Check against delivery.

Thank you, Tom and good afternoon everyone.

Before I begin, I’d like to clarify an answer I gave yesterday to a question about Step 2.

The question asked me when any of the restrictions eased in Step 2 would take effect.

I indicated that a decision would be made on March 1, and also referenced an earlier commitment to give businesses one week’s notice before easing restrictions, which, combined, would have led to a date of March 8.

This earlier commitment was made in the context of the Step 1 changes, and in particular, to provide restaurants with enough lead time to prepare and have a chance to reopen on an even footing.

We know that lead times vary by sector and business. 

Given that each step in the Path Forward contains some unique elements, the same notice may not be required for businesses in Steps 2, 3, or 4.   

If a decision is made on March 1 to move to the next step, it is possible that restrictions could be eased the same day.

This decision will depend on what we see in our leading indicators this week.

Turning to today’s updates, more than 180,000 doses of vaccine have now been administered across the province.

More than 107,000 Albertans have received at least one dose, including 73,000 who are now fully immunized with two doses.

Over the last 24 hours, we have identified 267 new cases of COVID-19, and completed about 6,300 tests.  

Our positivity rate currently stands at 4.4%.

There are currently active alerts or outbreaks in 231 schools, or about 10% of the schools in the province.

Currently these schools have a combined total of 846 cases since in-person classes resumed.

There are currently 326 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 51 in the ICU.

Sadly, I must announce that 11 new deaths were reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours.  

My sympathies go to the families and friends of these individuals, as well as anyone who is mourning the loss of a loved one, no matter the cause.

Today, I would like to talk once again about stigma and the importance of supporting those who contract COVID-19 or who are exposed to it.

We have heard concerns from individuals connected to recent outbreaks that they are feeling criticized, stigmatized or even blamed.

It is important to remember that every part of this province, and every sector of society has been touched by this virus.

Many of the cases and outbreaks we see have been triggered by a series of unfortunate events.

We must be compassionate with those who test positive and those who have been exposed, and we must support those who have even mild symptoms to stay home and away from others without shame.

Stigma and blame risk driving cases and spread underground, and risk discouraging people from going for testing.

We all have a role to play in creating supportive environments to prevent spread.

Another critical way to prevent spread of the virus is, of course, immunization.

Starting tomorrow, seniors age 75 and older will be able to book their appointment to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

I know that many people are eagerly looking forward to getting the vaccine.

I also know there are many questions, so I’d like to talk a little more about how this will work, recognizing we will be updating our website with detailed instructions tomorrow.

The first question I know many people have is do you have to be 75 to be eligible?

The answer is, you need to be born in 1946 or earlier.

So if you’re 74 and turning 75 this year, you are eligible for the vaccine.

The second question I know many people have is how do I register for my shot?

If you are a senior, 75 or older living in a licensed supportive living facility, you do not need to book an appointment.

AHS is already contacting all those sites directly to arrange for you to receive both your first and second dose at the appropriate time.

If you live independently in the community, starting tomorrow morning at 8 a.m., you can book an appointment through the online AHS booking tool, or by calling Health Link at 811.

AHS will start booking appointments tomorrow, but please be patient.

Given the risk of serious outcomes from COVID-19 for these individuals, we expect there will be enormous demand for immunization.

We have increased staffing for Health Link to make sure that any senior who wants an appointment, can get an appointment as quickly as possible, but we know this will take weeks to achieve.

For many folks, I know that it may feel like you have been waiting a very long time for the vaccine and you are keen to get a first dose as soon as possible.

I’m asking everyone booking appointments to please be patient, especially in the first few days.

For those who try to book after all initial appointments have been filled up, remember that new appointments will be made available as more vaccine arrives.

With the doses we are anticipating receiving, all Alberta seniors who want vaccine will be able to get their first dose before the end of March.

It may just take a little bit of time to get your appointment, as availability depends upon the timing of the supply we receive in the province.

Because there will be more demand than supply in the next few months, and we must ensure that no doses are wasted, all immunizations are being done by appointment rather than walk-ins.

As you book your shot with AHS, you will be able to select from available appointments at one of 58 sites located across the province.

This will enable people to receive the dose as close as possible to their home.

Once you have booked your appointment with AHS, you will be provided a confirmation with the location, date and time for your first and second dose appointment.

Each site will be operated by trained professionals, with appropriate Personal Protective Equipment, distancing and other measures in place to limit any risk of exposure.

Many people may be wondering what dates and times appointments will be offered.

Starting tomorrow, we will be booking appointments for seven days a week, including on weekends.

We only have a limited supply of vaccine right now, so initially appointment times will be available between 8:20 a.m. and 3:40 p.m.

As more doses arrive, we will extend those hours.

In addition to AHS, in the future we will also offer the vaccine through participating pharmacies.

This is similar to how we offer the influenza vaccine every year.

Details on this program, and how seniors will be able to book an appointment at a participating pharmacy, will be announced later this week.

I have also heard questions about whether family members will be able to book appointments for their parents or loved ones.

The answer is absolutely yes.

If you have a family member or friend who is eligible for the vaccine, please consider asking them if they need assistance in booking their dose or getting safely to their appointment.

At their appointment, please make sure that seniors have their photo ID and Alberta Health Care card to confirm their identity and age.

When it comes to transportation to vaccine appointments, we are encouraging a community approach.

I am asking family and friends of any eligible senior to help out if that individual needs transportation to receive the vaccine.

If you are a senior and can’t find transportation to your appointment, please call 211 and they will help out.

Finally, I want to ask Albertans for patience.

More than 230,000 seniors 75 and over will now be eligible for the vaccine, along with all those in Phase 1A who are still receiving their doses.

This is a massive expansion for our province, and a big step forward.

However, unlike our yearly influenza campaigns, we do not have large stockpiles of the vaccines ready to go provincewide.

Instead, we are relying on new shipments that we anticipate will be increasing each week.

It will take time to immunize all our eligible seniors, and there will likely be a few hiccups along the way as we continue expanding.

But healthcare teams across Alberta will be working very hard to make sure that each eligible senior gets immunization as soon as possible. 

This a major milestone in our vaccination program and in our fight against COVID-19.

By continuing to vaccinate those at greatest risk of severe outcomes, we are protecting thousands of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, neighbours, friends, and community members who are most vulnerable to this virus.  

In the next few months as we immunize these groups, it is more important than ever that we keep being the vaccine for each other.

Every day that cases stay steady or decline means that fewer Albertans get sick and need hospital care, and the strain on our health systems ease just a little bit more.

The more we can keep spread down, the safer we can keep our loved ones and communities while we work to immunize everyone who is most at risk.

Thank you and I’m happy to take questions.