Check against delivery.

Thank you, Tom, and good afternoon everyone.

We have now administered more than 149,000 doses of the vaccine and more than 54,000 Albertans are fully immunized with two doses.

Over the last 24 hours, we have identified 263 new cases of COVID-19, and completed about 5,200 tests.  

This puts our positivity rate at about 5%.

This is an increase from where we have been in the past few weeks, which is concerning.

It is possible this increase is because of changes in who went for testing over the long weekend, so we will be watching closely in the days to come to see if this is an isolated finding, or a concerning trend.

There are currently active alerts or outbreaks in 264 schools, or about 11% of the schools in the province.

Currently these schools have a combined total of 861 cases since January 11th.

Turning to variant cases in Alberta, on Friday last week, we identified 15 new variant cases, with 18 on Saturday, followed by 10 on Sunday and, finally, 7 on Monday.

This is an average of 12 new variant cases per day.

I know that many Albertans are concerned about these variants, and I am too.

I am particularly concerned about the growing number of cases not linked to travel, though many of these cases are the results of close contacts who we have identified through robust contact tracing.

This includes offering testing twice to anyone who may have been exposed to a variant case.

We are actively monitoring the emerging research on these variants, and looking to see if any of our current guidelines or approaches need to change, beyond the adjustments we have already made to limit opportunities for spread.

There are 365 people in hospital for COVID-19, including 56 in the ICU.

Sadly, 9 new deaths were reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours.  

While the number of COVID fatalities continue to trend down, these deaths are a painful reminder to all of us about the seriousness of this virus and the need to protect ourselves, and each other, from it.

My thoughts are with anyone mourning the loss of someone they loved from COVID-19, or any other cause.

It has now been one week since we eased step one restrictions as part of our path forward.

As you know, due to the lengthy incubation period of this virus it can take up to two weeks to begin to see the impact of any changes to restrictions.

It’s too soon, therefore, to say what effect they are having in the province.

However, it is positive news that our hospitalizations have continued to decline since our peak at the end of December.

The R rate in Alberta is currently 0.85, which indicates that overall our trend in cases in the past few weeks has continued downward.

While our highest case numbers are in Edmonton and Calgary, the reproductive rate and active case rates are outside the two urban zones, highlighting that no area of the province is free from COVID-19.

We will continue to watch these key metrics in the coming days as they will inform our Path Forward.

Speaking of the Path Forward plan, we have had some questions today that I would like to address.

The first is about capacity limits for in-person service in restaurants that is now permitted in step one.

Unlike, other public settings like retail stores, we have not implemented specific capacity limits on restaurants, bars and lounges.

Instead, we have limited capacity by putting in place physical distancing protocols that require a minimum of two metres spacing between tables and dining parties.

In addition, we have limited the number of people who can be seated at the same table to a maximum of 6, and these must be members of the same household, or an individual living alone with their two contacts.

This approach still reduces the capacity of the venue, but is based on the configuration of table distancing and limiting people at a table rather than by a percentage of fire code occupancy.

This is an important distinction because unlike retail shoppers in a store who are always wearing masks and may only briefly get close to each other in certain high-traffic areas.

Individuals eating and drinking are not wearing masks, and they remain in a location for an extended period of time.

This makes it critical that they are appropriately spaced from other parties for the duration of time in the restaurant. 

Another question we’ve received is about why we are not considering easing the ban on indoor social gatherings until step three.

This is a natural question to ask, especially after not being able to spend time or recent holidays with our family and friends.

I too, deeply miss being able to gather with my family and friends as I know all Albertans do.

But, evidence shows that it’s in these social get-togethers where we see the highest rates of transmission.

We saw the start of our last spike following Thanksgiving, Halloween and the gatherings that went along with these holidays.

Though it’s been incredibly difficult for many of us to not gather with our loved ones indoors,

I believe this sacrifice has had the biggest impact on reducing spread in the province, relieving the pressure on our health care system and getting us to the point we are at today.

We cannot become complacent now, especially with the arrival of variants of concern in our province, and indoor social gatherings present too much of a risk at this point.  

With the weather improving, there is an opportunity for outdoor social gatherings with up to 10 people, where we can have the interaction we need in a way that minimizes the risk of transmission.

Despite all of our hard work and sacrifices, which all Albertans should be proud of, Alberta still has a very high case rate, and our numbers are still higher than they were before the second wave in November and December.

Looking back to October, just four months ago: on October 17th we had a total of 2,890 active cases; today, we have almost 5,000.

On October 17th, there were 122 people in the hospital. Today, we still have three times that amount.

Four months later, with some of the strictest measures in place, we’re still working to reduce the ripple effects of our previous interactions.

These numbers underscore the power that our actions have.

Power that can lead to uncontrolled spread if we are not vigilant, or power that can slow transmission down when we work together and follow the rules.

We all need to stay the course and continue to make choices every day to reduce our in-person interactions, especially indoors.

Thank you and I’m happy to take questions.