Checked against delivery.

Thank you, Chris, and good afternoon, everyone.

Before I start, I would like to provide 2 updates.

First I would like to provide an update to our outbreak reporting.

On Thursday we advised that due to AHS focusing their resources on investigating high-risk outbreaks, we would need to adjust our public outbreak reporting to just continuing and acute care sites.

However, in further conversations with AHS, they have confirmed that at this time they are also able to continue to provide us with complete outbreak data for congregate living facilities such as correctional facilities and shelters.

As such, these will again be listed on our outbreak list beginning today.

We understand Albertans have become accustomed to having regular access to COVID information, and we appreciate everyone’s patience as we make adjustments due to the Omicron situation.

It is also important to remember why outbreaks are not being reported in other contexts.

First of all, given the very high number of cases in the community, and the fact that most cases in fully immunized people are mild, and can be managed at home, outbreak activities that were used earlier in the pandemic such as individual case tracking and contact tracing are no longer warranted for most workplaces.

Outbreak responses by public health are now focused on the highest risk settings, where there are populations at increased risk of severe outcomes, particularly acute care and seniors congregate care facilities.

These are settings that would typically have outbreaks managed for other respiratory viruses including seasonal influenza because of the risk of severe outcomes.

Other workplaces should follow the guidance that is available on Biz Connect as well as general public health recommendations, such as physical distancing and masking, to help prevent spread of COVID-19.

As we look at continuing care and the impacts of the Omicron wave, we continue to emphasize the need to protect residents in these settings from multiple health risks including:

  •  the direct risk of COVID,
  • the health risks of social isolation and disconnection,
  • and the risks of having insufficient care providers to meet their basic care needs.

These risks sometimes compete, and we have no single straightforward path to perfectly meet all these needs simultaneously. We must continue to seek balance.

We have communicated details to continuing care operators today on how some of the recent changes to case management relate to residents of different care settings.  

For example, as was announced on January 3, the shortened isolation period for fully immunized cases does not apply to residents of designated supportive living facilities, hospices or long term care.

These individuals must still isolate for 10 days if they get COVID.

This is because people living in these types of facilities are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

We have also recently heard concerns from some of our partners about the timing for rescinding the single site worker order in continuing care.

We are currently working through a process to ensure an orderly return to work at multiple sites for staff and employers by February 16, 2022.

This process was developed over the summer and fall of 2021, in consultation with union and labour representatives and continuing care association and operator representatives, and the approved process was communicated in December.

Input from staff, residents and families was also sought via townhall meetings and surveys as a part of the planning process.

It has always been critical through this whole time to work closely with all our partners.  

Next week we will again be meeting with all stakeholders to ensure they have opportunities to provide additional input on the process that is underway, and the impacts of the current Omicron situation on that process.

Turning to today’s numbers, over the last 24 hours, we have identified about 3,279 new cases of COVID-19, and completed about 8,995 tests.

Our positivity rate for lab-confirmed cases is 38.8%.

There are currently 1,089 people with COVID-19 in hospital, including 104 in the ICU.

Our analytics team has been working hard with Alberta Health Services to provide a robust summary of the proportion of new hospital admissions that are due to COVID, as compared to admissions because of other causes.

We will provide this information on our website later this week, but for the time being, a summary is being included as a part of my weekday Twitter account updates.

Our most recent data from new admissions since late last week indicates that 51% of new admissions to non-ICU spaces are due to COVID infection and 49% are cases where the infection was not determined to be a cause of admission, or where it was not possible to determine.

For ICU, the percentage of new admissions due to COVID was 74% and 26% were incidental infections or unclear.

This is a different trend than what we have seen with previous variants, and is due to the much higher transmissibility of Omicron.

We are providing this data to inform planning and in alignment with other provinces reporting, however; it is important to recognize that any COVID-positive admission has an impact on our acute care capacity.

Additional care and isolation protocols need to be implemented for all COVID positive patients to prevent the risk of transmission to other patients who are at risk for severe outcomes.

It’s also true that someone may be admitted to hospital for another reason, but a COVID infection can complicate their stay and their clinical outcome.

The bottom line is that our acute care system remains under serious pressure, and COVID-19 continues to pose a risk of severe outcomes to many Albertans.

Sadly, I must announce that nine new deaths have been reported to Alberta Health over the last 24 hours.

My sympathies go out to the families and friends who have lost someone, no matter the cause.

As we continue to see, Omicron is highly transmissible and the province is seeing a rapidly increasing number of cases.

We are beginning to see our hospitalizations follow suit.

On Sunday, our hospitalizations surpassed 1,000 for the first time since October 14.

Even if we take into account the proportion of these that are admissions for other causes with an incidental COVID infection, the overall burden on the system is large and growing.

This rise will continue to put pressure on our health system and the health-care workers who take care of us.

This affects all of us. Even if we do not personally become ill with COVID – we each continue to have regular non-COVID medical needs – and any one of us could need urgent care when we least expect it.

The decisions we make now, and the steps we take each day are critical to ensure the health-care we need is available when we need it and where we need it.

While we continue to learn about the Omicron variant, we have long known how to prevent infection and limit spread, and those steps are still relevant today.

We know to stay home if we are feeling sick, to physically distance, reduce social contacts, to wear a mask in public and to follow public health measures every day.

We also know how important it is to get our vaccines, not only first and second doses, but whatever additional doses we are eligible for.

For a majority of the province that would include a third dose.

But, given that immunocompromised individuals do not develop the same levels of immunity after vaccination, we are moving to make fourth doses available to these people.

Three doses is, in fact, considered to be a primary vaccine series for someone who is immunocompromised in terms of comparing the level of protection to an average person without immunocompromising conditions.

Given this, providing a fourth dose to these individuals is equivalent to a third dose for others.

There are approximately 80-thousand immunocompromised Albertans who were eligible to get their third dose in September of 2021.

This means many of them are soon reaching the five-month mark after that third dose.

Both the National Advisory Committee on Immunization and the Alberta Advisory Committee on Immunization have recommended that immunocompromised individuals aged 18 years and over receive a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

This is why, beginning this Thursday, January 20, we are opening up booking opportunities for immunocompromised adult Albertans to receive a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccine, at least five months after their third.

Fourth doses will help those who are immunocompromised to have the same level of immunity as those of us who are receiving our third dose and who are not immunocompromised.

This will not only help prevent the breakthrough infections that we have been seeing, but also decrease the chance that people with immune compromising conditions will have severe outcomes from COVID-19.

The list of conditions eligible for a fourth does remain the same as those who were eligible for a third dose due to a clinical diagnosis or treatment in September of 2021 – you can visit to review that list.

To be clear – fourth doses are only recommended at this time for those who have these specific medical conditions and are immunocompromised.

Others who do not have these clinical conditions are not eligible for fourth doses, even if they are nearing five months from a third dose they may have received for travel purposes.

Individuals with immune compromising conditions still have some risk even with this fourth dose. We must continue to work together to ensure those most vulnerable in our communities are protected.

The current variant is highly infectious and some may even be wondering if it’s inevitable if they will get it.

I would like to remind people that the reason the Omicron appears to be milder is largely because of vaccines.

Vaccines dramatically reduce the risk of severe outcomes, even as we have seen some waning of protection against infection.

Even with vaccines, getting sick with COVID is not a common cold. You cannot predict how far your infection will spread through others through an ongoing chain of transmission, or who it will reach.

Unfortunately, at some point, it will likely reach someone for whom COVID-19 is not a mild illness.

So for those people, I am asking all Albertans to remain vigilant.

We are all connected to each other, those we know and those we don’t know, and the actions we take every day make a difference.

Thank you, and I’m happy to take questions.