Check against delivery.

Thank you, Tom and good afternoon everyone.

Before I get to today’s numbers, I want to clarify something that seems to be causing some confusion as Spring Break draws nearer.

Under our current public health measures, day camps are not yet permitted to take place.

I understand the desire for these camps, and I know that many people would like to have them happen during spring break or the Easter long weekend.

But these sorts of activities create risk of mixing groups and it is extremely difficult to limit the risk of exposure.

That is why these camps will not be allowed until Step 4 of the path forward.

I know this may be inconvenient, but we have seen one case lead to many and we do not want it to happen in these settings.

I also want to advise Albertans that we’re making a small change to public reporting for outbreaks.

Previously, there was an inconsistent approach to reporting outbreaks in settings that are not in health care, child care, educational, shelter or correctional facilities.

Sometimes these outbreaks were reported publicly at 5 cases, and sometimes at 10.

Now, we will treat all outbreaks in workplaces and other settings the same, and we will report them when 10 confirmed cases are linked.

The thresholds for public reporting of continuing care, acute care and the other settings that I earlier mentioned will remain the same.

Turning to today’s update, we have now administered approximately 380,000 doses of vaccine in the province.

More than 18,000 appointments have been booked with Alberta Health Services, and thousands more with pharmacies since Phase 2A began yesterday morning.

Thank you to all eligible Albertans who are signing up to be immunized.

Pharmacies continue to book appointments for everyone born in 1956 or earlier.

Starting tomorrow morning at 8 o’clock, three more years will be able to book through AHS.

This includes all Albertans born in 1949, 1950 and 1951 or earlier, and First Nations, Métis and Inuit people born in 1964, 1965 and 1966, or earlier.  

There is high demand, and some pharmacy sites and phone lines are understandably busy.

It’s the same with 811 and the online booking tool.

We ask for your patience. Everyone will get a chance to book in the coming days.

Turning to today’s numbers: Over the last 24 hours, we identified 355 new cases of COVID-19, and completed about 6,000 tests.  

Our positivity rate currently stands at about 5.9%.

There are currently active alerts or outbreaks in 276 schools, or about 11% of the schools in the province.

Currently these schools have a combined total of 1,160 cases since January 11th.

There are currently 260 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 44 in the ICU.

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

My sympathies go to the family and friends of these individuals and to anyone who is mourning the loss of someone they loved, no matter the cause.

In the last 24 hours, we identified 62 new cases of variants of concern.

As I mentioned yesterday, we have now added new variant data to our online dashboard to help keep Albertans informed.

Currently, there are 509 active variant cases, which make up about 11% of the active cases in the province.

Thanks to the hard work of our labs, we are screening every positive case for variants of concern, and now have a surge capacity of screening up to 1,000 samples per day, if needed.

While we’ve prevented any significant spread in Alberta so far, the percentage of variants in our active cases is rising.

The toll that variants have taken on the UK, Italy, and other countries are a cautionary tale that we must continue to take very seriously.

Our aggressive screening, dedicated contact tracing and other measures have been buying time for the vaccines to work.

In some ways, there is a race between the variants and the vaccines.

We need to limit the spread of these variants, and all other strains of COVID-19, while we work over the next several months to immunize Albertans who are most vulnerable to ending up in hospital and other severe outcomes.

While there are still questions and unknowns about how the vaccines will work against all variants, we do know that the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are effective against the B.1.1.7 variant of concern that is most common in Alberta.

The Moderna vaccine functions in an equivalent way to Pfizer, so is also expected to be effective.

This is yet another reason why getting immunized against COVID-19 is so important.

It will protect you, those close to you and your entire community.

Widespread vaccination will also be fundamental to helping us all get back to a sense of normalcy, closer to what life was like before COVID-19.

I know that’s something we’d all like to see happen as soon as possible.

When it’s your turn, please make the choice to be immunized.

My team and I will continue to watch our testing data here at home, as well as the latest research and trends around the world, to ensure we’re taking appropriate action to prevent the spread of variants in Alberta.

In the meantime, we all need to continue to do the things that have worked to keep transmission as low as possible.

I know that we are all tired of COVID and tired of the restrictions, but the next few months will be absolutely critical.

The health measures in place work against variants – it’s just up to us to keep on following them.

So, once again, I’m reminding all of us to wash or sanitize our hands frequently.

Maintain physical distance and wear a mask indoors when you are with anyone outside your household.

Stay home if you’re feeling even slightly under the weather.

And keep reducing the number of in-person interactions that you have.

These simple steps continue to be our best bet at keeping COVID-19 under control, and allowing us to hang on for a few more months while we rollout the vaccine to all in Alberta.

Thank you and I’d be happy to take questions.