Check against delivery.

Thank you, Minister, and good afternoon everyone.

As you heard, we have administered almost 488,000 doses of vaccine in our province.

Over the last 24 hours, we have identified 456 new cases of COVID-19, and completed about 7,500 tests.  

This puts our positivity rate at about 6.1%.

We have identified 110 new cases of the variants of concern, which represent about 16% of all of our active cases.

There are currently active alerts or outbreaks in 339 schools, or about 14% of all the schools in the province.

Currently these schools have a combined total of 1,474 cases since January 11th.

As the Minister mentioned, there are currently 280 people in hospital for treatment for COVID-19, including 48 in the ICU.

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

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

This has been a long pandemic, and I know that many people will have mixed reactions to the decision to delay Step 3.

I have put a great deal of thought into the message that I want to give Albertans today.

It is important that every one of us understands the powers that our actions have, and how crucial it is that we all make choices that protect our communities over the coming weeks.

I said on Thursday that it might be possible to consider appealing to Albertans who are currently not following public health measures by offering them a lower risk way of gathering.

Unfortunately, as we have seen cases, variants, and hospitalizations continue to rise in recent days, we cannot take the risk of easing any measures at this point.

Now is not the time to abandon tried and true practices that have protected our communities and health care system over the past year.

COVID-19 is still very much with us.

For those who would say that even 300 cases in hospital is just a fraction of our acute care capacity, I would remind us all of our experience in November when cases and hospitalizations began to grow sharply.

Every two weeks, from mid-November to late December, the number of people needing hospital care for COVID-19 grew. 

It grew by 200 to 250 people every two weeks, going from 270 people in hospital on November 12th to 927 just six weeks later.

The reality is that, once we hit a growth phase of this virus, our numbers will not stand still.

That’s why we all need to continue doing our part to not only follow the letter of the law and the public health orders, but the spirit of them as well.

While immunizations will eventually protect those who are most vulnerable, we are not yet at a point where we have protected this whole group.

As the Minister mentioned, eighty eight percent of those in ICU right now because of COVID-19 are younger than 65 years of age.

Our current immunization program has not yet moved to offer vaccine to those under 65 with high-risk conditions, and even after receiving vaccine, it takes about two weeks for the shot to provide protection.

We are in a challenging, but hopeful time.

Spring is officially here, the snow is almost gone and warmer weather opens up many opportunities to get out of our houses, to stay active, and safely gathering with friends and family.

In a few months, with widespread immunization, we will be in a very different place and able to enjoy many of the elements of our lives that we have had to put on hold because of COVID-19.

But until we get there it is more important than ever that we keep cases low.

The rules in place, whatever they may be, are only as good as the steps all of us take, day in and day out, to follow them.

Looking for loopholes, or thinking that it doesn’t matter if you bend an inconvenient rule just a little bit, jeopardizes the progress that we have all made together.

Our vigilance in minimizing the number of people we come in contact with each day, physical distancing, wearing a mask and staying home and getting tested if we feel even slightly unwell, are all crucial to stopping the spread of the virus.

Though it may be hard to see it, our choices have immense power and each of us has a say in whether cases rise or fall in the days and weeks ahead.

I urge all Albertans to make the best possible choices they can to prevent cases from rising and to keep each other safe from this virus.

Thank you and I’m happy to take questions.