Check against delivery.

Thank you, Tom, and good afternoon everyone.

Before I get to today’s COVID-19 update, I want to talk about the important role that texting plays in the contact tracing process, and how Albertans can help make it even more effective.

To help reach confirmed cases and their contacts quickly, AHS’s contact tracing teams are often using text messages.

When a case is confirmed, AHS will text that person first with a general message asking them to accept an important notification from AHS.

If the person accepts via return text, they receive their result.

There has been a strong uptake of these texts, likely because these individuals are expecting AHS to be in touch with them.

However, we’ve been receiving less responses from close contacts who are also being alerted by text message.

This could be because people aren’t sure if these are legitimate messages and may worry that this a scam.

If you receive a text message asking if you consent to receiving an important message from AHS, please accept it.

You will then receive another message with information specific to you, exposures you have had, and instructions you need to protect those around you.

If you receive this message, it is not a scam.

It is a legitimate communication and will allow our hard-working contact tracers to move on to notifying the next person in line in the most efficient way possible.

When people do not respond to the text, they will still be notified that they are a contact, but our contact tracers then need to make individual phone calls, which take longer.

With cases rising, we can all help make our contact tracing system as effective as possible by enabling this efficient means of communication.

Turning to today’s update, over the last 24 hours, we have identified 1,857 new cases of COVID-19, and completed about 17,500 tests.  

Our positivity rate currently stands at 10.7%.

These are concerning numbers that underline the fact that we have work to do together.

We have identified 1,326 additional cases of variants of concern in the last 24 hours.

Variants currently represent about 60% of our active cases.

I also must report that we have now confirmed the first case in Alberta of the B.1.617 variant first identified in India, and seen in Denmark.

It’s also been found in California and is a key driver in the rise of rapidly spreading cases that we are seeing in India.

This variant was in a returning interprovincial traveller to Alberta, and no additional cases of this variant have been detected to date.

As with all new variants, research is underway to understand what may be different about the B.1.617 variant, how it spreads and if it creates more severe illness.

So far, we are calling this a variant of interest as we work with colleagues across the country to monitor the latest findings on this variant as evidence emerges from around the world.

There are now active alerts or outbreaks in 612 schools, which represents 25% of the schools across the province.  

A total of 3,502 cases have been linked to these schools since January 11th.

Today, Edmonton public and Catholic school boards moved grades 7 to 12 online for two weeks.

Consistent in the approach in both Calgary and Fort McMurray when they shifted these students to online learning, all extra-curricular, youth sport, recreational and performance activities for these ages are now required to either take place outdoors or be paused in Edmonton.

This requirement will stay in place for the same two-week period to assist in slowing down transmission in this population.

There are now 518 people in hospital being treated for COVID-19, including 116 in the ICU.

It’s important to remember that hospitalizations are a lagging indicator and these individuals in hospital were likely first infected around two to three weeks ago.

Given how high our leading indicators – growth rate, new cases, and positivity rate – have been, we can expect to see this number grow in the coming days.

We must bend this curve down to prevent these severe outcomes, and the subsequent impact on our health care system.

Sadly, I must announce that 6 new deaths were reported to Alberta Health in the last 48 hours.

We must always remember that all of these numbers represent people.

Every death involved someone who was loved and loved many.

My thoughts are with everyone who is mourning loss, whether from COVID or any other cause.

In the last 24 hours, more than 42,300 doses of COVID-19 vaccine were administered in Alberta.

As you know, in order to make these doses count as much as possible in combating the spread of COVID-19, our second dose interval aligns with national recommendations to extend up to 4 months.

Having said that, we have continuously been reviewing emerging research,

And today we making a slight change in how we approach second doses for select populations who may not respond effectively to their first dose.

Effective tomorrow, those in Alberta who are undergoing specific kinds of cancer treatments or who are on other medication that results in a level of profound immune compromise, will be able to book a second dose 21 to 28 days after their first.

This aligns with Ontario’s approach and is specifically limited to Albertans who have received solid organ or stem cell transplants, or who are currently underdoing specific immune compromising treatments such as chemotherapy.

This will also apply to individuals being treated with an anti-CD20 monoclonal antibody such as Rituximab.

To be clear, this timeline applies to these individuals only, due to their extremely weakened immune system.

Also aligning with Ontario, anyone receiving solely hormonal therapy, radiation therapy or surgical intervention for cancer, or other therapies that are not as profoundly immune compromising, will continue to receive their second dose at an extended interval no later than 4 months after the first.

This is because we know that people who have compromised immune systems are also protected by protecting those around them, and offering a first dose to as many people as possible as quickly as possible benefits everyone.

Individuals who meet the profound immune compromised criteria I outlined earlier can book their second doses starting tomorrow by calling 811 to receive their second dose three to four weeks after the first.

Second dose appointments for these individuals cannot be booked through pharmacies or the online booking tool – calling 811 is required.

All other Albertans will continue to be eligible no later than 4 months after their first dose.

Evidence indicates that the first dose of all currently approved vaccines appear to be at least 80% effective in protecting against severe outcomes after this first dose.

Bookings for second doses for all others will begin when supply allows after all Albertans 16 and older have been offered a first dose, likely to happen later in June.

When more doses arrive this summer, we will look to start shortening this interval if possible based on available supply.

As cases continue to climb in the province, it’s critical that anyone who is eligible gets vaccinated as soon as possible.

This protects the individuals who are vaccinated and those around them.

It also helps limit community transmission of COVID-19 which will relieve the building pressure on our healthcare system.

I urge anyone who is eligible, who hasn’t yet booked their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, to book their appointment today.

This can be done through AHS’s online booking tool, by calling 811, or through one of many participating pharmacies provincewide.

A number of pharmacies and AHS clinics are also accepting walk-ins for the AstraZeneca vaccine for those 40 years of age and older.

For clarity, anyone included in phase 1, 2A, 2B or the first part of 2C is eligible to get their vaccine now and will continue to be eligible throughout the vaccination program.

After a year of being asked to physically distance, stay home when sick, wash our hands and wear a mask to help fight this virus and get us through this pandemic, we finally have another tool at our disposal to help us, this vaccine.

However, its effectiveness relies on how many of us choose to use it.

Please make the wise choice to get your shot as soon as you are able to do so.

Thank you and I’m happy to take questions.