COVID-19 Updates: Protecting Albertans from the Omicron variant.
Check against delivery.
Thank you, Tom, and good afternoon everyone.
Before we get to today’s update, I want to remind Albertans about a change we recently made to variant screening.
As I’ve previously said, variants are now, and will continue to be, the dominant strain in our province.
I also said a number of weeks ago that, by now, we should all assume that every new case is a variant of concern.
With cases rising, our labs have had to adjust their testing strategy and are no longer screening every sample for variants.
This frees up crucial lab capacity to ensure that people get their COVID-19 test results back as soon as possible, which is the most important thing we can do with our lab capacity to minimize further transmission.
Our labs will continue monitoring the spread of variants. They are screening a representative sample of positive cases every day for variants of concern.
This includes continuing to screen cases associated with outbreaks, health care workers and returning travellers, among others.
We will also ensure that samples are representative of all areas of the province.
This approach is similar to what other provinces have been doing for many weeks, and helps our labs focus on what matters most: testing and delivering results as soon as possible.
This change means that contact tracers will no longer be notifying confirmed cases and their contacts that they have been exposed to a variant.
Everyone will, of course, be notified as soon as possible that they have tested positive or have been exposed to COVID-19.
All close contacts must continue to quarantine for 14 days from the day of their last exposure. This is the same for all cases.
As you know, the last day of exposure for household close contacts depends on whether the confirmed case is able to safely isolate away from other household members.
I would like to remind all Albertans, that if you cannot safely isolate at home, you can call 211 to get help with other options.
Turning to today’s update, over the last 24 hours, we have identified 2,211 new cases of COVID-19, and completed about 19,900 tests.
Our positivity rate currently stands at 11.1%.
There are now 654 people in hospital being treated for COVID-19, including 146 in the ICU.
I am pleased to report that there were no new deaths in the last 24 hours.
We have now administered more than 1.73 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine.
This morning, bookings opened for all Albertans born in 1991 or earlier. Over 100,000 Albertans have already taken advantage of this opportunity, and on Monday, bookings will expand so that anyone born in 2009 or earlier can get their shot.
This means that, starting next week, everyone who is turning 12 this year and older will be eligible for vaccine.
That is incredibly exciting and I urge all Albertans to book as soon as they can.
At the same time, I am also asking for your patience.
Come Monday, there will be more than 3.8 million people now eligible.
AHS and pharmacies are working diligently to schedule everyone, but it will take some time to get all first doses booked.
If you don’t get through right away, or can’t find an appointment immediately, please try again a few hours or a few days later.
Also, if you book more than one appointment, please immediately cancel the ones you do not intend to use.
This frees up the spot for someone else who’s looking for it.
I know that some have asked why we need the new restrictions when vaccines are becoming more available, so I want to end today by talking about why these measures are needed.
I recognize that these measures create a significant disruption in people’s lives and that accommodating these changes can be challenging.
I know that any restriction can have its own impact on some people’s health, and I wish that these were not necessary.
But they are. These measures are absolutely necessary if we are to reduce community transmission and stop cases from getting out of control.
Our first and second waves showed us that uncontrolled spread can happen quickly.
And the higher cases get, the harder it is to bend the curve back down and reduce the spread of infection in the province.
This happened even before we were dealing with the more infectious variants.
We don’t yet know if we have hit the peak of new cases – our provincial R-value of 1.12 last week tells us cases are continuing to grow.
That’s why implementing these measures now is so critical.
The spread in our province is extremely high which means the risk of being infected is also extremely high.
We all need to significantly reduce the number of interactions we have in person every day, in every part of our lives.
Cases have risen to the point that we cannot simply target one sector or group. Whether it is social gatherings, faith services, aesthetics locations or fitness classes – each activity involves Albertans mingling in person, and risks exposure to the virus.
I know Albertans are tired, and I know we’ve been down this road before.
But, thanks to vaccines, we are seeing other jurisdictions bend the curve and keep it there.
This will happen here too as more and more of us step up to get vaccine and form part of a protective wall around our communities so we don’t have to go through these types of widespread restrictions again.
This is a challenging moment, but one we can get through, and will get through, by limiting in-person interactions as much as possible.
By working together to embrace these restrictions – no matter how tired or frustrated we are – we can get COVID-19 under control in Alberta.
Thank you all for your sacrifices over the next few weeks, and for helping get us all get through this third wave.
Thank you, and I am happy to take questions.