COVID-19 Updates: Protecting Albertans from the Omicron variant.
Check against delivery.
Thank you, Premier and good afternoon, everyone.
I’d like to begin today by letting Albertans know about a change we’re making to our outbreak reporting.
As I shared a few weeks ago, due to the increase in COVID-19 cases and the spread of Omicron, Alberta Health Services is focusing its case investigation resources on cases in high-risk settings only.
This includes hospitals, continuing care facilities and other congregate living settings like shelters and correctional facilities.
As a result of this shift, the public reporting of outbreaks will also change beginning tomorrow.
Outbreaks in acute and continuing care facilities will continue to be publicly reported every Tuesday and Friday when there are two or more cases in the facility.
However, we are no longer able to report on other outbreaks.
This approach is in line with what other provinces are doing given the dramatic rise in cases due to Omicron.
We encourage all workplaces to continue to follow COVID prevention practices and to have processes to make sure employees can stay home when sick, even if they have minor symptoms.
There is one other change that is coming soon, so today I also want to let Albertans know that, if they do not have access to a printer to get a copy of their COVID-19 vaccine record with a QR code, until this coming Monday January 17th they still have the opportunity to access a free print out at registry agents throughout the province.
After that time, if you need a free printed copy, you can contact Health Link at 811 to have them mail it out to you or a large number of community organizations also offer printing, such as public libraries and seniors’ groups.
Turning to today’s numbers, over the last 24 hours, we have identified 6,010 new cases of COVID-19 and completed about 14,350 tests.
Our positivity rate for lab-confirmed cases is 40.9%.
There are currently 786 people with COVID in hospital, including 79 in the ICU.
Sadly, 8 new deaths have been reported to Alberta Health over the last 24 hours.
You have heard me report these numbers for so long, it can be easy to forget that each of these numbers is a person. Whether it represents someone in hospital or in ICU or someone whose family is grieving their loss, these numbers matter.
Lives lost to other illnesses also matter, and I extend my sympathies to all who are experiencing grief right now, no matter the cause.
Whether you’ve experienced a loss recently or are simply trying to navigate the uncertainty of living through a pandemic, this is a challenging time for all of us.
We are adjusting to a lot of changes in the way that we have previously managed the pandemic.
Not having access to the same level of detail and data can feel disorienting.
Not having access to testing for mild symptoms can be frustrating.
There are many things that have become our touchstones for navigating an uncertain time that helped us feel like we had more control.
It’s hard to lose some of these things in the span of just a few weeks as this new variant has required us to adapt and change quickly.
In this time of transition it is important to remember that we still have a lot of information and we still have the power to protect our communities.
While our case data is a smaller proportion of all cases in the community than it was before, it can still show us trends in transmission from this point onward.
We still have acute care admission data that will be similar in proportion to previous waves.
We also have wastewater data that can show community trends independent of testing access.
And, importantly, we have the ability to access vaccines, to follow public health measures, and if we feel sick, to stay home and away from others, all of which will make a difference for our health care system.
With respect to testing, I know that the delay in rapid test shipments that the Premier mentioned is disappointing for many of us, especially those who don’t have tests at home and are no longer eligible for a PCR test under the new criteria announced on Monday.
I do want to note that since Monday’s announcement, we have modified eligibility to now include anyone who is pregnant, regardless of their vaccination status.
So if you are pregnant and experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms, you can complete the online assessment tool and book a PCR test at an AHS assessment centre.
While we await the arrival of more rapid tests over the next couple of weeks, we need to take precautions and use other tools at our disposal.
This includes staying home if we’re feeling ill and utilizing the online resources that AHS has developed at ahs.ca/covidselfcare.
The assessment tool for children and youth has also been updated and is available at ahs.ca/covidscreen.
This will make it easier for parents and guardians to assess their child’s symptoms, determine if they should talk to someone about those symptoms, such as their doctor or Health Link, they can access self-care tips to help manage symptoms at home, and they can determine whether or not they are eligible for PCR testing.
Call volumes are extremely high at Health Link right now, so before calling 811 for COVID we encourage all Albertans to check their symptoms, or the symptoms of someone they may be caring for, at ahs.ca/covidscreen. This will help you get the information you need much faster.
Please remember, if your child has any of the core symptoms of COVID-19 such as a cough, fever, shortness of breath, or loss of sense of smell or taste, you should assume they have COVID-19 and they’re legally required to isolate.
Anyone who is feeling ill must stay home and away from others for 5 or 10 days depending on their immunization status, or until symptoms improve, whichever is longer.
Omicron is so transmissible that the rapidly increasing number of cases could get to a point where more people than any previous wave would need to be admitted for care in hospital.
Even if only a small percent of cases are in hospital, that can still result in a high number of hospital admission when tens of thousands of active cases are in the province.
This kind of surge can put extreme pressure on the health care providers who’ve been working vigilantly – and non-stop – for almost two years.
Our actions today can be a part of preventing that.
I urge you to continue doing the things that we know to do to prevent infection and spread.
We need to reduce our in-person interactions. We need to wash or sanitize our hands. If possible, we need to avoid crowded indoor spaces, and maintain two metres of physical distance at all times when with people outside our households.
We need to stay home if we’re feeling sick. Omicron is so transmissible, that it’s likely that if we’re not feeling well, that we’ve been infected.
Please err on the side of caution and avoid risking spread of infection to others.
I also encourage you to get your vaccines. Help us reach another million booster doses to protect yourselves, your families and your communities.
And when you’re indoors in public places, please wear a well-fitting mask. As Omicron continues to circulate there are many questions about what type of mask is recommended for the average Albertan.
There is guidance on masking for the general public available on alberta.ca and I encourage you to review that information.
As our understanding of COVID continues to evolve, especially in light of new variants, we update standards and guidance based on the latest evidence.
Our guidance on masks for the general public is the reasonable standard for anyone given the average risk in day-to-day life, and does not meant to address the highest risk environments that certain individuals may encounter in specific workplaces.
The public guidance we’ve established also considers other measures that may be in place, including physical distancing. This is the same approach to masking that is taken in other provinces and at the national level.
Based on the latest evidence, we’ve updated our guidance late last year to recommend surgical or medical masks that have a higher filtration standard as being best for those with risk factors that put them at risk of severe outcomes.
People can still use well-fitting multiple layer cloth masks if that is what they have access to – they still provide some benefit if they are of high quality. However, when Albertans have access to surgical masks, especially to those who are risk of severe outcomes they should use them as they provide enhanced filtration and moisture resistance.
Of course, Albertans have always been able to use masks of a higher standard, if they have access to them and wish to do so.
Our guidance for the public does not require KN95s or N95s because the available evidence does not warrant it for the general public in day-to-day life. Separate guidance is available and more appropriate for occupational settings like health care where risk may be higher.
The most important consideration in wearing any mask is to choose a well-fitting, high quality one that can comfortably cover the nose, mouth and chin without any gaps and fit securely to the head.
If you have questions about which mask is most suitable for you and your situation, I encourage you to review the guidance on masking for the general public that is available on alberta.ca.
Thank you, and we’re happy to take questions.