Check against delivery.

Thank you, Tom and good afternoon everyone.

We have administered more than 418,000 doses of vaccine in our province.

Thank you to all who have signed up for appointments, and shown patience as AHS teams and pharmacies do their best to book as many eligible Albertans as they can, as quickly as possible.

I am pleased to inform you that starting tomorrow morning at 8 o’clock a.m., AHS will open booking to all remaining birth years in Phase 2A.

The booking tool will be offline for 30 minutes from 7:30 to 8 o’clock a.m. to prepare, and after that, again all eligible Albertans in Phase 2A can make appointments.

As well, participating pharmacies continue to book appointments for everyone born in 1956 or earlier.

I would also like to remind Albertans, that once you are eligible, you stay eligible.

So whether you became eligible last week or last month, you can continue to book your appointment, if you have not already done so, as we proceed through our rollout.

Turning to today’s update, over the last 24 hours, we have identified 505 new cases of COVID-19, and completed about 10,900 tests.  

Our positivity rate currently stands at 4.8%.

We have identified 91 new cases of the variant of concern, which represent about 12% of our active cases.

Looking to schools, there are currently active alerts or outbreaks in 297 schools, or about 12% of the schools in the province.

Currently these schools have a combined total of 1,241 cases since January 11th.

There are currently 264 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 43 in the ICU.

Sadly, one new death was reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours.  

We continue to see fatalities declining, which is positive, but every life that is lost is devastating for those who loved them.

My condolences go to anyone who is mourning someone lost today.

Please know you are not alone and that there is help to support you through this difficult time.

Today, I want to briefly talk about one area of Alberta where we are seeing growing rates of transmission.

After a year of this pandemic, we know that COVID-19 doesn’t care where we live.

This virus, like any other, simply wants to reproduce and spread to as many people as possible, and no region is immune from its spread.

Throughout this pandemic, we have seen cases rise – and fall – in various parts of the province.

In the spring, Calgary zone had the highest active case rates, and in the fall we saw cases first rise sharply in Edmonton, followed by the rest of the province.

In recent weeks, an area that has been hit hard with a rise in active cases is Lethbridge and surrounding areas.

Three weeks ago, on February 25th, Lethbridge had 196 active cases.

Yesterday, the community reached 469 active cases.

 Cardston County and several other nearby areas have also seen a rise in COVID-19 spread.

Simply put: cases are rising sharply, and we must curb the current rate of infection.

While there is no single cause of the spike, local health officials have let me know that many of these cases are linked to family gatherings and visitation between households, people with mild symptoms who do not stay home or get tested right away, or faith gatherings where masking and distancing is not happening.

I want to be clear that most people in this area are still doing their best to stop spread,

And that the rise in cases is a reminder that the actions of a small number of people can have a far-reaching impact.

I know we all miss seeing friends and family in person, but these gatherings allow the virus to spread from one to many in a matter of days.

I am hearing a rise in the belief that because most people who catch COVID recover, that this means we shouldn’t worry about its spread.

The reality is that it is this very fact of most people having mild symptoms that makes COVID-19 so dangerous for our communities.

This is because any one of us could be carrying the virus and not yet showing symptoms, passing it to our friends and family, who then pass it on to others.

If COVID-19 made most people who caught it extremely sick, this would make it much less likely to spread.

As it actually behaves, it can spread like wildfire, and until we have enough vaccine to offer protection to the most vulnerable Albertans, widespread transmission would still mean surges in hospitalizations, ICU admissions and even deaths.

I don’t ask Albertans to fear COVID-19. I ask us all to respect it.

Many European countries are seeing a third wave in cases, hospitalization pressures, and deaths despite being somewhat ahead of us with vaccine coverage in their populations.

We are so close to having the ability to prevent these consequences with vaccine,

I ask all of us not to waste the sacrifices that have been made in this past year by ignoring the public health measures in place that are still very much needed.

It is essential that residents, not just in Lethbridge but in all of Alberta, not participate in any indoor social gatherings and follow the public health orders in place.

We have seen outbreaks come and go, and many different areas and communities have become hot spots at some point since this pandemic began.

While it’s tempting to think that one person’s actions don’t make a difference, or that our own community is safe from COVID-19, the numbers prove otherwise.

And that’s because we’re all equally at risk of this virus.

The good news is that South Zone, like all parts of the province, has repeatedly shown us that we can bend the curve back down.

By making simple, safe choices every day, and following the rules, we can break the chains of transmission and reduce spread in Lethbridge and area, and across the province.

It is the every day choices that matter for all of us, and make no mistake, each one of us matters.

Not attending parties or potlucks, physical distancing from anyone not in your immediate household, and staying home if you’re sick.

It is these small, and sometimes inconvenient, actions that are so important.

Wherever you live in the province, these simple acts will help protect us, our families and our communities.

Thank you and I’m happy to take questions.