Check against delivery.
Thank you, Dr. Yiu, and good afternoon everyone.
Over the last 24 hours, we identified 228 new cases of COVID-19, and completed about 5,000 tests.
On Saturday, we identified 253 new cases from about 6,600 tests, and on Friday we identified 325 new cases and completed about 7,500 tests.
There are currently active alerts or outbreaks in 154 schools.
Seven of these schools have had 10 or more cases infectious in the school within the last 14 days.
There are currently 432 people being treated for COVID-19 in hospital, including 77 in the ICU.
Sadly, I must announce that seven new deaths have been reported to Alberta Health since November 25th, ranging in age from 33 to 92.
I extend my sympathies to the family and friends of these individuals and to anyone who has lost someone they loved, no matter the cause.
As the Premier said, we are closely monitoring new developments around the Omicron variant.
My team and I are working with our public health colleagues across the country and around the world to understand more about this emerging variant and to keep an eye on its spread.
At this time, there have been no cases of this variant detected in Alberta, however, as we have seen with other variants, it is very likely that Omicron will eventually reach our province.
Our goal now is to delay the spread of Omicron until we learn more about it. I also want to remind all of us that while there are many unanswered questions about how the Omicron variant will behave, we know a lot more about COVID now than we did before.
This knowledge means we are not going back to step zero. We still have a lot of tools at our disposal to address this new variant.
Today, I would like to explain several steps that we are taking in response.
First, I want to assure Albertans that our provincial lab is currently screening all COVID-19 positive samples for previously known variants. In the past week, for example, 99.8% of all Alberta cases have been the Delta variant.
All samples that screen negative for Delta are sent for full genetic sequencing. This will help us to identify any cases of Omicron.
All non-Delta variant cases in recently returned travellers from any country will be prioritized for genetic sequencing.
In addition to this sequencing, we are also implementing additional processes for all COVID cases identified in all returning international travellers.
This includes an expanded case investigation, contact tracing and notification, PCR testing recommendations for close contacts, and an addition of rapid testing options for household contacts.
Unimmunized and partially immunized close contacts of a confirmed case in any returning international traveller will be asked to quarantine at home for 14 days after their last contact with the case.
If cases in recently returned international travellers are identified in schools or child care facilities, all class or cohort contacts will be notified and will be advised to get tested through AHS.
I would like to remind Albertans that returning travellers should be treated with compassion and the majority of travel-related cases right now are not Omicron.
However, we are taking these interim measures in order to prevent potential spread as early as possible, giving ourselves time to learn more about the variant.
If a case of Omicron is identified in someone with no travel history, this would likely be about two weeks after the initial positive result.
In this instance, a retrospective case investigation will be done. Close contacts will be advised to be tested for COVID-19, regardless of when they were exposed to the infected individual.
If any of those close contacts had developed symptoms within 14 days of being in contact with this confirmed case, they would be considered a probable case, and AHS would perform contact tracing for their close contacts as well.
Finally, I also want to remind all of us that isolation for COVID symptoms and confirmed COVID cases of any type continues to be mandatory. Anyone who tests positive for COVID, no matter the strain, is legally required to isolate for 10 days from the beginning of their illness, away from both members within their household and outside their household.
I would like to remind Albertans that the steps related to Omicron are being taken out of an abundance of caution.
In the coming weeks, if we learn that Omicron does not pose new risks, these measures will be reassessed.
The emergence of this new variant is yet another reminder of how important vaccination is. Having a complete vaccine series provides the highest level of protection we have against severe outcomes, and this has been true with all new variants of concern in the past.
With COVID vaccine now available for those aged 5 to 11, I know that a lot of parents are still working through the decisions around vaccines for their children.
As the Premier mentioned, I am hosting a town hall tomorrow night with other physicians to answer questions about COVID-19 vaccine and children. To attend, register online at Alberta.ca/Townhall by noon tomorrow.
We will continue to keep the public updated as we learn more about the Omicron variant and will make any adjustments necessary to protect the health and safety of Albertans.
Thank you and we’re happy to take questions.