Check against delivery.

Thank you, Minister, and good afternoon, everyone.

Two years ago today, I shared the news that we had our first officially confirmed case of COVID-19 in Alberta, and that we had a total of four presumptive cases.

At that time, we had no vaccines, we had no antivirals, and we still had much to learn about the virus. We have come a very long way since then.

What we’ve seen over the past two years is extraordinary – the speed of identification and sharing of new information on this virus has been without precedent.

Along with others around the globe, we have continually used the latest research and findings to translate into best practices to protect us from the worst impacts of a virus the world had never seen before.

I know that we will continue to adapt as we transition into this next stage.

Change is difficult. It is especially difficult when there is no single right answer to the challenges we face.

We no longer need to respond to COVID as the biggest health threat we collectively face and yet we still need to mitigate its direct impacts.

This might seem contradictory, and this is part of why finding our way forward is so hard.

We need to be able to hold two realities at the same time – one is that COVID is still a threat to take seriously and the other is that the COVID population risk has been reduced and we can move to seeing COVID as one risk among many – one we cannot fully eliminate but that we can manage.

Given the tension between these two realities, one of the most important tools in our way forward is dialogue and understanding different perspectives.

I ask that all of us continue to do our best to be gentle with ourselves and with others as we go through this transition.

It’s inevitable that we will have difficult days, and we will also have good ones, as we have throughout the last two years.

We can strengthen the relationships in our communities to help us all get through.

Turning to today’s update, over the last 24 hours, we have identified 467 new cases of COVID-19 and completed about 2,200 PCR tests. Our positivity rate is 20.5%.

As the Minister mentioned, there are currently a total of 1,106 people with COVID-19 in hospital, including 77 in the ICU.

Sadly, seven new deaths were reported to Alberta Health over the last 24 hours.

My condolences go to the family and friends of these Albertans, and to anyone who has experienced a loss from any cause.

These deaths remind us of the reality I mentioned earlier, that the virus is still with us and can pose a serious risk for Albertans who aren’t vaccinated or have additional risk factors.

That’s why, even as we move forward with easing restrictions, we are being cautious in high-risk settings and leaving protections in place to help protect vulnerable Albertans.

This includes continued mandatory masking in all continuing care facilities, acute care settings and on public transit.

As provinces across the country and jurisdictions around the world begin working towards an endemic approach to COVID, many adjustments are needed.

After two years of mandatory public health measures and fundamental changes to the way we have lived, worked and socialized, this will not be easy for all of us, especially for those who may have an increased risk of serious outcomes from the virus.

We need to assess the COVID risk for ourselves and our families, and make the best decisions possible for our unique circumstances.

It’s critical that we respect the choices that people make, and show patience and tolerance to those who are making different choices than we make for ourselves.

As we are considering how to best protect ourselves and our families, one finding that has stayed solid is that vaccines are highly effective at preventing severe outcomes.

Currently, over 3.35 million Albertans – or more than 86% of everyone over the age of 12 – have received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine, while close to 1.6 million have gotten their booster dose.

It is because so many Albertans have willingly rolled up their sleeves to get the vaccine that we are at this point today.

Long after restrictions are lifted, vaccination against COVID-19 will continue to be an important part of Albertans' health and well-being.

That’s because we know that vaccine remains the single most effective way to prevent loss of life, hospitalization and serious outcomes from COVID-19.

This reality makes today’s announcement about booster doses available for all youth between the ages of 12 and 17 an important one for many Alberta families.

While the risk of severe outcomes for these youth is low compared to those in older age categories or for youth who have health risk factors, the Alberta Advisory Committee on Immunizations has recommended offering boosters as an option for this age group to help increase their level of protection against COVID.

This is in line with guidance in other jurisdictions, including BC, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Quebec, where boosters are being offered to those between the ages of 12 and 17.

I know many Alberta youth and parents have wondered when they would be eligible for additional protection against Omicron – especially as restrictions on youth activities and schooling are coming to an end.

Third dose appointments for those aged 12 to 17 will begin on March 14 and can be booked immediately through the Alberta Vaccine Booking system or by calling Health Link at 811.

These booster doses will be administered at AHS clinics and participating pharmacies province-wide.

For most adolescents without risk factors, two doses still offers good protection against severe outcomes, however we know that some in this age group live with high-risk household members, or may have other factors that make this third dose important as an added layer of protection.

If you have questions about whether or not a third dose is the right choice for your child, please talk to a healthcare professional.

I also want to mention updated guidance released by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization last month related to the time period between infection and receiving vaccine.

It is now recommended to wait 8 weeks after COVID infection before beginning or completing a primary series of vaccine, and to wait 3 months after infection before getting a booster dose.

For those who have already received vaccine at a shorter time interval, there is no need for concern.

This new recommendation simply gives guidance on what provides a good balance of benefit at a population level, and is one factor to take into consideration as you talk to your healthcare professional about what is right for you and your family.

Thank you, and we’re happy to take questions.