Check against delivery.

Thank you, Tom and good afternoon everyone.

Before I provide today’s numbers, I want to speak again about vaccine safety.

Safety monitoring is of the utmost importance for all vaccines, and I want to let Albertans know how we are doing that monitoring here.

First of all, Canada’s review process prior to licensing a vaccine for use in this country is among the best in the world.

Both of the vaccines we are using went through a rigorous testing and Health Canada approval process.

Here in Alberta, we have now administered 95,243 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

These have gone to

  • residents and staff in long-term care and designated supportive living facilities,
  • respiratory therapists,
  • paramedics, and those who work in ICUs and emergency departments
  • as well as healthcare workers in medical, surgical and COVID-19 units.

There have been 18 adverse events reported following the more than 95,000 doses that have been administered, with an overall rate that remains lower than this year’s pneumococcal vaccine program.

Six of the adverse events have been an allergic reaction, and these individuals are seeing an allergist before getting their second dose.

Other reactions have been symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, or a rash.

We will continue to monitor every dose that is administered to make sure we’re protecting Albertans’ health.

I’m providing regular updates on this because I want Albertans to understand that we are watching closely, and that the benefits of these vaccines far outweigh the risks.

I hope this information helps Albertans understand what the options are and make the informed choice to get immunized when it’s their turn.

That choice will help protect them, their loved ones and their community. That choice will save lives.

Turning to today’s update, over the last 24 hours we have identified 669 new cases of COVID-19 in the province and completed about 14,900 tests.

That puts our current positivity rate at about 4.5%.

There are currently 167 schools on alert and 2 outbreaks declared in schools in the province.

These schools have a combined total of 252 cases, only 18 of which have been assessed as arising from in-school transmission.

There are 744 people in hospital, including 124 who have been admitted to the ICU.

It’s important to remember that is the number of people currently in hospital that I am providing, not all those who have ever needed hospital care since the spring.

To put this into context, over the last 10 years, we have had an average of just over 1,500 total hospital admissions for influenza annually.

For COVID-19, the comparable number comes from less than a year of data. More than 5,000 people have needed hospital care since the pandemic began for COVID-19 in Alberta.

Sadly, 21 new deaths were reported to us in the last 24 hours.

After having a few days of lower numbers, I am sorry to have to report this increase today.

Each number represents a person lost, and my sympathies go to those mourning the loss of these individuals, as well as anyone else grieving the passing of someone they loved.

To prevent these outcomes, we need to remain vigilant.

Recently, our public health teams have been made aware that some employers are asking their employees who have been identified as close contacts of confirmed cases, to come back to work as soon as they receive a negative test result – and before the legally-required 14-day quarantine period.

Not only is this the wrong thing to do to protect each other, it is also illegal.

A test is only a snapshot of a particular point in time and someone who has been exposed to the virus can become sick up to 14 days after their exposure.

This means that someone who is a close contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case can test negative on day three and then test positive on day seven.

That’s why it is critical that the mandated quarantine and isolation protocols are followed and respected.

I would ask that all employers respect the need for staff to isolate for the full mandatory period and support them however possible during this time.

We have also heard from some families who are wondering how the eased restriction for outdoor social gatherings applies to those living in continuing care.

This includes long-term care, designated and other licensed supportive living facilities, and hospices.

Across Canada and right here in Alberta, we have seen the tragic toll this virus has taken on the elderly, especially those living in continuing care and congregate living settings.

The impact on the physical, mental and emotional health of these residents has been significant.

The restrictions implemented over December have also been very difficult for the families of those living in care who have been unable to visit them in person.

The change to outdoor social gatherings does impact how you can gather at continuing care facilities.

Facility operators are now permitted to use outdoor designated spaces on-site for outdoor visits with a maximum of 5 people, including the resident.

If residents are able to go off-site, they can participate in an outdoor social gathering with up to nine other people.

In doing so, the residents may be asked to use additional safety precautions on their return to the facility, so it is good to discuss those before leaving.

In either case, physical distancing must be followed during the gathering and additional precautions, such as wearing a mask at all times during the outing, are recommended to protect the resident who is more vulnerable to COVID-19.

All visits must be pre-arranged and coordinated, so please contact facility staff in advance to discuss the best options to safely visit your loved one.

It’s also important to consider the weather, dress warmly and to stay home if you’re feeling even slightly ill.

This is true for all of us.

While this pandemic is now more than 10 months old, it remains essential that we all stay home if there are any symptoms, and book testing as soon as possible.

This is still one of the key ways that we help protect, not only our own health, but the health of our friends and neighbours.

Thank you and I am happy to take questions.