital and Bow Island Health Centre in south zone were declared over on November 14, and the outbreak on the cardiac unit at Foothills Medical Centre has also ended with operations on this unit returning to normal.
I have heard questions about how our COVID hospitalizations and ICU numbers compare to the increases we see in influenza season, and why our current acute care burden is so challenging.
It is important to remember several differences between COVID-19 and influenza.
An illustrative example is that we have had 49 acute care COVID outbreaks in just 7½ months, with 42 deaths linked to these outbreaks. This is despite extraordinary measures to prevent spread in the community and in the hospital.
This is far worse than the worst acute care outbreak numbers related to influenza in the past 5 years – 40 outbreaks with 13 deaths in a full year. COVID is more dangerous than influenza both at an individual and population level.
Other differences between influenza seasons and what we are dealing with now include the extraordinary measures that are needed in order to prevent spread in hospital.
These processes enhance safety, but also limit capacity, including much more aggressive isolation policies where patients who have any symptoms that could be COVID, patients with confirmed COVID, and patients who have had a COVID exposure need to be in an isolation space.
This means not regularly using multi-bed rooms, more widespread use of personal protective equipment, which takes time to properly put on and take off, and other changes that limit the number of available beds for use.
Another big impact on capacity is staff availability.
With the strict isolation and quarantine requirements for COVID that are necessary to protect acute care and prevent spread in all settings, staff who have been exposed to COVID, staff who have symptoms that could be COVID, and staff who have COVID are not available to work.
As community transmission increases, more health care workers are exposed in various settings, or perhaps have family members exposed. This impacts the system as services can not be operated without skilled workers to provide them.
Finally, the volume of continuing care outbreaks impacts acute care as patient transfer from acute care to continuing care is limited when outbreaks are underway.
This is not an influenza season. This is a global pandemic that requires each one of us to pull together to protect our communities, families and friends.
Sadly, I must also report 20 new deaths over the past 24 hours. These are not just numbers. These are people. As our cases rise, our deaths will rise.
Every time I speak about deaths I offer condolences because each one of these people will be missed and mourned.
The measures in place right now are literally a matter of life and death and the choices Albertans are making now will determine our future in a few weeks.
Turning to schools, there are currently active alerts or outbreaks in 309 schools, about 13 per cent of all schools in Alberta.
Currently these schools have 1,046 active cases in total.
This number includes 65 schools that are currently on the watch list.
So far, in-school transmission has likely occurred in 151 schools. Of these, about 79 had only one new case as a result.
I commend schools for the work they do each day to keep cases as low as possible, I know parents, students, teachers and staff continue to be concerned.
As children can mimic adults – and parents know this happens at inopportune moments – our schools mimic what is happening in the community.
This means that when we drive community transmission down, we will see this reflected in school numbers.
So if you know a teacher or a student going to school each day, think of them as motivation while you recommit yourself to public health measures.
These rising numbers that we are seeing are straining our system in many ways.
One of these is the challenge in contact tracing, as each case on average now has about 15 close contacts within their infectious period.
That means with about 1,000 new cases a day, there are 15,000 people every day who are new close contacts.
It is impossible to make phone calls to each one, which is why AHS has changed their processes and is using technology like the online portal to speed up this work.
Since AHS launched this portal on November 12, about 25 per cent of notified positive cases have used it to enter close contacts. Thank you if you are one of those people.
This is a good start. But we need to do more.
I understand that getting a positive test result can be overwhelming, but please follow all direction from AHS for sharing your contact information.
They have made it easy, and it is anonymous. Your information is not shared with the close contacts you enter in the portal.
Another crucial element of the text message contact notification that the online portal enables is the need for contacts to respond to AHS to let the team know if they are symptomatic, a health care worker, both or neither.
If you receive a text from AHS notifying you that you are a close contact of a COVID case, please note the response options and take the time to respond with the option that matches your situation.
This is critical to helping AHS prioritize phone calls where they matter most.
This will make a huge difference in how quickly we can notify close contacts, and prevent further spread of illness.
While numbers are rising, this does not change the good things that are also happening.
For those in our communities who are recognizing Diwali, I want to thank you for adjusting your celebrations this year.
I know gatherings with friends and relatives, and enjoying meals together are a large part of this holiday.
Everyone’s holidays and special occasions are looking a little different this year, as we know that social gatherings continue to be a large driver of active cases in the province.
But that does not mean that we can not still find joy in holidays, or appreciate the meaning of them.
Regardless of our individual beliefs, one thing that we can all take away from Diwali, is that light always overcomes the darkness.
I know that right now, many are feeling the darkness of COVID-19.
It is concerning to see increased numbers in our neighbourhoods, or outbreaks at our loved ones’ continuing care centre or school.
It is frustrating to have more restrictions in effect when we feel we’ve already missed out on time with friends and family.
And when we’ve done our best to follow public health measures, but don’t immediately see results, we can lose hope.
But hope is not lost.
As I have mentioned before, there is a lag time between our actions and their results.
If we all follow public health measures, along with any additional restrictions in our communities, we could start to see results in the next one to two weeks.
So for the next two weeks, I encourage Albertans to re-double their efforts:
Stay home if you are sick; wash your hands regularly and don’t touch your face with unwashed hands; maintain distance from those outside your household, and wear a mask when you are in indoor public spaces.
Now is not the time for parties. If you are in a community under enhanced status, it is imperative that you not have unnecessary visits from those who do not live with you.
For those not in enhanced areas, remember smaller is better when it comes to gatherings.
We all need to do our part. We have great power when we work together.
We are seeing this in our influenza numbers this year.
We have called on all Albertans to do their part to support our health system by getting their flu shot.
And you have answered that call. More than 1.1 million Albertans have already been immunized compared to about 940,000 at this time last year.
This is incredible, and what is more encouraging is the successes we are seeing.
As of today, we have not had a single laboratory confirmed case of seasonal influenza, and therefore no hospitalizations or deaths related to influenza this season.
Overall in the 2019 – 2020 season last year, we had 8,470 lab confirmed cases and 41 influenza-related deaths of individuals who were hospitalized.
I hope that you see this as some light in the darkness.
These results, of record vaccine uptake and no cases demonstrably show the power of us working together.
There is no way around COVID-19 without this same power of collective action. We must continue to work together.
Thank you and I am happy to take any questions.