Check against delivery.

Thank you, Tom, and good afternoon everyone.

Before I begin, I want to alert Albertans that AHS has received reports of some people over 75 receiving phone calls telling them that they can book their COVID-19 immunization for a fee.

This is not a legitimate claim. This is a scam.

Due to limited supply coming into the province, we are not yet able to offer the vaccine to all Albertans over the age of 75.

When we do, the vaccine will be free of charge.

Neither AHS nor any other community provider will ever be asking for payment for the vaccine.

If you receive these calls, please hang up immediately and report to the non-emergency line of your local law enforcement.

Turning to today’s update, due to a technical issue that was identified in routine quality assurance checks, about 6,000 lab tests were not included in yesterday’s update.

This was a one-time error that only affected our public reporting, not the notification of any positive cases.

This issue has now been fixed, and we are including them in today’s update.

As a result, we are reporting 582 new cases in the province, this includes 421 cases which were identified over the last 24 hours.

The change to yesterday’s numbers will be reflected on our website, and the overall positivity rate did not change yesterday.

Yesterday, we completed more than 11,500 tests.  

And our positivity rate is currently about 3.6%.

Looking to schools, there are currently active alerts or outbreaks in 304 schools, or about 13% of schools in the province.

Currently these schools have a combined total of 763 cases.

We continue to see a decline in our hospitalizations, which benefits every Albertan. There are currently 517 people in hospital, including 93 in the ICU.

Sadly, 13 new deaths were reported to Alberta Health over the last 24 hours. My condolences go to the family and friends of these Albertans.

We can never forget that these numbers represent human lives lost.  

These aren’t just statistics, these were people who leave behind grieving family members, co-workers, friends, neighbours and community members.

All of our efforts are to limit the spread of COVID-19,

And in turn, to help more families from going through the pain of having a loved one in hospital, in ICU, or tragically, losing a loved one to this virus.

We have now detected 68 variant cases in the province. 

Unfortunately, out of the 11 new confirmed variant cases yesterday, all of which are B.1.1.7, or the strain first identified in the U.K., seven of these currently have no known link to travel.

Investigation is underway with detailed follow up of all these cases and their contacts.

Two of the new cases, which are travel related, have been identified as having potentially exposed two additional schools in the Calgary Zone.

As I mentioned in previous updates, these individuals did nothing wrong, and unfortunately the exposure was the result of an overlap in incubation and quarantine periods.

In the schools that we identified exposures in earlier this week, I am happy to report that there has still been no spread detected within any of these classes despite enhanced testing.

However, with these two new schools, as before, it is important to know that anyone who may have been exposed was already quarantined after the initial COVID positive test. We are now offering all close contacts the chance to get tested twice, as a precautionary measure.

We are actively reviewing the literature and experience around the globe to assess if additional measures are needed in schools and other settings in the weeks ahead.

Evidence is still emerging, but we are watching closely. If we need to make changes, we will do so.

Today, I’d like to end by talking briefly about vaccine safety and what the emergence of new variants means for our vaccines.

So far, we have administered more than 112,000 doses of vaccine in the province.

More than 21,700 Albertans have now been fully immunized with two doses.

We continue to monitor every dose administered for any adverse events, and so far we have not seen a significant increase in the rate or severity of reactions.

From more than 112,000 doses, there have been 53 adverse events reported.

This rate is on par with this year’s pneumococcal vaccination program.

Eleven of these events were an allergic reaction, and these individuals will see an allergist before getting their second dose.

The most common other reactions have been symptoms such as swollen lymph nodes, diarrhea, vomiting, or a rash.

We are posting daily updates online, and I will continue to share them with you because I know it’s important for Albertans to understand that we are closely monitoring the immunization program, and that no safety signals have been reported with either vaccine.

Current evidence from around the world indicates that these vaccines are safe, and the benefit of being protected from COVID-19 outweighs the very rare risk of a minor adverse event.

In addition to the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines currently being administered, Health Canada continues to rigorously review other vaccine candidates and will approve those that are found to be safe and effective.

When it’s your turn to receive the vaccine, I ask that you make the choice to be immunized.

Whether you’re doing it to protect yourself, your family or perhaps those you don’t even know, your immunization will save lives.

As we await an increased and stabilized vaccine supply, I know many people have questions about how these vaccines work on the new COVID-19 variants.

As you know, several new strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus – or the "variants" we are talking about – have been identified in Alberta and around the world.

These variants are similar to, but more infectious than the strain we’ve experienced so far.

Evidence is still emerging on the effectiveness of the vaccines on these variants.

It’s important to remember that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are only a few months old, just like the variants.

There is much we do not yet know, though researchers around the world are investigating.

Early investigations so far appear to suggest the current vaccines may be somewhat less effective against some of the new variants, in terms of preventing all symptoms of COVID-19.

However, even against the variants, these vaccines still appear to be extremely effective at preventing severe cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Again, research is still emerging, and there are a large number of vaccines being developed as we speak, so we will continue to watch the emerging literature closely.

However, this is a positive sign, and one that we can all take hope in.

At the same, it is also a reminder that we cannot simply wait for vaccines to arrive.

As a number of people have said recently, “viruses can’t mutate if they don’t replicate”, and variants can’t spread if we don’t give them the opportunity.

I know it isn’t easy, but we need to keep focused on following the measures in place and trying to limit in-person interactions whenever we can.

We need to harness our collective power to prevent cases from rising so we protect one another and the healthcare system, and continue to keep each other safe.

Thank you and I’m happy to take questions.