Check against delivery.

Thank you, Tom, and good afternoon everyone.

We have now administered approximately 173,000 doses of vaccine across the province.

More than 69,000 Albertans have now been fully immunized with two doses.

Over the last 24 hours, we identified 273 new cases of COVID-19, and completed about 6,100 tests.  

Our positivity rate currently stands at about 4.5%.

There are currently 235 schools under alerts or outbreaks, which is about 10% of all the schools in the province.

Together, these schools have seen 840 cases since January 11.

We have identified 11 additional cases of the variant since yesterday. And on average, variant cases have accounted for about 3.5% of our new cases in February.

There are currently 324 people in hospital, including 53 in the ICU.

Sadly, I must announce that 16 new deaths were reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours.  

Of these, many were from December and have now been identified post-mortem as being caused by COVID-19.

As a result of this thorough process, we are able to report the most accurate total possible.

As always, we must remember that every death, and every case, is not merely a number but a fellow Albertan who loved and was loved by many.

My thoughts are with anyone grieving a loss for any cause.

For the past week, the R value for the province was 1.03. This includes 0.93 in the Edmonton Zone, 0.95 in the Calgary Zone, and 1.13 for the rest of the province.

As you know, any time that our reproductive number is greater than one it means our cases are rising.

I know that many people have questions about when Alberta will move to Step 2 of easing restrictions.

We are below the threshold of Step 2 hospitalizations, but we have seen growing cases in recent days.

With that in mind, we will be taking the full 3 weeks to assess the data and assess the best way forward. No decisions on moving to Step 2 will be made prior to March 1st at the earliest.

We are being cautious as it is too early to say if this recent increase is significant or but a temporary pause in the strong downward trend we have seen over the past several months.

This extra time will allow us to evaluate our current situation.

Today is the 174th time that I have joined you to provide an update on COVID-19, and I want it to be a little different.

Over the last 11 months, my updates have focused on providing the latest COVID-19 data and trends, as well as my updates on the work underway to protect public health.

Each day, I’ve focused on the challenges we face – and rightly so.

It is important that we all understand the dangers we face and the importance of being cautious and vigilant.

However, it is also important to highlight when there are reasons for hope.

We must celebrate good news when we can, if only as a reminder that the sacrifices of so many are making a difference.

That is why, today, I want to talk about some positive trends that we have, together, contributed to in our province.

To help make this clear, I will use a few charts today.

This is not my usual approach, but I think these graphs may help show why I think these trends are worth sharing.

First, let’s start with long-term care.

As you know, residents in long-term care facilities have among the highest risks of severe outcomes from this virus.

Two out of every three deaths have been in a long-term care or designated supportive living facility.

Over the last few months, we have seen a sharp decline in our long-term care cases.

As this graph shows, we have gone from a high of 776 active cases in long-term care on Dec. 27, to 63 active cases on Feb. 20th – a 92% decline in less than two months.

Similarly, the number of long-term care outbreaks with active cases has dropped from 74 on December 20th to just 5 on February 16th.

Every one of us should take pride in this turnaround, as it is the result of not only our immunization campaign, but also of our collective efforts to bring our new case numbers down.

The same steep decline is seen in Designated Supportive Living facilities.

On Christmas Day, we reached a peak of more than 1,300 active cases in these settings.

Over the last seven weeks, cases in these facilities have declined by 88%.

These emphasize for us both that the public health measures have worked, and that vaccines can have a tremendous protective effect for those who are most at risk.

I want to thank the staff and residents in those continuing care and designated supportive living facilities for all of their work.

I also know that over the past many months, we have also seen some concerning outbreaks in our hospitals,

As well as a significant rise in the number of Albertans needing hospital care for COVID-19.

Together, we have brought those numbers down as well, and both outbreaks in acute care and cases needing hospital admissions have declined thanks to prevention of transmission in the community.

From 27 acute care outbreaks at the start of January, we are now down to just 8.

This is due to the hard work of many dedicated health care professionals across the province.

I want to thank everyone who has worked to keep patients safe, as well as apply the learnings from early outbreaks to acute care settings across the province.

I know that parents and many others have also had anxiety about safety in schools.

As a parent, I understand these concerns and the desire to protect our children.

That’s why it is good news that – as you can see on this chart – the number of new and active cases in school-aged Albertans has gone down since classes resumed in person.

While there are some day-to-day fluctuations in new cases, the overall trend is downward since students returned to school in person.

Looking at active cases, on January 11th, there were more than 2,000 in this age group and six weeks later, there were 747.

That’s a decline of 63% since schools reopened for in-person learning, and it’s because together we have reduced our community transmission and because students, teachers, school staff and parents have worked every day to keep their schools safe.

Finally, I know that many Albertans have lost a loved one to this virus.

What we have accomplished together in bringing new cases down has prevented more families from having to grieve more of these losses.

This final graph shows the decline in COVID-19 fatalities that have occurred over the last few weeks.

As you can see, we have seen a downward trend in the number of deaths reported – from averaging a high of 167 deaths a week at the end of December, to 23 over the last seven days.

This is the power of our actions together.

This is the power of each of us, every day, limiting our in-person contacts with other people.

These trends were not inevitable, and are not due to just the passing of time.

These trends are the result of our willingness to put our communities’ needs first and care for each other every day.

The progress that we have made is not guaranteed to last unless our actions stay consistent.

COVID-19 still poses a threat to our province and our choices still deeply matter.

Our cases are starting to plateau instead of continuing to drop.

We are seeing steady numbers of new variant cases.

Our vaccination campaign needs several more months to reach the majority of our population.

All this means we must be extra-cautious.

If given the chance, this virus will spread widely and we risk losing the gains that we have made together.

The downward trends we are seeing in schools, hospitals, long-term care facilities and other settings serve as a reminder that we have the power to limit transmission when every one of us limits our in person interactions, and when we all follow not only the details of the restrictions in place, but also the spirit of them.

With pressure easing on the health system and more vaccines arriving each day, we are making progress.

But we must continue to contain the spread of this virus for a little while longer.

We have come far, but we have more work to do.

Cases in the province will rise or fall based on the actions that each of us takes in the days and weeks ahead.  

We can do this. We have done this, in fact, and let us take courage from that fact as we face the next few months.

Let’s keep working together to keep bending the curve down until vaccines are here for everyone who wants them, and we can celebrate what we have accomplished together.

Lives saved. Hospitals kept from overflowing. Our communities protected.

We can do this together.

Thank you and I’m happy to take questions.