COVID-19 Updates: Taking steps to return to normal.
Checked against delivery.
Thank you, Minister, and good afternoon, everyone.
I want to begin today by speaking about the process our team goes through to ensure that the numbers we report to Albertans are accurate.
This process is particularly important when it comes to severe outcomes such as the number of lives lost to COVID-19.
In our regular reports, deaths where COVID has been flagged as a possible cause are included even if it is not yet confirmed at that time.
Then health staff review the death certificate and files of any cases where the cause of death was unknown at the time of reporting to determine whether the virus was a contributing cause.
If it is found that COVID was not a primary or contributing cause of death, we remove those deaths from the count of lives lost to the virus.
Our most recent review has found that there are 16 previously reported deaths between December 21 and February 11 that did not have COVID-19 as a contributing cause.
38 other deaths reported in this timeframe were also reviewed, and in those cases it was confirmed that COVID was a direct or contributing cause of death.
This means that with 4 new deaths that we have had reported to us in the last 24 hours, the total number of deaths in Alberta related to COVID-19 will be updated today to 4,013 deaths – a net decrease of 12.
While getting the data correct is very important, we cannot lose sight that each of these numbers – no matter the cause of death – represent a life lost and the loved ones left behind to grieve them, my sympathies go out to all those who have experienced a loss, no matter the cause.
I also want to pause on the new total to reflect on the impact of COVID compared with other kinds of infections.
In the three years before COVID – from 2017 to 2019, there were a total of 1,076 deaths from all infectious causes in all ages – COVID has taken almost 4 times more lives in just two years.
Thankfully, vaccines have blunted the risk of severe outcomes, giving us the opportunity to change how we are managing this virus. At the same time, COVID is still a disease we must take seriously.
Moving on to today’s update, over the last 24 hours, we have identified 593 new cases of COVID-19 and completed about 3,200 PCR tests which puts our positivity rate at 18%.
As the Minister mentioned, there are currently 989 people with COVID-19 in hospital, including 70 in the ICU.
From the beginning of the pandemic, I have been committed to ensuring Albertans have had access to timely and accurate information about COVID-19.
That priority remains today – two years later and as we find ourselves in a very different situation than when COVID first arrived in Alberta.
That is why I believe that modifying our public reporting to once a week, as the Minister just announced, is the right thing to do.
We will continue to post data to alberta.ca each week and a summary will be shared via my Twitter account. I will also provide any other relevant updates in a weekly media availability.
As I said last week, and as the Minister has spoken to today, change is difficult, especially when there is no single correct answer to the difficulties we face.
This reporting change may be challenging for some of us, who have grown accustomed to seeing numbers daily.
I know for many, this has been a way to help make sense of a seemingly surreal situation.
Fortunately, we are in a different place now – not only do we have a better understanding of the virus, but we also have highly effective vaccines and anti-viral treatments – and reducing the frequency of reporting is what makes the most sense in our current situation.
As always, I remain committed to keeping Albertans informed, and will recommend modifications if needed in the coming weeks or months.
Before concluding, I want to advise Albertans of the new guidance we’ve put online for at-home rapid test sample collection.
We have heard questions from Albertans about the evidence on the Omicron variant that indicates that taking a sample by swabbing both the mouth and nose is more effective at detecting COVID-19 infection when using a rapid antigen test.
While sampling the nose is still more effective than the mouth if taking a sample from only one site, it has been shown that sampling both the mouth and the nose before processing the test can improve the ability to detect the virus.
For those who want to improve the sensitivity of at-home testing, we are providing information about this option on our website.
The overall process remains similar, but there are a few additional steps when collecting both oral and nasal samples.
A video outlining the process for swabbing the mouth and nose is available on the rapid testing section of our website at alberta.ca.
I want to repeat that if only one site is sampled, it should be the nose. Studies have shown that sampling the mouth alone is not as sensitive as only sampling the nose.
Also as a reminder, if you are symptomatic and test negative, you are still legally required to isolate until all symptoms are gone.
The COVID-19 assessment tool at ahs.ca/covidscreen is available to help determine what type of care is needed based on your symptoms and with advice on how best to manage mild symptoms at home.
Finally, I want to take a moment to encourage Albertans to continue to be COVID-conscious and take the necessary precautions that we need to feel comfortable and that are appropriate to our level of risk.
Tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day, and I know many will enjoy gathering with friends or colleagues at a pub or party.
And this month, students, teachers and families may take advantage of spring break, with many families planning trips out of town.
Whatever the occasion or cause for celebration, I ask that we think about what we and others around us need to balance the risks of COVID with the benefits of enjoying more of the activities we love.
The precautions we've grown accustomed to over the past two years still work, and they are still available.
Planning outdoor gatherings as the weather improves is still an option.
Masking remains a reasonable public health precaution, especially for those with risk factors.
It also remains mandatory in continuing care and health care settings and public transit to protect those who are most vulnerable to severe outcomes.
And most importantly, if we’re not feeling well, we still need to stay home. By doing so, we will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.
Thank you, and we’re happy to take questions.