Check against delivery.
Thank you, Tom, and good afternoon everyone.
Today, I would like to start by updating you on a call that I participated in with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and other community leaders today.
The Minister of Health, other officials, and I met with Mayor Scott and other local leaders to discuss the state of local emergency and ways to help support them in reducing transmission.
As you know, Fort McMurray’s public and Catholic school boards have moved all students in Kindergarten through grade six to online learning until May 10th.
As a result, we are extending the limits on group sports and performance for children and youth that were in place for grades 7 to 12 to this younger age group as well.
Effective immediately, all indoor extra-curricular activities, including youth sport, recreation and performance in Fort McMurray for children in the K to 6 age group must either pause or move outdoors until in-person learning resumes.
Another part of our response is working with AHS to identify ways to reduce testing wait times and to speed up the contact tracing process.
This includes a change to our close contact testing approach that I’ll discuss in moment.
I also want to stress that, if you live in the area and are eligible for vaccine, we are working to ensure you have access to the vaccine in a timely way.
Please keep checking to see if new appointments have been added as we get new shipments of vaccine.
For those 40 and over, there is still an opportunity to receive AstraZeneca vaccines through walk in clinics – no appointment is required and doses are available.
These vaccines save lives, and protect your health and the health of those around you. I got my shot, and recommend that you do too.
We will work with local leaders to identify ways to help answer any questions that people have about the available vaccines and ensure that people understand the benefits.
This is just the start. We will continue to work closely with local officials to provide the supports they need.
However, I want to stress that the high spread we are seeing in this region is not the fault of any one group, and spread is not limited to any one area.
There are other areas of the province that are seeing extremely high case rates as well, and we have an unprecedented risk of transmission across the province right now.
This is a province-wide problem, in the context of a national and global one.
We all need to take this virus seriously to bend the curve, including getting a vaccine as soon as we are eligible.
Turning to today’s update, over the last 24 hours, we have identified 1,539 new cases of COVID-19.
We have completed about 13,700 tests and our positivity rate currently stands at 11.4%.
As cases rise, we must keep wait times for testing as low as possible.
That is why, along with increasing staffing and clinic hours across the province where demand is high, we will shift back to offering just one test for all close contacts when they have no symptoms.
Starting today, close contacts will be offered testing as soon as they are identified.
If they experience symptoms at any point after that first test, they can get tested again.
Otherwise, they must remain in quarantine until 14 days have passed and, as of today, are no longer requested to have a second test.
If you have a second test booked, and have no symptoms, you can cancel this appointment to free up capacity in the system and shorten wait times for others.
If you have a second test booked and you have symptoms, please keep your booking. Testing remains a critical part of breaking the chain of transmission.
We have identified 812 additional cases of variants of concern in the last 24 hours, with variants now representing about 63% of all active cases.
For the previous week, the R value for the province was 1.04. This includes 1.1 in the Edmonton Zone, 0.98 in the Calgary Zone, and 1.05 for the rest of the province.
It’s good to see that growth rates have declined – especially the decline from 1.06 to 0.98 for Calgary – but our numbers are still very high and it’s important to underline that cases are still growing, especially in Edmonton. Simply put, we are still heading in the wrong direction.
There are now active alerts or outbreaks in 712 schools, which represents 29% of schools in the province.
We continue to see rising hospitalizations. There are now 635 people in hospital being treated for COVID-19, including 143 in the ICU.
Sadly, 7 new deaths were reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours.
My thoughts are with the family, friends and colleagues of these individuals and anyone who has lost someone they cared about due to any cause.
These deaths due to COVID-19 represent the worst possible outcome of infection,
And throughout the pandemic, it has been important that we ensure these numbers that we report represent those who died from COVID-19, not those who died of another cause but happened to have COVID-19.
Our process includes, in our initial counts, we include deaths where COVID has been flagged as a possible cause even if it remains unknown.
In those cases, medical officials review the death certificate and files post-mortem to determine if the virus was indeed a contributing cause.
Most often, these remain classified as a COVID death. However, sometimes the review identifies that there was a different cause of death.
Because of this, I want to advise of an update being made today to the total number of deaths due to COVID-19.
Our most recent review of past reported cases has found 14 previously reported deaths that were not deemed on file review to have COVID-19 as a contributing cause.
As a result, they’re being removed from the provincial total. The numbers posted today will reflect that reduction, meaning Alberta currently sits at 2,067 deaths related to COVID-19.
I want to be clear that each one of these numbers, whether the death was from COVID-19 or any other cause, represents the loss of a person who leaves a hole in the lives of those who mourn them.
The adjustment to the COVID-19 statistics is a part of our commitment to transparent communication but in no way reduces the magnitude of the losses experienced by those who cared about these 14 people.
There are now 20,721 active cases in Alberta.
That is the second-most number of active cases since this pandemic began.
There is no one source or sector that is driving this spread that we’re seeing. It would be simpler if there were just one cause.
Instead, the virus is spreading through all of us, and the many in-person get-togethers, meet-ups and other interactions that we have with other people every day.
That is why public health measures are in place for a wide range of sectors and why we all must continue to limit in-person interactions as much as possible.
We have now administered more than 1.46 million doses of vaccine in Alberta, including almost 30,000 in the last 24 hours.
That means that around 26% of the people in the province have received at least one dose of this vaccine, and about 6% of our population is fully vaccinated.
Every day, more people get immunized, and that’s a good thing.
However, as more people get their shot I want to stress that getting the vaccine does not mean that the rules no longer apply.
Whether you have one or two doses, you still need to be careful.
No vaccine offers 100% protection. Getting your dose makes it less likely that you will experience severe illness, but it’s possible that you could still carry the virus and be contagious to others even after your immunization.
Right now, with the vast majority of people still not immunized with even one dose, it is essential that anyone who has had the vaccine continue to follow all the public health restrictions in place both to limit the chance that they become infected and spread to others, but also to be part of setting the tone for all of us to keep following measures that we still need right now.
In the coming months, when more people have gotten protection, things will change.
Right now, we just need to stop spread and lower our cases for a little while longer.
I know that’s something that we’ve all heard before. After 14 months, it’s hard to dig in one more time and to feel like sacrifices like avoiding indoor social gatherings still matter.
But they do, and we are so close to getting through this.
Each one of us matters, and our actions can mean the difference between life and death for those around us.
Anything that we can do to limit in-person interactions with other people outside our household will help us bend the curve and move past this pandemic.
Thank you and I’m happy to take questions.