Check against delivery.
Thank you, Premier, and good afternoon everyone.
Turning to today’s numbers, over the last 24 hours, we have identified 1,345 new cases of COVID-19, and completed about 13,100 tests.
We have now identified 816 additional cases of variants of concern in the last 24 hours. Variants currently represent about 57% of our active cases.
In Alberta, the B.1.1.7 strain is now the dominant strain, meaning transmission is much easier and can happen faster than ever before.
We are also seeing growth of P.1 cases with community transmission in many parts of the province.
Our positivity rate currently stands at 10.4%.
There are now active alerts or outbreaks in 567 schools, which represents 23% of all schools in the province.
Yesterday, Fort McMurray public and Catholic school boards moved grades 7 to 12 online until April 30.
To complement the switch to online learning, all extra-curricular, youth sport, recreational and performance activities for those ages are now required to either take place outdoors or be paused in Fort McMurray for the same two-week period.
I would like to remind all Albertans that it is important that we all continue to follow public health measures inside, and outside of the classroom.
Hospitalizations continue to rise. There are now 476 people in hospital being treated for COVID-19, including 105 in the ICU.
Sadly, five new deaths were reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours.
I extend my condolences to their loved ones, and to anyone who is grieving today.
Each death is a loss for our province, and a reminder of the continued importance of containing this virus.
I have heard some questions about the timing of second doses for vaccines, so I want to clear up any confusion.
Due to limited supply, as you know, we have extended the interval between first and second doses for all vaccines to a maximum of 16 weeks.
However, once we finish offering first doses to all Albertans 16 and over, we will start second doses as soon as our supply allows.
This will likely be in later June, based on our current supply estimates, so if you have had a first dose, please do not yet call your pharmacy or AHS to book your second dose.
It will take a few more months to get enough supply for both first doses for everyone, and to begin second doses.
As more doses arrive in the coming months, we will look to shorten this interval whenever possible, but that will likely not be until later in the year.
There has also been some confusion about the interval for AstraZeneca vaccine, as I said a few weeks ago that we would be using a 12-week interval between first and second doses, depending on the supply.
The reason for this is that clinical trials for AstraZeneca showed better overall protection when the interval was longer than when it was shorter.
So, even if we had enough supply to give second doses sooner, the shortest interval we would use for this vaccine would be 12 weeks.
The extension of timing for all second doses is based on current limited supply, and evidence showing that this first dose offers significant protection.
We are also closely monitoring the emerging evidence around timing of second doses for cancer patients and others who are severely immunocompromised.
We are consulting with provincial and national partners, and will update Albertans if any change is made for these groups.
As the Premier said earlier, we have expanded AstraZeneca eligibility, for everyone age 40 and older.
I am eligible in this cohort, and was pleased to join Minister Shandro this morning to receive my first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine.
As I have said before, this vaccine is a good choice.
In a time when exposure risk is rising sharply, the benefits of protection for anyone in this age group far outweigh the small risk of a rare blood clot.
With cases rising, getting immunized is the best way to protect your health and the health of those around you.
There are now three vaccines being offered at sites around the province,
And I know that some people may wonder if this means they can choose their vaccine.
As I’ve said, all three vaccines are effective at preventing illness and severe illness.
I encourage eligible Albertans to take the first vaccine they are able to get.
We are not making a distinction between Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, as both vaccines use the same technology and have performed identically in clinical trials and real world effectiveness studies.
AHS clinics are using one or the other of these vaccines for those currently in eligible 2C and earlier groups.
So those who go to AHS clinics will not be able to choose which of the two vaccines they wish to receive there.
The one choice that is available for Albertans who are eligible only for AstraZeneca right now is to either choose to take this vaccine now, or wait for an mRNA vaccine.
mRNA vaccines, the Moderna or Pfizer, would be available approximately 3 to 4 weeks from now for those 50 to 64, and approximately 4 to 6 weeks from now for those age 40 to 49.
It is important to consider the risks of exposure and infection in this time period, and the significant risks of severe outcomes from COVID-19 in these age groups.
I would like to remind Albertans that waiting for your ‘preferred’ vaccine is not without risk.
It leaves you without the protection of a first dose, possibly for weeks or even months.
All vaccines approved for use in Canada are effective at reducing the risk of COVID-19 infection and even more so the risks of serious outcomes that come with it.
We only need to look to our long-term care homes to see the impact of getting vaccinated.
Thanks to the high vaccine uptake in these locations, we have seen a dramatic decline in severe outcomes.
Comparing where we were on December 30th to April 18th, the number of active cases in long-term care facilities has decreased from 776 on Dec. 30 to just 37 on the 18th.
Hospitalizations have decreased by about 93% and the number of deaths has been reduced by 94%.
That is the difference immunization makes. That is the power of vaccines.
And that is why it is so important that we all get vaccinated as soon as we are eligible to offer that same protection to all Albertans.
In the meantime, we need to bend the curve and drive cases down until vaccines have been administered to enough of us to offer widespread protection.
We need to limit the number of in-person interactions we have every day.
We need to not gather indoors. We need to wear a mask, and we need to stay home and get tested if we feel unwell.
We need to stick to these tried and true habits for now in order to get through this difficult time, for a better summer.
Thank you and we are happy to take questions.