Check against delivery.

Thank you, Tom, and good afternoon everyone.

Before we begin, I would like to update you on two upcoming changes to our public reporting.

First, today is the last day of school for most school boards in the province. This means that as students break for summer, so too will our school outbreak map.

The school map will be removed from the website on Friday.

Any outbreaks identified in summer schools will be investigated the same as all other outbreaks.

Second, we are also adjusting how we calculate the percentage of Albertans who have received the vaccine.

So far, we have been using Alberta Health’s 2021 population data to determine what percent of people in a particular area have received one or both doses. 

However, the Public Health Agency of Canada and most other provinces and territories are using Statistics Canada’s July 2020 data for the denominator.

To bring our numbers in line and to allow for appropriate comparisons across the country, we will now be using the July 2020 Statistics Can data as well.

This means that as of today, 72.7% of eligible Albertans have now gotten at least one dose, and 40.7 are fully immunized.

It also means that the percentages in most regions will increase slightly due to this new denominator.

This does not change the fact that every dose matters, and I am asking everyone to get fully immunized as soon as possible to help protect our communities.

Turning to today’s update, over the last 24 hours, we identified 61 new cases and completed about 3,400 tests.  

Our positivity rate was about 1.6%.

Sixteen more variant cases have been identified over the last 24 hours.

There are alerts or outbreaks in 130 schools, which represents about 5% of schools in the province.

Currently, 170 people are being treated for COVID-19 in hospital, including 36 admitted to the ICU.

Across the board, our numbers are moving in the right direction.

Cases, hospitalizations, ICU admissions and our positivity rate are the lowest they’ve been since last summer and early fall.

Right now, there are only 5 active cases in all the continuing care facilities in Alberta combined. That is a remarkable number.

Earlier today, I participated in the first of three town halls to hear from residents, family members, staff and operators of these facilities.

We are getting their input on how this dramatic impact of vaccines should inform what health measures are necessary in these settings and for how long.

There are now 1,132 active cases in Alberta, the fewest since August 26th.  

We should all be proud of these numbers, and take heart in them.

Opportunity is knocking.

If we all keep making wise choices and more people get vaccinated, active cases could fall below 500 in a few short weeks.

Sadly, I must also announce that 4 new deaths were reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours.

My thoughts go to the family and friends of these individuals. I know the absences of those we’ve lost to any cause during the pandemic continue to be felt.

I want to extend my deepest condolences for your loss.

It is to prevent outcomes like this that immunization is so important.

I know there have been some questions lately about reports of side effects from Pfizer and Moderna vaccines,

So I want to provide some information on what we know about heart muscle inflammation after immunization.

From Israel and from the United States, we have seen reports of a rare side effect of heart muscle and heart lining inflammation after Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, most often after the second dose, and almost always very mild.

This side effect is being seen most often in younger people, mostly males.

In Canada and in the United Kingdom, we have not seen the same trends, possibly due to the fact that second doses in younger people have not yet been given in large numbers.

However, given what has been reported in other countries, here is what younger Albertans should know about this condition.

First of all, young people who get infected with COVID-19 have about a hundred times greater risk of experiencing heart inflammation than what is being seen after the second dose in Israel and the U.S.

Second, the heart inflammation reported after the second dose is almost always very mild, resolving with anti-inflammatory treatment.

Finally, in both countries where it has been reported most often, after rigorous review of all the evidence, advisory bodies in both countries have concluded that the benefit of immunization far outweighs the risks.

We discussed this topic last week with our Alberta Advisory Committee on Immunization, and they agreed.

We will be putting together more detailed information on our website to help provide the most up-to-date data to inform decisions.

But I continue to recommend that all Albertans 12 and older get the vaccine first and second doses to be protected.

As this is my last regularly scheduled media availability, I want to talk a bit about what comes next for us as we enter Stage 3.

We are on the cusp of not only removing many restrictions, but also opening up our social circles, businesses and personal lives.

Of course, while cases are dropping and spread is declining, COVID-19 is not going away completely.

It remains a potentially serious illness that we must keep respecting.

As we move into Stage 3, we will continue to offer testing to everyone with symptoms as we monitor the impact of changes.

This is just a reminder that if you feel even a little bit unwell, it remains critical for you to stay home and arrange to get tested.

We will also continue to actively investigate and contact trace new cases, as well as screen for variants. Health officials will continue investigating outbreaks and taking whatever steps are needed to protect the public’s health.

Masking will continue for all staff, physicians and visitors at AHS and Covenant facilities.

This includes acute care, continuing care, and community sites – including COVID-19 testing, immunization clinics and community labs.

Visitation at AHS acute care sites will remain unchanged until July 5th, when two designated support persons will be able to visit a patient at one time.

We will keep robust measures in place in order to watch closely to see what impacts Stage 3 may have.

However, we have seen the power of vaccines.

They drastically reduce the chance of catching this virus, and if people are exposed, of them experiencing severe outcomes like hospitalization.

Since January, more than 95% of cases have been in those who weren’t vaccinated at all or in those who hadn’t yet developed immunity from the first dose.

More than 92% of hospitalizations during that time were also not vaccinated or within two weeks of their first dose.

Vaccines are safe, and they drastically reduce our chances of becoming severely ill.

The number one best thing we can do to protect ourselves, those around us, and to keep Alberta open is to sign up, show up, and follow up for both doses of vaccine.

I know there are questions about kids under 12 who aren’t yet able to receive vaccine, and how to keep them safe.

This is also a highly personal question for me, as my children are under 12.

We know that vaccine trials are underway in younger age groups, but we don’t yet know when vaccines will be available for younger children.

In the meantime, the advice I would offer for others in this situation is, first of all, to encourage all adults and older children in their lives to get immunized. This is the most important thing that we can do.

The second is to be intentional about thinking about not just risks, but also benefits of activities.

We need to consider the benefits of activities for each child based on their context.

COVID-19 risks can be mitigated, for example by choosing outdoor activities over indoor activities, and having fewer close contacts compared with many close contacts.

All of us will need to make decisions in the next several months about how we weigh COVID-19 risks against the benefits of different options for us and for our children.

Kids under 12 have the lowest risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19, and this fact is one we need to incorporate into our deliberations.

Each family will need to make the decisions that are right for them. There is no one single perfect answer.

Another question we have received is about vaccines that may be expiring soon.

Since the beginning of our response, we have been carefully managing our inventory to avoid having any doses expire.

Unfortunately, due to decreased demand in recent weeks, we do have 4,532 doses of AstraZeneca that are due to expire on July 1st.

This is a small number, considering that more than 289,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine have already been administered, and the vaccine wastage remains very low compared to other immunization programs.

However, if you are booked to receive a first or second dose of AstraZeneca vaccine, please reschedule your appointment to prior to July 1st so that as few doses go to waste as possible.

Thankfully, these doses are the first to expire from more than 4 million doses administered, and the remaining inventory will not expire for many more months.

This is also a reminder that, with vaccines, every day counts. It’s important that we all get fully immunized as soon as we can.

As I said, this is my last regularly scheduled availability, which means it’s the last time that I’ll be talking with you for a while.

It has been a tremendous privilege to support Albertans over the last 16 months, and to help keep you informed.

This pandemic has tested us, and at times it has polarized us. It has challenged all of us in ways that we never could have expected.

But it has also made clear one indisputable fact:

We are stronger, and safer, together.

We are a province of people who protect each other, who support each other, and who rely on each other in a million different ways, big and small.

So please keep supporting each other in the days ahead.

That means getting vaccinated as soon as you can, and helping to combat vaccine misinformation whenever you see it.

It also means making safe choices when we enter Stage 3 – not because there is an order directing it, but because it is the right thing to do.

Staying home when sick, getting tested, and supporting others who need to keep taking precautions for a little while longer will keep you and everyone else safer.

There will be challenges in the months ahead. We will still identify new cases and outbreaks will emerge.

But we are watching closely, ready to act as needed,

And I am confident that we will get through this, as we always have, together.

Thank you and I’m happy to take questions.