Check against delivery.

Thank you, Tom, and good afternoon everyone.

We have now administered more than 124,000 doses of vaccine in our province, and about 32,700 Albertans have been fully immunized with two doses.

Over the last 24 hours, we identified 195 new cases of COVID-19.

We completed 7,003 tests, and our positivity rate currently stands at about 3.2%.

Looking to schools, there are currently active alerts or outbreaks in 315 schools, or about 13% of schools in the province.

Currently these schools have a combined total of 866 cases since January 11th.  

Since January 11, in-school transmission has likely occurred in 77 schools. Of these, 61 have only had one new case occur as a result. In total, there have been 115 cases of in-school transmission since school went back in person.

It’s now been four weeks since all grades returned to in-person learning and we’ve been keeping a close eye on the number of cases identified in school-aged children and youth.  

The week before in-school classes returned, we saw an average of 131 new cases identified each day in Albertans between the ages of five and 19.

In the first week of in-person school, that dropped to 113 new cases a day and has continued to decline ever since.

Last week, we were down to an average of 58 new cases each day in that age group. While any new case is concerning, this is a positive trend.

It continues to show what we have seen here in Alberta since in-person learning began in September: cases rise and fall in children and youth as the rates of community transmission increase and decrease.

When combined with the other evidence that we are seeing, this tells us that schools are still not a primary driver of COVID-19 transmission when appropriate measures are applied.

The measures in place to minimize spread in our schools are largely working thanks to the efforts and attention of our teachers, staff and students.

However, it remains crucial that we keep transmission low and our case numbers falling.

That is the best way to protect schools, continuing care facilities and the rest of society.

Currently there are 427 people in hospital, including 78 in the ICU.

Sadly, there continue to be lives lost from COVID-19. Over the last 24 hours, 12 new deaths have been reported to Alberta Health.

My sympathies go to those grieving the loss of these individuals, and to anyone who has lost someone they love, no matter the cause.

I know that many Albertans continue to have questions around the variant cases that we are identifying.

We have detected 1 additional variant case, bringing the total to 104 in the province.

Of these, 97 have been B.1.1.7, the strain first identified in the U.K., and 7 have been 501Y.V2, the strain first identified in South Africa.

I know there are concerns about one of these more contagious variants becoming the dominant strain in the province – this is a serious worry for me, too.

However, I also think it is important to keep the new numbers that we report in context.

It is important that Albertans understand what these numbers mean in terms of the spread we are seeing.

For context, the first variant case in Alberta was identified retrospectively in a sample originally taken on Dec. 15 in a returning traveler.

From that day to now, there have been 104 positive variant cases identified among all the samples that have been taken.

At the same time, more than 43,000 cases of COVID-19 strain were detected in our province.

This means that variant cases made up a quarter of a percent of all the cases identified from Dec. 15 onwards.

More recently, since our lab has begun testing most if not all positive samples, the average percent of all cases that are variants of concern is higher at 1.4% of all positive tests.

Specifically, between January 30 and February 5, there were 38 variant cases and 2,703 non-variant cases.

This does not in any way minimize the threat that these variants pose, or the impact they will have if we let them spread widely.

However, so far, variants are still very rare and we are working hard to try to keep it that way.

We have worked to expand our testing capacity, create dedicated variant contact tracing teams, and move rapidly to isolate variant cases and prevent virus spread.

Even more important are the public health measures and precautions each of us must keep following every day.

These are the tried and true habits we have created over the past year.

Simple steps like staying home if sick, getting tested and following the letter and the spirit of the rules in place are still our most effective protection.

The more we can all keep finding alternatives to close, in-person interactions, the safer we will all be from any strain of COVID-19.

Alberta is up for that challenge, but we all must continue working together to stop the spread and keep each other safe.

Thank you and I’m happy to take questions.