Check against delivery.

Thank you, and good afternoon everyone.

Before I begin today’s COVID-19 update, I’d like to address a question we’ve heard around a small update that we’ve made recently to the daily checklist.

As you know, we have continually updated the daily symptom screening checklist to align with public health recommendations and orders as they evolve.

In the latest version, we added the recommendation that, when someone tests positive, any unvaccinated and partially vaccinated household contacts should quarantine for 14 days after an exposure to a COVID case in their household.

While quarantine is not legally required at this point in time, we wanted to be clear that we strongly recommend that all household contacts who are not fully immunized stay home for two weeks after they were exposed.

This is because living in the same home as someone with COVID puts you at the highest risk of becoming infected and further spreading the virus to others.

I know this may be of particular impact to schools and child care settings, as children under 12 are not able to be immunized. I also know that this may be inconvenient for those we are recommending to stay home.

However, at the current time, we believe that after a household exposure, specifically, anyone not protected by two doses of vaccine should stay home and away from others to limit the risk of onward transmission.

To be clear, this is household close contacts only. Not other close contacts, such as classmates in school or a workplace. There are other health measures already in place for these settings, such as distancing, masking and a working from home policy for workplaces.

Turning to today’s update, in the last 24 hours, we have identified 1,660 new cases and completed about 18,000 tests. 

Our positivity rate was about 9.4%.

Currently, 1,058 people are being treated for COVID-19 in hospital, including 226 in the ICU.

100% of new ICU admissions were in Albertans who did not have any vaccine protection.

Sadly, I must announce that 17 new deaths were reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours.

My condolences go out to the loved ones of these individuals, and to all who have lost a family member or friend to any cause during this pandemic.

As with the deaths reported earlier this week, while a small number of these individuals were double vaccinated with pre-existing health conditions, most were not vaccinated at all.

Vaccines are safe, effective and they save lives. It’s important for all of us to do our part to protect those who are vulnerable.

I know that many parents are eager to have their children under 12 vaccinated, and as I said on Tuesday we are watching the evidence closely.

While we have seen an increase in young people diagnosed with COVID during this wave, to date we have not seen an increase in the proportion of children who are experiencing severe outcomes from COVID.

This is not to minimize the fact that young people still face some risk, but it is another reminder that by lowering transmission in all ages, and by those who are eligible getting vaccinated, we can help protect those who aren’t yet old enough to access vaccine.

Every Albertan turning 12 this year or older has been eligible to be vaccinated for about four months now, and I cannot stress enough the importance of making this choice – to protect you, those around you, and our health-care system.

Vaccines remain one of our most powerful tools in the fight against COVID-19. 

That’s why today I would like to highlight once again some of our key data.

Albertans who have not been fully vaccinated are about 15 times more likely than those with vaccine protection to end up in the hospital from COVID-19.

They are about 40 times more likely to be admitted to the ICU.

About 77% of Albertans in hospital with COVID are not fully vaccinated, and 92% of those in the ICU right now have not had both shots.

We have heard persistent questions and rumours on social media that vaccines are not working against the Delta variant, but this is categorically untrue.

In Alberta, COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be 85% effective against infection with the Delta variant after two doses.

COVID-19 vaccines are even more highly effective at preventing severe disease and death, including against the highly contagious Delta variant.

The bottom line is that two doses of vaccine will protect most people from getting sick, having to go to the hospital, or dying if they catch the virus.

However, no vaccine is 100% effective.

A very small percentage of fully vaccinated people could still get COVID if they are exposed to the virus. These are called vaccine breakthrough cases, and although the risk of severe illness is much less in these cases, it is important to remember that some people have conditions that mean their body cannot fully respond to doses of vaccine.

That’s why preventing these breakthrough cases requires the rest of us to participate in forming a protective shield around them, and may necessitate a booster for some individuals, which is why we expanded criteria for immunocompromised eligibility earlier this week.

Please, if you are not yet fully vaccinated, do so as soon as possible.

I also encourage you to help others who may need help finding reputable sources of information on COVID vaccines, or those who need help making or getting to vaccination appointments.

I also know there have been many questions about immune response from prior infection.

Some people are wondering if they need a vaccine if they’ve already had COVID-19, and whether having recovered from infection should make them exempt for the Restrictions Exemption Program.

At this time, everyone needs proof of vaccine, or a recent negative result on a privately purchased test, or a medical exemption in order to enter businesses in the Restrictions Exemption Program.

The bottom line is that my advice for those who have had COVID-19 remains the same: it is still best for everyone to be fully vaccinated with two doses to obtain the greatest possible protection from infection.

It’s also important to remember right now that with our current high levels of transmission, there is still some risk that anyone, whether or not they have recovered from a previous COVID infection or have received immunization, could possibly be re-infected and potentially transmit COVID-19 to others, who may be vulnerable to severe outcomes.

That’s why masking in indoor public places and staying at home if feeling ill is mandatory for everyone in all areas of the province, and I encourage getting tested if you are showing COVID-19 symptoms.

Finally, on the topic of post-infection immunity, I want to speak about an event that is being reported in the news. While I have not received confirmation that this event took place, reports began circulating yesterday of an event where several people are said to have gathered in a deliberate attempt to acquire COVID-19 in order to develop post-infection immunity.

It is being reported that several of these individuals ended up in hospital and in already-crowded Edmonton ICUs. Again, I cannot confirm that these reports are accurate, but whether or not this specific report is verified, what is important to know is that anyone contemplating this kind of activity should know that this consequence – severe illness, and transmitting to others who may become severely ill or even die – is an absolutely likely outcome.

Hosting or attending an event like this in the current time of crisis is irresponsible and dangerous. It doesn’t just put you at risk, but those around you, including people who may need health care for other reasons than COVID, but have no critical care capacity available for them when they need it.

If anyone wants to get protection from infection, vaccines are free, highly effective, and easily available. The safest and best way to reach herd immunity for Albertans is to be vaccinated – plain and simple.

We need each other more than ever right now, and making choices to keep family, friends, and communities safe from the impacts of COVID-19 is life and death work that requires all of us.

Thank you, and I’ll now invite my colleague, Dr. Yiu, to update you on our health-care system.