Check against delivery.

Thank you, Tom, and good afternoon everyone.

Before I get to today’s numbers, I would like to remind Albertans that, when seeking healthcare, it’s critically important to disclose COVID-19 symptoms if you are experiencing them.

We don’t want anyone to delay getting new or worsening health issues looked at, and to protect everyone involved, we have protocols to safely care for confirmed cases of COVID-19, close contacts, and anyone with symptoms.

However, if a patient doesn’t disclose their symptoms or their status, health teams are left in the dark and those safety protocols can’t be enacted.

This puts the care team and other vulnerable patients at risk.

As we get excited about the summer and see dropping case numbers and climbing vaccination rates, it can be easy to forget the ongoing threat of COVID-19, particularly in acute care centres.

But we must continue to be mindful of our symptoms and do the right thing – stay home unless health care is needed, get tested and disclose those symptoms as needed.

This will help you get the care you need, and keep everyone caring for you, safe.

Turning to today’s numbers, we have now administered more than 3.1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine in our province.

67% of all Albertans 12 years of age and older have at least one dose, and 15% are fully vaccinated with two doses.

Over the last 24 hours, we have identified 139 new cases of COVID-19, and completed about 3,400 tests.  

Our positivity rate was about 4.2%.

Last week, the R value for the province was 0.74.

This includes 0.75 in the Edmonton Zone, 0.73 in the Calgary Zone, and 0.73 for the rest of the province.

These are great numbers – signs that our efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19 are working.

We continue to screen all positive samples for variants of concern and have identified 74 additional cases in the last 24 hours.

There are currently active alerts or outbreaks in 241 schools, representing 10% of the schools in the province.

There are 336 people being treated for COVID-19 in hospital, including 85 in the ICU.

Sadly, I must announce that 3 new deaths were reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours.

They were between the ages of 48 and 68.

My thoughts are with the family and friends of these Albertans as they mourn their loss. I also extend my sympathies to anyone who has lost a loved one recently from any cause.

These deaths remind us of the risk COVID-19 continues to pose in Alberta – especially for those not yet vaccinated and those vaccinated within the last 14 days.

The good news is that our immunization program continues to administer more doses each day,

And the number of people fully vaccinated with two doses is rising sharply.

The other good news is that our leading indicators continue to trend downward.

There are currently 4,431 active cases in the province – the lowest we’ve seen since March 9. 

That’s over 20,000 fewer active cases that we had just one month ago.

What’s more, our positivity rate has averaged 4.5% over the last seven days. That’s a sharp drop from the average of 11.7 in early May.

Most importantly, Alberta’s average positivity rate is declining in all zones, which indicates that progress is being made province-wide.

All of this tells us that our growing immunization program and our public health restrictions are working together as planned and limiting transmission.

I know there have been some questions recently about the B.1.617.2 variant, and I want to talk about what this means for our province.

This variant is not new to our province. We identified our first case in a sample taken on April 8.

Since then, we have identified 193 cases of this B.1.617, which was originally identified in India. The majority are most likely the sub-strain, B.1.617.2.

We also know that BC and other provinces are seeing cases of this variant, even as their overall numbers continue to fall.

Right now, AHS has identified 16 cases of this particular variant in patients on two units at Foothills Medical Centre. Four healthcare workers have also tested positive.

These are two separate outbreaks and most cases are experiencing mild COVID-19 symptoms. It appears that all but one case are hospital-acquired, so cases were in hospital for other reasons before their infections.

 As with all other outbreaks in acute care settings, AHS has implemented strict outbreak protocols to protect the health of everyone involved.

The good news is that these protocols are working – there have been no new cases on one of these two units since May 20th,

The hospital remains open for patients and safe for those receiving care.

This variant is emerging around the world and evidence does indicate it is more transmissible.

Given that, we need to watch its spread, as we do all COVID cases.

However, I also want to put our numbers in context. Of all the variants of concern identified last week, only 5% of them were the B.1.617.

It is still a very small proportion of our cases.

Research is still emerging for this variant with respect to vaccine effectiveness. Current evidence seems to show that first doses are somewhat less effective.

They still appear to provide some protection, and the good news is that two doses are virtually as effective against B.1.617 as any other strain.

This underlines the importance of our rollout of second doses, and we are looking at whether we can accelerate this timeline even further.

In the meantime, we are focused on tracking and identifying all cases as quickly as possible. Right now, we have one of the most aggressive variant testing strategies in Canada.

We are screening 100% of positive cases for variants of concern, including the B.1.617.

Any identified non-B.1.17 variant of concern cases are also receiving two follow-up calls to help contact tracers aggressively contain this virus.

The bottom line is that while any new variant is a concern, we can still work together to stop transmission.

Albertans can help by getting vaccinated – if you haven’t got your first dose yet, this is the time to do it.

And if you’re eligible for a second dose, please book it now. Don’t wait, as many more people will soon be booking second doses.

The faster we can do this, and the more Albertans who are vaccinated, the safer we will all be.

In the meantime, we all need to keep limiting the risk of transmission, even when vaccinated and even when doing things that are allowed.

If we all wear a mask, stay distanced, avoid groups indoors, and always stay home when we’re feeling even a little bit sick, we can make a difference.

We have come far, and we’re seeing real progress.

If we all do our part, we can continue to keep cases decreasing and measures safely easing to keep everyone healthier in the weeks and months ahead.

Thank you and I’m happy to take questions.