Check against delivery.
Thank you, Tom, and good afternoon everyone.
Before I begin today, I want to advise everyone of a change we’re making to the regional status map on alberta.ca to better reflect our provincial path forward plan.
As a part of this, we are currently taking province-wide steps to ease measures.
Because we are taking a provincial focus right now, we’ve removed the colour-coded regional status map and have removed the region classifications of enhanced, watch and open.
Albertans can still use our online information to see the active case numbers, active case rates and population of their communities.
We are looking at trends both provincially and regionally to assess the impacts of the steps being taken and to monitor for any change in trends.
We will explore more targeted action if needed – either easing or tightening of measures – at the Health Zone level, should circumstances warrant this in the future.
Turning to today’s update, we have now administered more than 120,000 doses of vaccine in the province.
More than 29,000 Albertans have been fully immunized with two doses.
Over the last 24 hours, we have identified 269 new cases of COVID-19, and completed about 6,200 tests.
Our positivity rate currently stands about 4.3%.
The R value in Alberta over the last week was 0.87, meaning our cases continue to trend down.
There are currently active alerts or outbreaks in 313 schools, or about 13% of all schools in the province.
These schools have had a combined total of 844 cases since January 11th.
Hospitalizations continue to decline, which is positive news as it relieves pressure on our health care system.
There are 432 people in hospital, including 76 in the ICU.
Sadly, 5 new deaths were reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours.
My condolences go to the loved ones of these individuals, and anyone who is mourning a death right now, no matter what the cause.
Since Friday, we have identified 25 additional cases of COVID-19 variants. This brings us to a total of 96 B.1.1.7 cases, 46 of which are not currently linked to travel.
To date, there has still been no spread identified in schools, and we continue to test widely.
As I mentioned last week, we are screening most, if not all, positive tests every day for variants of concern.
On days like today, our capacity to screen for variants exceeds the number of new cases of COVID-19 that have been identified.
Today, we are officially moving forward with step one easing of restrictions in the province.
On Saturday, we announced that limited group physical activity for young people would now be included in Step 1.
There are many factors that are considered in these decisions, such as the impact of current restrictions on children’s mental health, and the important role physical activity plays in children’s development.
When considering the various factors, given the lower risk of transmission in children, and given that school age new daily cases have continued to trend downwards since reopening in-person learning, it was decided to add this additional option for children into stage 1.
While children and youth will be allowed to participate in limited sport and related group physical activities, we are keeping measures in place to reduce the risk of transmission.
This includes requiring physical distancing among players at all times, masking and limits on the number of people who can participate.
This change was made to support the overall health and well-being of our young people, while still guarding against the spread of COVID-19.
We consider all evidence from within Alberta and around the world as part of each decision.
However, I want to stress to the parents, players, trainers and coaches that it’s vital that every public health measure be followed at all times.
That is the only way to protect the health of everyone involved.
This advice is true for all of us.
As we move forward, I know that many Albertans are excited about being able to eat in restaurants and enjoy other activities that are now possible.
However, it remains important that we all keep being careful, and keep making safe choices.
Each of these activities must still follow all other protocols and public health measures to reduce the risk of transmission between participants.
Now that we’ve started step one, I know many are wondering when we will move to the subsequent steps in the path forward plan,
But it’s too soon to talk about step two.
We deliberately built in a minimum of three weeks between steps to allow us to monitor our hospitalizations, as well as our positivity rate, new case numbers, and overall growth rate, to ensure that we’re not seeing a rise in transmission linked to activities that have been opened.
This is especially important now that we have seen some cases of the more contagious variant strains in our province.
We need to keep a close eye on these cases and take further action to prevent spread if we see these numbers grow.
The reality of this pandemic is that there are very few risk-free ways to live with COVID-19 widely circulating in the province.
Our public health measures are effective risk mitigation tools to help minimize spread of the virus and to protect our provincial health care system.
But each Albertan needs to assess the risks for themselves and their families and determine what they are comfortable with,
Within the limits of the legal requirements and orders in place.
Before we ease additional restrictions in the coming weeks, we all must be serious about following the guidance and measures in place to prevent cases from spreading.
There have been some recent events in some faith gatherings that indicate some are not taking these measures seriously.
I want to reinforce these measures are mandatory, not optional, and that in Alberta, we have made great efforts to make sure that faith communities can continue to meet in a safe way.
Those who are not following current restrictions are breaking the law.
Masking and physical distancing requirements will continue to be essential parts of our path forward in all settings, as will staying home if you’re ill and isolating as required.
As tired as we may be of hearing about them, these principles must remain top of mind in our daily routines and activities.
The phased re-opening of activities and opportunities will only succeed if all of us, no matter where we live or work, continue to follow the health measures in place and make choices to keep slowing spread of COVID-19 across the province.
We must work together to make this happen.
Thank you and I’m happy to take your questions.