Check against delivery.
Thank you, Minister, and good afternoon.
As you have already heard a high-level overview of today’s numbers from the Premier, I will keep my remarks brief.
As you heard, for the upcoming holiday season, we are providing a one-time exemption to the gathering limit for people who live alone.
Between December 23rd and 28th, an individual living alone may join another household for one gathering only during this period.
A household must only host a maximum of two people who live alone (not including minors) and only one event.
This approach strives to balance mental wellness for individuals living alone and the need to limit COVID-19 spread.
To be clear: we are providing a five-day window – from Dec. 23 to 28th to accommodate schedules for first responders and others who may work variable shifts. However, an individual living alone may only attend one gathering during this time.
If gathering with someone who is at higher risk of severe outcomes, such as someone over the age of 65 or someone with chronic conditions, please make sure that all gathering safety measures are applied continuously.
Please find a way to ensure that that person can participate in the event while still being able to maintain 2 metres of distance from all others.
You can also take practical steps to protect them by making sure they have access to hand sanitizer at all times, and you can consider asking others not typically in contact with that person to wear masks while in a room with them where distancing may not be possible at all times.
With respect to our COVID-19 response, I know that one topic of great interest to Albertans is our contact tracing system.
Alberta Health Services continues to bolster the number of contact tracers helping to protect Albertans.
They now have about 1200 contact tracers and are on track to have close to 1600 by the end of the year.
The contact tracing team will continue to work day and night throughout the holidays, and I want to acknowledge their hard work and thank them.
COVID-19 obviously doesn’t take a break, and I’m extremely grateful to all of our healthcare workers who are spending the season caring for patients and responding to the pandemic.
During the next week and half, AHS will continue to carry out case investigations and contact tracing for cases including those in students and school staff.
As per their usual process, AHS will ask school administration to provide class lists and contact information for close contacts to help notify those who may have been exposed.
However, there will be some instances where school administrative staff are not available during the holiday period.
In these cases, AHS will not be able to contact parents of children who may have been exposed to a case.
This, again, highlights the absolute need for people – including children – to stay home if they are feeling unwell, and to continue to follow all public health measures currently in place.
I know this is a challenging time of year for many.
In many ways, those in continuing care are particularly challenged right now.
This week, I wrote letters to operators and families of residents encouraging them to follow all the restrictions in place, while acknowledging the impact of these restrictions on them.
This includes the request that all designated family or support persons limit their presence on site as much as possible.
If there are ways to care for mental and physical well-being by not entering the facility, please do so.
I know this is a difficult time for those living and working in these facilities, and I hope all Albertans will show their kindness and support for those in continuing care.
A letter, a card, or a call will go a long way.
Finally, I want to also stress the importance of caring for your own mental health during this time of year.
It’s normal to feel increased levels of stress during the holiday season, and 2020 has been especially hard on all of us.
If you are feeling sad, anxious or upset, this is completely understandable and you are not alone in those feelings.
Looking after our own and each other’s mental health is just as important as washing hands regularly and staying home when sick.
If you are struggling, please remember that you are not alone. Confidential, non-judgemental support is available – even over the holidays.
Alberta’s Mental Health Helpline is available 24-7 and offers confidential support for mental health concerns.
Alberta’s Addiction Helpline is also available around the clock, and offers confidential support for alcohol, tobacco, drugs and problem gambling.
This can also a difficult time for children and youth – and the Kids Help Phone and Alberta Youth Mental Health Hub online are great tools.
Please visit ahs.ca/helpintoughtimes for these phone numbers, for more information and for additional resources.
And as a reminder, mental health services, including psychiatry, individual and group counselling services, residential addiction treatment, and mutual support groups are not restricted under our current public health orders.
They can continue to operate with the appropriate safety protocols in place.
We all need help sometimes. If you need any support for your mental or physical health, please do not hesitate to seek assistance.
Every single Albertan has been impacted by this virus and is doing their best to get through.
This has been an extraordinary year.
So, for the rest of 2020, let’s all approach each other with extraordinary kindness.
Thank you and we’ll be happy to take questions.