Check against delivery.

Thank you, Chris, and good afternoon everyone.

Before I begin, I want to note that I will once again be providing regular COVID-19 updates twice a week.

Given the crisis that our province is facing, and the state of public health emergency that was issued yesterday, I will keep Albertans informed and will be here regularly to answer questions to the best of my ability.

I also want to pause here to stress one point from yesterday’s announcement regarding the restriction exemption program. If you are seeking a negative COVID test result to access a business or a service, you must get this test privately.

Alberta Health Services’ testing is for those with symptoms, those in outbreaks and those who need it the most.

These tests will not be applicable to the exemption program. Of course, instead of paying to get a negative COVID test done privately, you can get vaccinated for free. This will provide real protection, help beat down the wave, and save you the money spent on testing.

Turning to today’s update, over the last 24 hours, we have identified 1,718 new cases of COVID-19 and completed about 16,300 tests.  

Our positivity rate was about 10.6%.

Our hospitalizations continue to rise, and there are 896 people being treated for COVID-19 in hospital, including 222 in the ICU.

There are now 18,706 active cases in the province.

Sadly, I must announce that 10 new deaths were reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours.

Every life lost leaves behind grieving family and friends, and I offer my sympathies to those who are mourning these losses and losses from any other cause.

These deaths, and all that have preceded them, are further reminders that there are many vulnerable people in our province.

As I said yesterday, our actions have never mattered more.

We have a collective shared responsibility to keep everyone safe. This is the glue that holds our society together.

Today, I want to help clarify some questions that we’ve heard about the restrictions announced yesterday.

I know it was a lot of information at once, and I want everyone to fully understand the rules going forward.

Many Albertans are asking why social gatherings need to be limited, if everyone attending has been vaccinated.

It’s a fair question, especially when immunized Albertans have done the right thing and have gotten protected to try to keep others safe as well.

The answer is that our health-care system is straining to treat the number of COVID-19 cases we currently have in Alberta.

While close to 78% of the cases currently in hospital, including ICUs are unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated, that still leaves 22% of those in hospital who are fully vaccinated.

Many of these individuals have underlying health conditions that have affected their immune systems and their ability to fight off infections.

In addition, while two doses of vaccine are generally about 85% effective at protecting against the Delta variant, that still leaves a 15% window for infection.

And since the presence of COVID-19 is so high in our province right now, we need to do all we can to safeguard ourselves and our health-care system, and to stop providing all those opportunities for COVID-19 to slip in and spread.

We have also heard questions about whether weddings have to follow the 50-person limit if they implement mandatory vaccination.

The answer is, first, that this restriction comes into force on Monday, so events this weekend can continue, although I urge everyone to take every possible precaution in all events.

Secondly, venues that host these types of events are able to choose to implement a restriction exemption program with proof of immunization or a recent negative privately paid COVID-19 test.

If a hosting venue has implemented this program, then the wedding or funeral taking place in that location is able to proceed without the cap on numbers, as long as all attendees over the age of 12 have valid proof of immunization or a recent negative privately-paid COVID test.

Again, a reminder that AHS COVID tests cannot be used for this purpose. Only privately paid COVID tests are an option for admission purposes under the exemption program.

Related to that, I have heard some confusion about which businesses count as “essential for daily living” and so are not able to put in place an exemption program.

We’re working to put together a list of sectors on the website, but this would include examples such as grocery stores, gas stations, and retail such as hardware stores.

Other questions we’ve heard have been around personal services such as hair salons. These are subject to the mandatory masking rule, and a requirement that physical distancing be maintained at all times except for while the service is being provided.

Finally, we have also heard questions about whether businesses need to apply for the Restriction Exemption Program to be eligible.

The answer is no. Businesses simply need to consult the material we will be posting tomorrow on our website and implement the process described there in order to qualify.

However, audits and enforcement will occur to make sure the rules are being followed.

Starting Monday, any location that is not following the restrictions but has not properly implemented a vaccine verification system would be violating the public health orders in place.

All of the public health orders are mandatory and legally enforceable.  Any police agency or public health inspector is empowered to take enforcement action as they see fit.

However, enforcement is always a last resort. As I said yesterday, hard as it may seem, we need to work together to beat back this current wave.

I know the new measures come as a disappointment to many who have worked diligently to keep our province safe.

I know that many are frustrated and tired, and both of these are understandable. However, despite this tiredness and frustration, the virus is not going to stop without us. We are all currently playing a role in preventing the spread of the virus – protecting ourselves and protecting our community.

By following these rules – in not just the letter but the spirit of them – and avoiding contact as much as possible with those outside our household, we can get back on track and bring our cases, and most importantly our severe outcomes, down.

This is the key to reducing pressure on the health system and saving lives.

Thank you, and I’ll turn the podium over to Dr. Verna Yiu to provide an update on the health-care system.