Check against delivery.

Thank you, Tom, and good afternoon everyone. I apologize for being a bit late.

Before we begin, I’d like to update you on an upcoming change to our reporting.

Over the past 16 months, it has been a privilege as Chief Medical Officer of Health to provide more than 230 updates to media and the public.

We have been through a lot together.

And while COVID-19 will be with us for some time, cases are falling quickly and vaccine uptake is rising.

We are entering a new phase in our fight against this virus. That’s why, to give our hard-working data teams a break, we will not be reporting cases and vaccine numbers on weekends any longer.  

We will continue posting detailed data every weekday.

This is in line with the approach that BC and others have taken for quite some time.

We will also be shifting our R-value reports to two-week intervals. With cases so low, this will give a more accurate picture of how COVID is spreading.

Finally, next Tuesday, June 29th will be my last regularly scheduled media availability.  

After that, we will shift to providing live updates when needed.

These availabilities are intended to provide critical information, and the reality is that we’re making great progress.

All of our public health efforts will keep going.

Contact tracing, testing and other important work continues day in and day out.

But in addition to COVID-19, there are other health issues that also need our time and attention.

Turning to today’s update….

Over the last 24 hours, we have identified 57 new cases of COVID-19 and completed about 5,000 tests.  

Our positivity rate was about 1.4%.

We have identified 38 additional variant cases in the last 24 hours.

There are currently active alerts or outbreaks in 207 schools, representing 9 percent of the schools in the province.

Our hospitalizations continue to decline, and there are 200 people being treated for COVID-19 in hospital, including 54 in the ICU.

There are now 1,773 active cases, the fewest since October 2nd.

Our numbers are declining quickly, which is a testament to the power of vaccines, and the way Albertans are all helping protect each other.

Sadly, I must announce that 1 new death was reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours.

My thoughts go to the family and friends of this individual, and anyone who has lost a loved one in this pandemic, whatever the cause.

It has been a long year and I know that many people continue to grieve the loved ones they have lost.

If you know someone in this position, I encourage you to reach out and let them know that they are not alone.

We continue to need each other’s support in many ways during this time of transition.

We have now administered more than 3.85 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine in our province. This includes more than 45,000 yesterday alone.

Right now, 70.8% of eligible Albertans have been vaccinated with at least one dose, and 30.4% are now fully immunized.

I know some Albertans continue to wonder whether they need to get the same brand of mRNA vaccine for first and second doses.

To be clear: you do not.

Pfizer and Moderna vaccines can be used interchangeably. It does not matter which brand you get for your second dose.

They are both safe and effective, and it is perfectly okay to get one dose of each.

Our own Alberta data is clear about why it’s such a good thing that our Moderna shipments have increased so much this month….

Our data show that over the past six months, Moderna has had the highest effectiveness of all vaccines with 93% protection against infection after a second dose.

Pfizer follows close behind with 90% protection.

Both vaccines are highly effective at protecting against infection and severe outcomes.

Taking the first vaccine that is available to you is the best way to protect your health, and the health of those around you, by developing stronger immunity as soon as possible.

First dose appointments are also still available across the province. There is still time, so go online or get on the phone and book your appointment today.

As I mentioned earlier, vaccines are enabling us to soon enter a new phase in the pandemic. Some anxiety and uncertainty is natural during these transitions.

As cases drop and vaccinations rise, we all must get ready to face a new kind of challenge:

Learning to live with COVID as restrictions ease and life starts to feel closer to the one we knew before COVID-19 arrived.

For the past 16 months, we’ve lived with a wide range of mandatory measures designed to stop the spread of COVID-19 and safeguard our health care system from being overwhelmed.

These restrictions varied and evolved, but they were firm rules regarding what to do and what not to do.

Now, as most restrictions will soon be easing, we need to learn how to live with this virus without these rules.

This means entering a time with less mandatory barriers on what we can do, while still being thoughtful about how we manage risks.

We are up for this challenge, and we can make this change.

But we need to start practicing now.

There was a steep learning curve and a period of adjustment when the pandemic first began, and this will happen again.

It will be critical in the next few months, especially as we continue to increase second dose coverage…

…that we support each other to manage risks in ways that make sense for the context and risk factors that people have.

As we find our way back into activities that are newly allowed…

….it is important to remember that precautions like avoiding crowded indoor areas or wearing a mask remain reasonable choices for those who have risk factors for severe outcomes, or for those who haven’t yet gotten their second dose.

It also means moving at the pace that’s right for you.

If you’re not ready to do something, or want to take extra precautions, that’s perfectly okay.

And if all of us can approach others with compassion in this time of transition, it will make a critical difference in the coming weeks and months.

In addition, it will always remain vital that all of us continue good habits that can help us long after COVID-19 has been tamed, like washing our hands regularly, and avoiding being around others if we feel sick.

Of course, even though provincial health orders will change when we enter Stage 3, there will still be some rules in place.

Isolation requirements for confirmed cases of COVID-19, quarantine measures for close contacts who are not fully immunized, and protective measures in continuing care settings will remain.

And, while the general indoor provincial mask mandate will be lifted, masking will still be required in limited and specific settings.

Today, I can confirm that when Stage 3 begins, we will maintain masking for continuing care and acute care settings.

We are in discussions with regulated health professionals about the precautions that will continue to be prudent in community health settings as well….

….particularly until everyone has had the opportunity to receive a second dose of vaccine.

Masking will also still be required in public transit, taxis and ride sharing, given the closed indoor environment of these spaces, and to protect those who have not been able to be fully vaccinated yet.

We will continue to monitor these settings carefully, and will lift masking requirements once it is safe to do so.

Particularly in continuing care settings, where a heavy burden of both illness and isolation has been felt over this past year, I know there are questions about why restrictions remain in place even after Stage 3 begins.

These settings, while diverse, are the places where some of our highest risk neighbours and family members live.

It is important that we hear from those who live in these settings and who care for people who live there, about their risk tolerance and wishes for a balance between COVID protection and enabling more activities before final decisions are made...

…so watch for information about an upcoming town hall series to get input from residents, family members and operators on the way forward.

It’s important to know that we are all going to have conflicting and different emotions and varying reactions in the coming weeks, and this is okay. As we have through the entire pandemic, I encourage all of us to continue being kind and respectful as we adjust.

And finally, as I’ve said before, the greatest act of kindness you can give yourself, your friends and your neighbours, as well as the health of this province we all call home, is to choose to join the circle of protection that vaccine offers.

So please get vaccinated – both first and second doses – as soon as you can.

The more people who get vaccinated, the safer we will all be in the weeks and months ahead.

Thank you and I’m happy to take questions.