Check against delivery.

Thank you, Tom, and good afternoon everyone.

Over the last 24 hours, we have identified 399 new cases of COVID-19, and completed about 10,400 tests.  

Our positivity rate currently stands at about 3.7%.

We have identified 47 new cases of a variant of concern.

This means that 734 of these cases have been identified since the first variant of concern was detected from a test sample from a returning traveler on December 15th.

While any cases of a variant of concern are worrying, so far, we have been able to slow the growth of these cases here in Alberta.

In the past six weeks, the percentage of all of our cases has risen somewhat, from about 3% of all active cases in late January to about 9% of active cases today.

Having said that, in other jurisdictions they have seen a much more rapid growth of variants of concern as a proportion of all COVID cases, going from 3 to 4% to well over half of all cases in just six weeks.  

This means that our health measures, both the overall restrictions as well as the targeted measures for variant cases, are working to slow the growth and if we continue to work together, we can continue to limit the spread.

Looking to schools, there are active alerts or outbreaks in 259 schools, or about 11% of schools in the province.

These schools have a combined total of 1,017 cases.

There are 254 people in hospital, including 37 in ICU.

Sadly, 2 new deaths were reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours.  

This leaves 2 more families grieving their loved ones, and my sympathies go out to them.

My thoughts also go out to those who are in hospital or ICU, and to the families who are watching their loved ones battle this virus.

Today I want to talk about vaccines. Every day there seem to be new developments about vaccines, new approvals, new shipments, expanded eligibility, and while this is all welcome news, it can be overwhelming to try and keep track of the latest information.

To date, we have administered close to 309,000 doses of vaccine in our province. This includes more than 91,000 Albertans who have been fully immunized with two doses.

I’m pleased to report that so far, close to 138,000 Albertans over the age of 75, not residing in continuing care or designated supported living, have been vaccinated or have appointments to be vaccinated.

This is great news and will go a long way in protecting those who are most vulnerable to severe outcomes from this virus.

Today, we opened up appointments for the AstraZeneca vaccine to Albertans born in 1957, and First Nations, Métis or Inuit individuals born in 1972.

As we anticipated, AHS has experienced high demand for appointment booking since launch at 8 o’clock this morning.

As of 2:30 pm, more than 11,500 eligible individuals have already booked their AstraZeneca appointments, including 1,800 through 811.

Immunization appointments continue to be available in all AHS Zones.

As you know, we’re receiving 58,000 doses of this vaccine this week, and booking is rolling out one birth year at a time.

Beginning tomorrow at 8 am, we will open up AstraZeneca appointments to Albertans born in 1958 via the AHS online booking tool and HealthLink. First Nations, Métis or Inuit individuals born in 1973 will also be able to book via 811.

Individuals who were eligible today will retain their eligibility and we will be adding this additional birth year so that it will be two years eligible tomorrow.

We will continue booking eligible Albertans as AstraZeneca supply allows.

We anticipate demand and 811 call volume will remain high in the coming days. If you can, we recommend that you book online.

You can also try booking during off-peak hours to avoid the rush.

I would like to acknowledge that rolling out all COVID-19 vaccines has been a mammoth logistical undertaking, and I want to thank the AHS teams including Information Technology, HealthLink, Public Health and immunizers, as well as pharmacies for making this work possible.

If you are eligible to get the vaccine, please do so, and encourage your friends and neighbours to do so as well. The more people who become immunized, the less the virus will be able to mutate and the less it will impact our communities.

In the meantime, as our vaccine supplies increase and all of us get closer to getting one, please continue to follow public health guidelines in any activities that you do.

Even if you have been vaccinated with one or two doses, all public health orders in place still apply.

I know it can be tempting to let your guard down after immunization, but we need to better study and understand the effectiveness of the vaccines in preventing transmission – including asymptomatic and variant transmission – before we can safely alter our policies. 

We will continue to provide updates on our immunization program here at home and any emerging evidence from around the world that relates to vaccine safety or efficacy.

And we will update our guidance as soon as we know it is safe to do so.

Thank you and I’m happy to take any questions.