Check against delivery.

Thank you, Tom, and good afternoon everyone.

Before we begin today, I’d like to outline how we will be sharing updates over the holidays.

I know that many people follow our daily numbers and care deeply about this information.

I also know that our surveillance teams have worked incredibly hard since this pandemic began.

That’s why, for the next week and a half, we will be modifying our COVID-19 reporting while still keeping Albertans informed.

From the 24th through the 27th, we will not be posting detailed updates online.

However, except for Dec. 25th, we will provide a high-level summary of preliminary data every day through my Twitter account. This will provide early estimates on the number of new cases identified the previous day, the number of tests conducted, as well as hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and positivity rate.

On Dec. 28th, I will provide another live update and we will post our usual data online, providing a detailed breakdown of the previous four days.

On December 29th and 30th, we will continue updating our website each day, followed by a break from December 31st to January 3rd.

During this time, there will again be no website updates but we will provide preliminary data each day through my Twitter account.

I want to note that this only impacts our reporting schedule.

Our remarkable health care teams, including those working in the lab, those who do contact tracing, those who manage outbreaks, and those who care for patients who are ill, will continue working every day, to support Albertans.

Turning to today’s update, over the last 24 hours, we have identified 1,301 new cases of COVID-19 in Alberta, and completed more than 19,000 tests.  

This means our positivity rate currently stands at about 6.8%.

Hospitalizations continue to rise.

There are currently 821 people in hospital, including 146 who have been admitted to the ICU.

Sadly, 19 new deaths were reported to us in the last 24 hours.

My deepest sympathies go to the loved ones of these individuals and to anyone who is grieving a loss. 

This time of year can be especially painful for those mourning the loss of a loved one and my thoughts are with you.

Preventing these deaths as well as preventing hospitalization and ICU admissions is what makes vaccines so important.

As many Albertans already know, Health Canada approved the Moderna vaccine today, making this the second COVID-19 vaccine authorized for use in Canada.

Exact amounts and timing for Alberta are still being determined.

The incoming arrival of a second vaccine is good, but it also does not change the seriousness of our current situation.

We are now well into the holiday season for many and I want to stress yet again how important it is that we limit our in-person interactions whenever possible.

Thanksgiving get-togethers helped fuel a spike in cases that we are still fighting to reduce today.

We cannot afford for that to happen now, when our baseline of new daily cases is four to five times higher now than it was then.

As another example of the impact that social interactions can have, I want to tell you about a trend we have been watching with our school-aged case numbers.

As you know, Alberta saw a slow increase in cases among school-aged children throughout the fall, showing a steeper rise in the month of November.

 In late November, new health measures were implemented.

These included a pause on team sports and group performance activities, as well as limitations on social gatherings.

Although junior and senior high students shifted to learning at home at that time, and elementary age students remained in school in person, the new case rates for all three groups plateaued and then started to drop in a very similar way.

In all three age groups, the daily new case numbers roughly tripled from the beginning of November to the end of the month.

Cases started to plateau at the beginning of December, and have fallen over the past few weeks.

This similar trend in all three age groups supports the other evidence we have seen, suggesting that the school model in place is protective against in-school transmission.

Instead, it seems that it is mainly all the other in-person activities that children undertake that are exposing them to the virus and helping to spread COVID-19.

This tells us once again that reducing social interactions is critical to protecting each other and bending the curve.

Please limit your social gatherings whenever possible in the next few days and stick to your household.

While we have provided an exemption to allow those who live alone to attend a single gathering during the next few days, please only undertake this if absolutely necessary.

Absolutely do not go if you are feeling even slightly ill.

This is a happy time of year, but also a challenging time for our province.

We are seeing encouraging signs and the spread of COVID-19 is starting to decline.

However, cases are still extremely high and our hospitalizations continue to rise, which is impacting our ability to care for all Albertans.

Our choices during the upcoming statutory holiday season can help build on our downward momentum, or they can send our case numbers rising again.

Over the last 10 months, we have been through so much together and we have each made personal sacrifices for the collective good.

These changes have not been easy, but they have made a difference.

Someone asked me recently what I was wishing for during the holiday season.

This year, I wish that all Albertans embrace the restrictions in place and make the safe choice over the next few days.

This is hard, I know, but these sacrifices help protect all of us.

Following the rules is an act of generosity to our community and to our province.

I also wish that, despite the restrictions in place, every Albertan still finds ways to connect safely with those who mean the most to them.

What if, during the time we would normally be with those we love, we took the time to write a letter or record a video to those people in our lives that we are missing seeing this year?

What if we used that time to tell them the things we are grateful for that they bring to our lives?

Showing gratitude in this way not only shows caring for the person you are writing to or speaking to, there is actually good evidence that gratitude is also good for the mental health of the person feeling grateful.

This means both people benefit from this action.

This year, I wish that every health care worker understands how deeply we appreciate their sacrifice and determination.

2020 has been challenging for all of us, but it has been particularly hard on people caring for those who are ill and most vulnerable. I want to thank all those who are doing this important work.

I also wish that everyone who has been impacted by the health measures in place – the business operators, restaurant owners, staff, performance groups, and so many others – is applauded for the resiliency and determination they have shown over this past year.

Finally, I wish for all of us the strength, patience and determination to remain vigilant in the fight against COVID-19 over the coming months and to look out for one another.

Unfortunately, simply wishing won’t make it so.

It’s up to each of us to do our part.

This has been a challenging year and I recognize the holidays will be tough for many.

Let’s all treat each other with extra understanding and compassion.

If we support each other, and continue doing what needs to be done, we will get through this together.

Thank you and I’m happy to take questions.