COVID-19 Updates: State of public health emergency declared.
Check against delivery.
Thank you, Minister, and good afternoon everyone.
Before I begin today, I would like to talk about pregnancy and vaccine.
Pregnancy is an exciting, but stressful time for parents. And it can be overwhelming to sift through an endless amount of, often conflicting, information of what to do in the best interest of the health of their unborn child.
COVID-19 has not made this any easier, and I know there is a lot of misinformation circulating about whether those who are pregnant, or trying to become pregnant, should get COVID-19 vaccines.
I would like to be clear that there is no evidence of harm from mRNA COVID-19 vaccines for those who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada recommend that those who are pregnant get a complete series of vaccine.
This is because those who are pregnant are at a high risk of severe outcomes due to COVID-19.
In August alone, six pregnant Albertans were admitted to ICU due to COVID-19. All of them were unvaccinated.
To put this into context, only seven pregnant Albertans were admitted to ICU for COVID treatment during the entire first year of the pandemic from March 2020 to March 2021.
In the six cases we saw last month, not only has COVID had severe impacts on the parent’s health, but also the child’s – five pre-term births occurred, as early as 29 weeks.
If you are pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or have recently delivered, please get both doses of COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible, to offer you and your family the best protection possible.
I also want to be clear that there is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines cause fertility problems.
Studies evaluating male and female fertility metrics after COVID-19 vaccines have not identified any harms to reproductive health, so COVID vaccine is also a good proactive step to take even before pregnancy.
Turning to today’s update.
Over the last 24 hours, we have identified 1,510 new cases and completed about 13,800 tests.
Our positivity rate was 11%.
Currently, 679 people are admitted to hospital for COVID-19, including 154 in the ICU.
Sadly, I must also announce that nine new deaths were reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours.
My thoughts go to the family and friends of these individuals and anyone mourning a loss.
We have seen many more deaths recently, which reinforces how seriously we need to take the current situation.
It is to prevent outcomes like these that immunizations are so important.
I know there has been concern lately, noting that some of our deaths have been in people who are fully immunized, and I want to be clear that vaccines are still making a profound difference.
Vaccines, like all other medical interventions, are not perfect. What they can offer, however, is a high level of protection against infection and an even higher level of protection against severe outcomes.
In the last four months, 84% of all those who died from COVID-19 have not been fully immunized.
Unfortunately, we are seeing a small number of breakthrough infections in those who have been fully immunized, and some of these people have gone on to have severe outcomes, including death.
The majority of these severe outcomes have been in those who are older, have multiple medical conditions, and this is why we have implemented a third dose for those with immune-compromising conditions and for all residents in seniors continuing care facilities.
Even without a booster dose, however, vaccines are still very powerful. In the past two months, no fully vaccinated Albertan under the age of 60 has died.
For those 60 and over, Albertans who don’t have the protection of two doses of a vaccine have a 14 times greater risk of dying from COVID than those who are fully immunized.
In addition, looking at our current ICU and non-ICU hospitalizations, 91% of those in the ICU are not fully immunized, and 75% of those in hospital outside the ICU are not fully immunized.
Clearly, vaccines are one thing we know that can limit new cases, and help to prevent severe outcomes, long COVID and hospitalizations over the long term.
Simply put, we need more Albertans to get immunized.
In addition, we need to work together again in other ways to bring down COVID transmission in order to protect our health-care system and our communities.
On Friday, as you know, changes to masking and liquor service were announced, and recommendations to work from home and limit indoor gatherings were made.
I would like to be clear that these measures also mean that changes that were planned for September 27th have been postponed as well.
We received many questions over the weekend, so I would like to clarify what remains in effect.
- Masking is mandatory in all indoor public spaces and workplaces – this also extends to continuing and acute care, public transit, taxis and ride-shares.
- Isolation is still legally required for people who have COVID-19 symptoms or have tested positive.
- And, I would like to assure Albertans that we continue to closely monitor COVID-19 activity to determine the impacts of the measures put in place several days ago.
AHS continues to do case investigations for all cases, meaning notifying anyone who tests positive, asking that those individuals share this information with close contacts so they can monitor for symptoms, isolate if necessary and contain the spread.
In addition, AHS continues to notify locations where transmission seems to have occurred, due to clusters of cases with a common location identified, and contact tracing has continued in high-risk settings such as acute and continuing care facilities.
I know there has been concern about the ending of universal contact tracing at the end of July, and questions about the impact that this change has had on our spread.
I want to be clear that the work of contact tracers has been invaluable throughout the pandemic, and before widespread vaccine availability, it was the cornerstone of our response.
Contact tracers should be proud of what they accomplished in extremely difficult circumstances.
It is also true that the impact of measures like contact tracing changes over time. The question that was facing us earlier this summer was what measures were needed in the context of high vaccine availability and coverage rates.
We knew that cases would rise with general public health measures lifted and anticipated at that time that the acute care impact would be limited.
We also knew that cases would have much higher numbers of close contacts than they had during the time with public health measures in place.
And, only unvaccinated close contacts were required to quarantine, which was the minority of the population, and therefore the minority of close contacts.
We knew that the only actions required from contact tracing would be quarantine of a smaller and smaller proportion of all contacts.
And given all of that information, it was my recommendation to move away from universal contact tracing and to focus instead on case investigation and high-risk setting contact tracing and outbreak management.
To assess the impact of moving away from universal contact tracing, it is interesting to note that earlier in the summer, Alberta, B.C. and Saskatchewan all moved to eliminate almost all public health measures, with the common expectation that any increase in cases would be decoupled from severe outcomes, even with the Delta variant.
Per capita, our cases increased in almost identical ways, and although B.C. and Saskatchewan did not change contact tracing, only B.C. has seen a decrease in transmission trends in areas where public health interventions were reinstituted.
Although Saskatchewan continued its contact tracing program and we have not, Alberta and Saskatchewan’s per capita cases, hospitalizations and ICU admissions are trending equally.
Universal contact tracing was critical earlier in the pandemic, but we must continue to assess our approaches based on our evolving context and best current available evidence.
Our current focus is on case investigation, mandatory isolation and high-risk contact tracing as the greatest impact areas.
I also want to speak briefly today about the use of modelling in our planning.
The models we released last week have informed part of our thinking and planning, but have not been the only piece of evidence we relied on.
Models are valuable to look at the probability of different scenarios, but are not meant to be a precise prediction of the future.
The models that our teams ran in June showed results that are very similar to the internal modeling that B.C. just released that was done at the same time. The assumptions at that time included increased transmissibility of the Delta variant, as well as the impacts of removing public health measures in July.
We anticipated that cases and acute care impacts would rise somewhat over the summer, and the modelling helped us track our actual cases against what was expected.
This meant that in early August we were able to pause the second step of our move to endemic COVID management based on an unexpected increase in acute care impact that was different from the trajectory that had originally been anticipated.
Our models were updated to take into account the Alberta-specific data, resulting in the second set of models that helped inform our need to bring in additional public health measures.
I know there have also been questions about why we used the U.K. data as a comparator.
I want to be clear that as we looked at jurisdictions experiencing Delta spread at the same time we were doing forward planning in early July, the U.K. was one of the few jurisdictions that had similar overall vaccine coverage, had also used the lengthened interval between first and second doses of vaccine that has now been shown to increase protection levels, and also had a high Delta circulation at that time.
There has never been one perfect way through this pandemic, and it has always been critical to adjust our approach based on the information available at the time.
This is what my team and I continue to do through close monitoring of the data, and adjusting recommendations as needed.
We are in another difficult time in the pandemic, with many dissenting opinions and a lot of anger and fear about the current state.
I want to remind us all right now, as always, that kindness matters. This is no small thing. Respectful dialogue and choosing to be compassionate to each other as we face this current situation has never mattered more.
Thank you and I’ll turn the podium over to Dr. Yiu for her comments.