Check against delivery.
Thank you, Premier, and good afternoon everyone.
Before I provide the update today, I want to note a change we are making to eligibility for early second doses for those who are at risk of not having a protective response after their first dose.
There is evidence that those on regular dialysis for treatment of kidney disease have lower responses to vaccine, so we will be adding this group to the list of those who can call Health Link to receive a second dose of vaccine 21 to 28 days after their first.
To be clear, this is a small group of those who are profoundly immune compromised, and for whom having that second dose earlier is crucial.
I expect to have more information as early as next week about the timing of second doses for all other Albertans.
Moving on to the update, over the last 24 hours, we have identified 513 new cases of COVID-19, and completed about 9,000 tests.
Our positivity rate currently stands at 6.1%.
Like cases, hospitalizations continue to decline, which is promising. There are now 538 people in hospital being treated for COVID-19, including 150 in the ICU.
Sadly, I must announce that one new death was reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours.
While it is good to see a decrease in the number of daily deaths, each death is yet another reminder that, while we are rolling out the vaccine and looking forward to brighter days ahead, this virus is not yet tamed.
I want to extend my sympathies to the family and friends of this Albertan and to anyone else who has lost a loved one to any cause.
Providing protection to as many Albertans as possible through immunization is the way we can collectively prevent more tragic losses like this one.
Yesterday, Premier Kenney announced Alberta’s Open for Summer Plan for easing restrictions based on vaccine uptake and hospitalizations.
As you know, I was not at the media avail yesterday as I had promised my children I would spend the day with them while they were on a PD day. This day was booked off long in advance.
Today, I want to spend a bit of time sharing my perspectives on Alberta’s Open for Summer Plan.
My team and I were fully engaged in the development of this plan. We looked closely at the evidence seen in other countries, including Hungary, Israel, the UK, and several US states, as well as other Canadian provinces that had announced their opening plans.
I believe this plan is a prudent approach to re-opening, with Stage 1 prioritizing the easing of low-risk outdoor activities and only proceeding to the next stage as thresholds are met and the two-week window ends.
This stage is much more cautious that what you see in our neighboring provinces, B.C and Saskatchewan, and their easing of Stage 1 because we have recently had higher cases.
We also considered the fact that the public health measures that have been needed over the past year are unprecedented in our lived experience, and that they come with significant public health impacts as well.
We have used these measures to save lives and protect the health care system from being overwhelmed, but these interventions have never been taken lightly.
It is my opinion that we need to be as mindful of recovering from the impacts that the last year has had on Albertans’ mental health, well-being and determinants of health as we are of the direct impacts of COVID-19 infection.
All of these considerations helped inform our team’s recommendations to Cabinet. For example, it was our recommendation that the plan focus on the percentage of all Albertans 12 and over who have the vaccine, instead of just the percentage of adults with a first dose, as some other jurisdictions have done.
Based on best available science, we recommended the threshold of 70% with at least one dose in this age group as the metric for the removal of most mandatory public health restrictions.
This maximizes the protection that we will have before significant reopening takes place.
It is important to remember that the 70% protect trigger is a public target that protects Albertans and is a goal we all can help to achieve. Every Albertan can rally together to achieve this level.
However, Alberta’s plan has many other factors that underpin it.
This includes overall community protection, including post-infection immunity, second dose vaccine uptake, and vaccine effectiveness.
It also includes monitoring the spread of the virus in the province and our health system capacity.
All of these are essential parts of safely re-opening and keeping cases down so we can stay open for good – and they are all accounted for in Alberta’s Open for Summer Plan.
My team will keep closely monitoring case levels and hospitalizations, including ICU admissions.
If we start to see cases rising over an extended period of time, with impacts flowing into severe outcomes, the plan allows for any needed adjustments.
I know that some Albertans are wondering why second doses are not specifically mentioned in the plan.
We focused on first doses because that is the most immediate target that we need to reach, but let me be clear: second doses are essential and are an integral part of the plan.
For this plan to work, we need as many Albertans as possible to get a first dose, and then get a second as soon as they are eligible to do so.
We are looking closely at our available supplies and shipments, and we expect to be in a position soon to shorten the wait time between first and second doses. We will outline how this rollout will occur, as early as next week.
In the coming months, we will be closely monitoring second dose uptake.
It is essential that all of us get our second dose when the time for that comes.
Second doses are critical to keeping transmission low in the months ahead.
Finally, I want to address the process around the Open for Summer Plan.
While policy decisions are the government’s decisions to make, I support this plan. And it was developed with the expertise of medical professionals and civil servants in the department of health.
The plan that was approved and released yesterday is solidly based on the original draft we submitted for consideration, with some adjustments that I had input into, as decision makers considered approving the plan.
I believe that this plan will work for Alberta.
But it will take all of us.
Just like it seemed it was not going to be possible for businesses to reopen and for the Calgary Stampede to take place following the 2015 floods, a massive collective effort accomplished the difficult task of making this happen.
The same thing can, and I believe will, happen now, not just for the Calgary Stampede or for K-Days, but for the many other activities and events that we all want to see happen this summer.
On surveys I’ve seen asking what people are most looking forward to after the restrictions are lifted, most people talk about simple things, like gathering with friends and family to have a meal, or celebrating a milestone together.
Instead of physical movement of mud and debris, this time we can succeed as long as Albertans heed the call to be vaccinated in record numbers, and keep doing everything possible to stop the spread by following current public health measures.
We will also be more successful together if we are respectful of each other, focus on the task at hand and ask how we can best support each other.
If you hear questions about vaccine safety, direct people to reliable sources of information.
If you hear questions about why masks are still required, remind those asking of the fact that we still need to protect each other as we work to hit the vaccine coverage targets.
Even past the point in time when mandatory COVID measures are lifted, we will still need to support each other in taking the precautions that are needed.
For example, those at higher risk of severe outcomes may still want to wear masks or avoid crowded indoor places for a while after mandatory measures are eased.
That’s ok, and the more that we can be compassionate with each other in what we need, the better we will be able to navigate the challenges that the post-restriction period will bring.
We have now administered more than 2.5 million doses of vaccine.
In the coming weeks, we will be doing everything we can to make sure that all Albertans who are eligible have every opportunity to receive the vaccine.
Appointments are available in every region and community. If your appointment for a first dose is still weeks away, there probably is one much sooner.
Try searching for an earlier appointment at a pharmacy or Alberta Health Services location near you. They may have a spot available as early as tomorrow.
Just please be sure to cancel your old appointment if you do find a new one.
As announced earlier today, we are also looking at new ways to help reach Albertans in areas where vaccine uptake is lower.
AHS will be launching a drive-thru clinic in Calgary’s northeast next week to help get more people protected.
We are also looking at temporary clinics or other tools to help increase uptake in other areas of the province as well.
We are at a crucial point in the pandemic, a point where each of our actions have the potential to bring us one step closer to a post-pandemic life.
I urge all Albertans to seize the opportunity in front of us. That means getting vaccinated. It also means being part of the solution by continuing to closely follow the rules as long as they are in effect.
To the vast majority of Albertans who have done the right thing from the beginning, thank you for sticking it out a little while longer.
You have helped get us to this point.
To those who may have not closely followed the rules so far, it’s not too late. You can still do your part and make a difference.
From the beginning of our pandemic response I have said we are all in this together, as the Premier just said.
While the past 15 months have challenged us, and at times divided us, this fact remains more important than ever.
Every choice we make, together, is another opportunity to get us closer to the end of the pandemic.
Thank you and we’re happy to take questions.