Check against delivery.

Thank you, Premier, and good afternoon everyone.

Before we begin today, I want to let you know that we will be modifying our COVID-19 reporting during the long weekend.

We will scale down our hard-working surveillance teams to give them a little time off, while still keeping you informed.

From Friday to Sunday, we will share high-level preliminary data online and through my Twitter account each day.  

We will provide preliminary data on

  • the numbers of new cases and tests
  • the positivity rate
  • variants identified
  • hospitalization trends, and vaccine numbers

On Monday, we will post our usual detailed data, broken down by day, online.

To be clear: this change will impact our online reporting only.

Our dedicated health care teams will continue to work through the weekend to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Another important piece of information I want to share is about engagement sessions for continuing care.

I know that many Albertans have been asking about easing restrictions in continuing care facilities, now that vaccines have been offered to residents and staff in these locations.

We are holding telephone town halls next week with residents, families, operators and staff to get their input on how best to move forward.

This collaboration was fundamental in creating the safe visitor policy last summer.

We want to understand stakeholders’ thoughts on striking the right balance between the need for connection, and the need to protect all staff, residents and visitors from COVID-19 until broader immunization has taken place in the province,

We are looking forward to hearing the perspectives of those most impacted by these rules.

Finally, I want to let you know that to help effectively manage COVID-19 outbreaks in hospitals and other high-risk sites, we have started offering vaccine to at-risk workers at these sites if they are experiencing significant variant-linked outbreaks.

This will help reduce the spread of variants in the community and reduce large outbreaks.

This intervention is needed because, as the Premier said, cases of COVID-19 are rising fast in Alberta.

Spread is increasing, particularly with variants of concern.

To put it plainly, we are once again at a dangerous time.

Today, I want to explain why another spike would put us all at risk even with our province’s very successful vaccine rollout underway.

Since Albertans over the age of 75 are at the highest risk of death from COVID-19, I am very grateful that this group has been offered vaccine.

However, I also worry that some people might think we will no longer have severe outcomes from COVID-19, since this age group has now been offered this protection. This is not accurate.

In our second wave, we saw a daily average of around 500 Albertans under 75 in hospital with 119 of those needing ICU care, and 5 dying each day.

The average age of hospitalizations from COVID-19 in Alberta is 62, and the average age of those needing ICU care is 58.

We are a long way from being able to offer vaccine to all those for whom a COVID-19 infection means a need for hospitalization or life support.

What’s more, variants are not only more contagious, but also, in the case of B.1.1.7, more likely to cause severe illness – which means an even higher percentage of younger cases likely to need hospital care.

Today, less than 6% of Albertans under 65 have been immunized.

For every 1,000 cases we get now, we expect to see around 40 hospitalizations emerge a few weeks later.

Future vaccines cannot prevent hospitalizations from exposures and infections that are happening right now.

We will not win this race with variants by letting our guard down now.

Vaccines do offer hope, and they can help prevent our hospitals from becoming swamped, if we keep cases low for just a few more months.

This means we need time. Just a little more.

If we do not keep cases low now, then it will take longer for us to see the benefits of the vaccine, and we may be dealing with the pandemic into the summer months.

As we head into the long weekend with numbers on the rise again, I want to join the Premier in his call for all Albertans to make safe choices.

In fact, please make the safest choice you can this weekend, in everything you do.

Do not gather with people outside your household indoors, and strictly abide by the restrictions and public health measures in place.

This last year has shown us that only by working together can we slow transmission of this virus, and that is what we need to do again.

I recognize how important Passover, Easter and Ramadan are to many, many Albertans of different faiths.

And this is the second year in a row that we’ve had to dramatically change how we mark these important occasions.

But we are at a challenging moment.

With safe, effective vaccines available, next year’s celebrations will look more like the ones we’ve always had,

And we want all our family members to be around to celebrate with us.

As the Premier said, we just need to get through this next short while until every adult Albertan has had the chance to access vaccine.

I ask all Albertans to do their part and abide by the restrictions in place so we can avoid another surge of cases that will take months to get back under control.

Thank you and we’re happy to take questions.