Check against delivery.
Thank you, Minister, and good afternoon everyone.
Before I get to today’s COVID-19 update, I would like to echo the comments that I made yesterday about school safety.
As Minister LaGrange mentioned, the decision to resume in-person classes in most places in the province is an operational decision made by Alberta Education, and I am confident that we can all work together to keep cases falling in young Albertans.
I know that in-person learning is critically important for many kids’ educational and social development, and can provide a sense of normalcy in these unusual times.
I also know that many parents and others have anxiety about safety in schools.
As a parent, I understand these concerns and the desire to keep our children safe.
We have seen a sharp decline in cases in school-aged children in Alberta in the recent weeks. From an average of 60 new cases a day for every 100,000 children and youth in early May, we are now down to about 31 cases per 100,000.
The data since in-person learning began has shown that cases in school-aged Albertans rise and fall in line with changes in rates of community transmission.
Consider last January. When we went back to in-person learning, there were more than 2,000 active cases in Albertans aged 5-19.
Six weeks later, there were just over 700 active cases in this same age group.
We saw that decline in active cases despite more than a month of in-person learning province-wide. Not coincidently, this was a time when active cases were falling across our communities as well.
When the third wave hit, the level of community transmission impacted all sectors of society, including schools.
That is why it is more important now than ever that we continue driving cases downward and reducing community transmission.
The numbers in our schools continue to depend upon the choices that each of us make every day to limit the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.
This includes getting vaccinated and following all public health measures in place.
As a part of continuing to reduce spread, extra-curricular sports, recreational and performance activities for children and youth will remain closed in high-transmission areas of the province for the next several weeks.
I recognize that shifts between online and in-person school present challenges to students, staff, parents, and teachers.
Thank you for adapting to these changes to help give Alberta students the opportunity to learn in-person alongside their friends and classmates.
Turning to today’s update, we have now administered more than 2.27 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine. More than 50.5% of Albertans age 12 and older have now been vaccinated.
Over the last 24 hours, we have identified 908 new cases of COVID-19, and completed nearly 10,400 tests.
Our positivity rate currently stands at about 9.1%.
There are 685 people in hospital being treated for COVID-19, including 185 in the ICU.
Sadly, I must announce that 6 new deaths were reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours.
My condolences go to the family and friends of all those who have passed away.
Each death reminds us that we are not yet through this pandemic, and that we all need to continue to follow the restrictions in place to bring our cases down.
I have previously said that, long-term, vaccines will allow us to ease restrictions in our continuing care sector.
With vaccination numbers rising, I want to advise Albertans of changes we will be making to the operational and outbreak protocols of continuing care facilities.
These changes take into account not only the positive impact vaccinations have had in these facilities, but also recognize the toll that COVID-19 has had on the physical and mental well-being of residents in these locations.
As more Albertans become vaccinated, including at continuing care facilities where the vast majority of residents are fully vaccinated with two doses, we are able to safely ease some restrictions to increase the quality of life, health and well-being of residents.
The most significant change we are making is a shift to a vaccination-based approach for assessing any additional precautions for new residents and residents returning to a facility from outings off-site.
Effective May 31, residents will no longer be required to be in quarantine upon admission to a facility or when they return from same-day or overnight outings.
All residents will undergo a health assessment screening upon return to a facility. The precautions for residents who pass the screening will be based on the vaccination status of the individual.
Fully vaccinated individuals require no additional precautions. Partially vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals will need to provide twice daily symptom checks for 14 days.
Regardless of vaccination status, there are certain instances where residents may still need to quarantine, including if they don’t pass the health screening upon return to the facility, and also if they have returned from international travel, being a close contact of confirmed cases of COVID-19, or if they have symptoms.
Quarantine will also required if a resident, regardless of vaccination status, returns from a unit within a healthcare facility that is on an outbreak.
While there continues to be a small risk of exposure to and transmission of COVID-19, a number of safety precautions continue to be in place to ensure continued protection for residents and staff in these facilities.
These safety measures include health screening before leaving the facility and upon returning, masking, physically distancing, hand hygiene and symptom checking.
These revised standards have been developed in consultation with stakeholders and after hearing feedback from over 2,500 Albertans in telephone town halls over the last few months.
If you have a loved one in a continuing care facility, or if you are a resident in a continuing care facility and have questions about these changes, please contact the operators of the facility directly.
And please be patient as each facility works with families and residents to implement this change by May 31st.
This is a small step forward, but a reminder that we are making progress and that, if we continue on this course, we will be able to safely get back to normal.
So please be wise, stay safe and get immunized as soon as possible.
Thank you and we are happy to take questions.