Checked against delivery.

Thank you, Minister, and good afternoon, everyone.

I’d like to build on the Minister’s remarks about our data issues yesterday by saying I know that we have all come to rely on the daily updates, especially the ones on Mondays that tell us the weekend numbers, so it is frustrating for everyone to have technical difficulties get in the way of that.

But what may not be immediately apparent is the complexity of the system required to get the updates completed every weekday, and the many people who work hard behind the scenes to make that happen.

The numbers we post online rely on 10 different data systems, with millions of different data points cross-referenced and quality checked every day.

The infrastructure necessary for this to go smoothly has been built and enhanced over time, but just like any other system, sometimes one of the components has a technical issue.

That has a ripple effect throughout the whole system. Our teams worked hard all day yesterday to address the technical problems that cropped up, but unfortunately, weren’t able to get all systems back up and running until today.

The dashboards will be updated today with the usual content, and I want to thank Albertans for their patience as we continually strive to make a wide variety of data points available in as timely a way as possible.

I also want to say how much I appreciate our amazing analytics and IT teams and how hard they have worked over the past two years to ensure that we are able to provide robust and timely data to the public.

Speaking of data, over the past couple of weeks we have had to modify our reporting, which has included schools.

Today I have an update provided by Alberta Education.

As of January 24, 18 of the more than 2,500 schools in Alberta have shifted to temporary at-home learning to address operational challenges; five of the 18have less than 40 students total.

This means that less than one per cent of schools are on temporary at-home learning.

All requests from schools to shift to at-home learning have been approved.

Alberta Education will continue to work with school authorities on shifts to at-home learning.

School authorities continue to have the flexibility to shift a class or an individual grade to short-term at-home learning to address operational challenges at school, if needed.

Turning to today’s numbers…

Over the last 24 hours, we have identified 2,722 new cases of COVID-19 and completed about 6,700 tests.

The positivity rate is about 42.8 per cent.

Sadly, 13 new deaths have been reported to Alberta Health over the past 24 hours.

Again, I ask all of us to remember that each of these numbers, and each number in hospital or ICU reporting, is a person.

COVID continues to have a significant impact, and I extend my sympathies to anyone who has lost a loved one to COVID or any other cause in the recent weeks.


As the Minister has announced, there is now a new option to treat COVID-19 after someone has been infected.

In addition to the monoclonal antibody we have been able to offer to Albertans for several months, last week, Health Canada approved Paxlovid, a drug that can treat mild to moderate cases of COVID-19.

As you heard, starting Monday, January 31, we will be able to offer it to a limited group of Albertans.

We have established the current eligibility criteria to ensure that those who are most at-risk and who have no contraindications are able to access this treatment in a timely manner, helping to reduce the risk of COVID progressing to a more serious stage.

The criteria include immunocompromised individuals age 18 and over, regardless of their vaccination status, who have:

  • received transplants,
  • who are cancer patients and have received chemotherapy or another immunosuppressive treatment in the past two years, 
  • or who have an inflammatory condition that they are being treated for such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or inflammatory bowel disease.

Paxlovid will also be a possible option for Albertans who are unvaccinated and

  • over the age of 65, or
  • age 18 or older with a pre-existing health condition such as diabetes, obesity, chronic kidney disease or obstructive pulmonary disease, or congestive heart failure.

In addition to meeting one of the criteria I just mentioned, individuals must have a confirmed case of COVID, and be within five days of when they first experienced COVID-19 symptoms.

Individuals who meet these criteria will be prompted to contact Health Link when they receive their positive results for an initial evaluation of eligibility. 

Those who are potentially eligible will then be referred to a clinician with training in options for early COVID treatment, both monoclonal antibodies and Paxlovid.

As Paxlovid medication can cause side effects, it will be available only by prescription after an assessment by these clinicians who can determine which of the treatment options would be recommended for the patient.

I know that there may be many Albertans who wish to access Paxlovid, or Sotrovimab, the other currently approved COVID-19 treatment, but supplies are limited at this time.

These treatments have marginal benefit for individuals at low risk of hospitalization, and there are also risks of inducing antiviral resistance to COVID-19 if Paxlovid is used improperly.

This is why we are starting the use of this medication with a centralized system to ensure that the benefits of its use outweigh the risks.

As we learn more, we will be able to evaluate the data and update eligibility criteria as appropriate. In the future we will also be transitioning to a broader community prescription approach, but this will take time.

 For now, please do not call pharmacies or physicians directly to get a prescription for Paxlovid, as they will be unable to give it you.

And as the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  

While Paxlovid is a new secondary option to prevent mild or moderate cases of COVID-19 from progressing to severe disease, it bears repeating that it is not a substitute for vaccination.

Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent severe cases of COVID-19, and reduce the risks that come with getting infected.

Unfortunately, we cannot yet perfectly predict if any individual will have COVID-19 and have only a weeklong experience with mild symptoms, or if there is long COVID or severe symptoms that result.

What we do know is that vaccines can protect us from the worst impacts of COVID-19.

We also know that the COVID-19 vaccines that we get as individuals can reach beyond us to help protect those who cannot be vaccinated themselves.

A recent analysis of our data shows that adult vaccination affects the chances of very young children getting infected with COVID-19.

Children in households where no adults have been vaccinated have a one and a half times greater chance of being hospitalized with COVID-19, compared to children in households where all adults are fully vaccinated.

This data supports the fact that vaccination remains the best way to prevent severe outcomes such as hospitalization due to COVID-19, not only for ourselves, but also for ours households.

This is why, like the Minister, I continue to encourage Albertans to get every vaccine dose that they are eligible for.

Some may wonder if they have had COVID recently whether they should still get their booster dose now.

I think it is reasonable for those who have had a recent confirmed case of COVID-19 to wait a few months before getting a booster, although all available data indicates there is no significant risk of harm in receiving a vaccine once recovered from a COVID infection.

For those who have just felt ill and have not been tested to know if they had COVID or not, I would recommend getting a booster once you have recovered, as there are other viruses circulating that may have been the cause of the illness.

Third doses help not just the person receiving it but those around you as well as doses limit the chance of getting COVID and spreading the infection to others.

Today I also want to comment on a remark I made last week about hospitalizations in 5 to 11 year olds who had a single dose of vaccine.

I have gone back to our data to ensure that I have the most recent information on this, and I can tell you that we have had six hospitalizations in those in this age group who have had one dose.

This is compared with 75 hospitalizations in the last 120 days in those who have had no doses in this age group.

Many children in this age group are coming due for their second doses now, and I encourage parents to access this protection for their children and their families.

In addition, I would like to remind Albertans that we always have a choice to do the right thing, for ourselves and for others.

I know that as we see numbers rise and fall, it is easy to become desensitized.

And that as we have vaccines and new treatments available, it may seem like we no longer need to rely on measures that have helped us get to this point.

But it is important that we continue to protect ourselves and others by using all the tools that are at our disposal – whether its masking whenever we’re indoors in a public space and distancing from others when possible or reducing our social contacts by at least half.

If we continue to use all of these measures in tandem, along with vaccines we will be able to reduce transmission and reduce the impacts and strain on our health-care providers.

Thank you and we’re happy to take questions.