Check against delivery.

Thank you, Tom, and good afternoon everyone.

Before I get to today’s update, I want to advise you that we are making a change to speed up the reporting of variant of concern cases.

This process has now been automated which will allow us to report the results more quickly.

However, this means there will be a one-time combination of two days of variant cases that will likely cause a larger than usual number of variant cases being reported tomorrow.

I am letting you know now to hopefully avoid undue concerns tomorrow.

Turning to today’s update, over the last 24 hours, we have identified 692 new cases of COVID-19 and completed about 12,800 tests. Our current positivity rate is about 5.3%.

We have identified 202 additional cases of variants of concern. Variants currently represent about 19% of our active cases.

We have identified the first two community acquired cases of the P.1 variant, which were among those reported yesterday. Follow-up is ongoing to prevent further spread.

Looking to schools, there are currently active alerts or outbreaks in 363 schools, or about 15% of schools in the province.

These schools have a combined total of 1,550 cases since January 11th.

There are 285 people in hospital, including 53 admitted to the ICU.

Sadly, I must announce that two new deaths were reported to Alberta Health over the past 24 hours.

My sympathies go to the family and friends of these individuals, and to anyone who is grieving the loss of a loved one.

With Step 3 delayed and cases rising, I know many Albertans are wondering where this increased spread is coming from.

I was asked on Monday if there was one particular element that is driving it.

Unfortunately, there is no one single sector or activity that is driving the recent increase.

We have seen indoor social gatherings, outbreaks and people working while symptomatic all play a role – along with many other factors.

From a public health perspective, it would be easier if there was just one activity that was driving all the spread.

Unfortunately, after more than a year of COVID-19, we all know it’s not that simple.

It’s not just one activity or place that can put us and others at risk.

Instead, the growth we are seeing is the result of the little moments in many different settings when we come in close contact with other people and give the virus opportunities to transmit.

This has always been one of the biggest challenges with COVID-19, and variants make it even more difficult.

It is why we must all be extra vigilant in following the health measures in place, even when we don’t feel like it.

It’s why simple steps like staying home and getting tested if you feel even a little bit sick, and keeping distanced and masked still matter.

In many ways, they matter more than ever because we are getting so close to the end of this pandemic, thanks to vaccines.

We have now administered more than 512,000 doses of vaccine in the province.

I want to thank the more than 418,000 Albertans who have signed up to be immunized.

I know that there are still questions from some Albertans about whether or not the AstraZeneca vaccine is still safe to take.

Based on all the evidence available from trials and real world experience over the past few months, Health Canada has found the vaccine is indeed safe and effective at preventing serious illness and death from COVID-19.

The data also shows that there is no increase in the overall risk of blood clots for those who receive the AstraZeneca vaccine.

In fact, the numbers out of Europe – 37 cases of blood clots among the more than 17 million doses – are lower than we would expect to see in the general population without vaccination.

Having said that, it is important to acknowledge one particular outcome that has been seen with higher frequency in some people who have received AstraZeneca vaccine.

In a very small number of people who received the vaccine, in the two weeks afterwards, a blood clot in the brain was reported.

It is not clear yet if the vaccine caused this issue, but in order to be cautious, Health Canada is adding a warning to the Canadian label on this vaccine.

This condition is treatable and very rare.

Globally, this outcome has been reported in about one in one million doses, mainly in individuals under the age of 55.

When considering this, it’s also important to remember that COVID-19 infection significantly increases the risk of blood clots and other serious health issues.

In fact, an unvaccinated person in Alberta between the ages of 20 and 49 has on average a 500 times higher risk of dying from COVID-19 after testing positive than having one of these rare types of blood clots after immunization.

Vaccines save lives – both your own and those around you.

I continue encouraging everyone to get their dose as soon as they are eligible.

Speaking of eligibility, anyone in Phase 2A is now able to book vaccines.

This means if you were born in 1956 or earlier, you can book your appointment.

If you are a First Nations, Métis or Inuit individiual born in 1971 or earlier, you can also book your appointment.

There is enough vaccine for all those in Alberta eligible for immunization in Phase 2A to get their first dose in the next two weeks.

Pharmacies and Alberta Health Services have spots available now.

If you have already booked an appointment but it is scheduled for April or later, please consider calling other pharmacies near you or Alberta Health Services.

There will be an appointment available much sooner.

If you are eligible and haven’t yet booked, now is the time. You can book online through Alberta Health Services or book at a pharmacy near you.

We all need to support each other in getting the vaccines.

If you know of a loved one who is eligible, do the kind thing and reach out to them.

Make sure they know about the benefits of vaccines and how to book an appointment.

If they need a hand, helping someone get their vaccine is an act of kindness.

The sooner that someone get immunized, the sooner they start building up immunity and are protected.

We are closer every day to protection from vaccines, but until that time comes, we need to continue putting our communities first in our actions every day.

Thank you and I’m happy to take questions.