Check against delivery.
Thank you, Premier and good afternoon, everyone.
Today is my first update in the New Year; a time to reflect and look forward, and before getting to the numbers today, I want to share some of my reflections.
The last two years have been some of the most challenging times that most of us have ever lived through.
Words like relentless, unfair, heartbreaking, and exhausting only scratch the surface.
Those who have lost loved ones, those who have lost businesses, those who have lost their health, those who have lost jobs are only some of the losses that COVID has inflicted on us.
Into that hard reality, Omicron has arrived as a perfect storm of increased transmissibility, immune escape from both previous infection and two doses of vaccine, and enough early signs of reduced severity at an individual level to be tempting to not take seriously.
It is completely understandable to be so tired of everything we have been through in the last two years that we feel like we are powerless in the face of the current wave.
I want to be clear that we are not powerless, and we must take this wave seriously.
While two doses of vaccine may not provide the kind of protection against infection it previously did, it still gives good protection against severe outcomes and even better, we have third doses available that strengthen protection against both infection and severe outcomes.
We have knowledge of the impact of continuous masking and staying home if we feel even a little sick, and we must make all efforts proactively to limit the number of in-person interactions that happen on a daily basis.
I know it can be hard to understand why we need to take action when risk seems to be individually lower with Omicron.
We need look no further than Ontario’s current experience to understand why.
With case counts far exceeding anything we have ever seen before, the sheer volume of cases means that daily hospitalizations are beginning to escalate – the population risk is high even as the individual risk is lower, and Ontario is only a little more than a week ahead of us.
The actions we are all taking now are critical. We continue to monitor the experiences of other jurisdictions and it is too soon to know exactly how Omicron will impact Alberta.
However, given how fast Omicron is spreading, now is the time for each of us to make changes that impact the case counts, and therefore the downstream flow into hospitals.
When we think of protecting our health system, we need to think about the people who make up that system.
Our frontline health care workers have experienced the trauma of repeated waves over the past two years, and each wave takes an additional toll.
Our actions now will make a substantial difference to the resilience and capacity of our health care system, not just in the next few weeks but in the long term as burnout and fatigue are very real and will not be gone overnight.
I believe it is critical to use every tool at our disposal right now to protect the people and system we rely on to take care of us when we are sick, from any cause.
Turning to the numbers – we have resumed our regular weekday reporting and today, I will provide numbers for December 31st to January 3rd. These numbers will also be posted to alberta.ca shortly.
On December 31st, 4,570 new cases of COVID-19 were identified out of about 12,700 tests.
On January 1st, we identified approximately 3,323 new cases and completed about 9,450 tests.
On January 2nd, around 2,059 new cases were identified out of about 7,100 tests.
And yesterday, we had 3,013 new cases identified out of about 8200 tests.
Our positivity rate over the past four days has ranged from around 28 per cent to 36 per cent.
This is the highest positivity rate we’ve seen with any variant since the pandemic began.
We know Omicron is highly transmissible – right now more than one out of every 3 people getting a PCR test are testing positive for COVID-19, with higher rates in Edmonton and Calgary.
If you are feeling unwell, it’s quite likely because of the Omicron variant, and this means it’s critical to stay home until you are feeling better even if you have a test with a negative result.
For those without access to rapid tests, it is still possible to book a PCR test, although even a negative PCR test does not change the need to stay home until you’re feeling better.
Currently, there are 436 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 61 in the ICU.
Sadly, since December 28, 12 deaths related to COVID-19 have been reported to Alberta Health.
I must also sadly report that one of these deaths has been confirmed to be a child under the age of 18.
As we announced in October, in the case of anyone under 18, we do not report a death until we’ve completed a thorough review and confirmed that COVID was either a direct or contributing cause.
To balance protecting the privacy of the family with the public disclosure on this case, we can report the child was in the range of 5 to 9-years old and had a complex medical condition. However, we will not be providing any additional identifying details.
The presence of a medical condition does not take away from the grief or tragedy of this loss.
I extend my deepest sympathies to this family, and to anyone who is grieving the loss a loved one, no matter the cause.
While Omicron has shown to be less severe than other variants, each death is an unfortunate reminder that its effects can still be serious and even deadly for some.
As the numbers show, the Omicron variant continues to spread rapidly across the province.
This has been the case in other provinces. And, like other provinces, Alberta has made changes to our legal isolation requirements.
Last week, as you know, we announced that the isolation time for fully vaccinated Albertans who tested positive for COVID-19 was reduced from 10 days down to five as long as their symptoms have resolved by that point.
We made this change based on evidence showing that fully immunized people are infectious for shorter periods of time.
This is a cautious adjustment. If an individual is symptomatic, or becomes symptomatic during that five-day period, they must continue to isolate until all their symptoms have resolved.
To further reduce any potential to infect others, that individual must then wear a mask when they’re around other people for an additional five days after their isolation ends, and none of the usual exceptions apply for these five days.
For example, someone who is fully vaccinated, and gets symptoms and tests positive for COVID would be able to leave isolation if they’re feeling better by day five from the start of their symptoms.
However, that individual must not eat or drink, for example, in public places for these five days, and must keep their mask on at all times when outside their home for that time period.
I want to make perfectly clear that this reduction in isolation time applies only to people who have received at least a complete primary vaccine series and whose symptoms have resolved by five days.
However, this change does not apply to residents of continuing care facilities, no matter their vaccination status.
To help prevent spread among these individuals who are at a higher risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19, all residents will still need to isolate for a minimum of 10 days or until their symptoms resolve, whichever is longer.
The 10 days will begin on the first day they have symptoms or from the day an asymptomatic resident takes a COVID-19 test that indicates they have COVID-19.
Any resident in isolation must remain at the facility and in their room during this period of time.
The details of this public health order on isolation, including guidance for continuing care facilities and which businesses or services may be eligible for exceptions, is now available online at alberta.ca.
We continue to watch Omicron very closely. And I will continue to make recommendations on what I believe to be the most prudent course of action.
We cannot know with certainty what our future holds, but I do know beyond the shadow of a doubt that we will all be best served by acting in the next several weeks with the good of our communities in mind.
It can be hard to do this, but the resilience of our health care system and health care providers is on the line. Each one of us matters, and our collective efforts have never been more important.
Thank you and I’m happy to take questions.