Check against delivery.
Thank you Minister, and good afternoon everyone.
I am pleased to be here to provide another COVID-19 update. Our full data update will not be available until 3:30pm, so I will be providing more general information about the current situation in Alberta.
Today, I will also be referring to some charts and graphs. Unfortunately, we were unable to arrange them to be shown on the screen today.
We have hard copies for reporters in the room, and there is also a direct link in today’s news release posted online at alberta.ca/covid19.
As you know, there has been an increase of cases over the past few weeks. And more concerningly, there has also been an increase in hospital admissions for people with COVID-19. It’s important that we are watching those trends closely.
And the recent increase in deaths is another concerning factor. I extend my condolences to the friends and family of all those who have lost someone due to COVID-19.
COVID continues to look for any opportunity to spread. And as you have heard, currently, that opportunity is, unfortunately, those who do not have vaccine protection
As the Minister has said, there is one thing we know that can limit new cases, and prevent severe cases, long COVID and hospitalizations over the long term, and that is vaccine.
We must still remember that every Albertan child younger than 12 years has not had the chance to receive vaccine, yet.
And as students return to school this week, I know this fact is top of mind for many parents.
I would like to reassure Albertans that children still have very low rates of severe illness compared to other health risks.
Since July 1st, we have not had any hospital admissions for COVID in those between the ages of 5 and 11, and hospitalization rates for children with Delta infections have not increased beyond what was previously seen with other variants.
To give some context on the risks of COVID for children, there is a chart in the modeling and data summary online that shows the difference in population risks of hospitalization for kids under 12 over the course of one year.
The risks of hospitalization for influenza and RSV for young children in a pre-COVID year is similar to what we saw for population risk of COVID last year in children under 12.
In addition, there are other risks that are much more substantial for our children, such as injuries, which also need our attention and consideration.
The point of this comparison is not to say that hospitalization of a child for any reason should be ignored, but rather that we need to consider all risks our children face, as well as the risks of interventions that may be put in place as we make decisions about our children.
What we can do to protect our children against COVID-19 is to make every effort to have all adults and older children around them have both doses of vaccine.
Having widespread COVID-19 vaccine uptake and protection is the one way we will be able to live with COVID without unsustainable, restrictive measures.
On that note, today, I would also like to talk about the evidence that informed my recommendation earlier this summer to shift to an endemic COVID approach, and how our current situation has changed that.
It remains important for us to work towards a sustainable approach to managing COVID-19 that considers the harms of interventions as well as direct harms from COVID. It is also critical that we continue to adjust our response as needed when new information becomes available.
I know there has been keen interest in how I came to the original recommendations.
And my team has worked very hard to bring all the relevant data together in a way that is easily accessible and understandable.
While we have excellent software and resources to use in analyzing the data, at the centre of our analysis are people in our analytics and planning teams who have been working non-stop for the past 18 months.
I’d like to acknowledge and thank them for the long hours they have, and continue to, put in.
They have helped me finalize the evidence summary, including previous modelling. And this has been posted online today to lay out the information we had two months ago when we prepared our forward planning recommendation.
This evidence summary includes key assumptions and considerations, hospital impact modelling that was developed in late June and a list of references for further reading.
At that time, based on the information available, I believed that the best course of action for Albertans to balance all health risks was to move to an endemic approach.
But as I said in mid-August, COVID-19 continues to evolve, and as we always have, we continue to look at new and emerging evidence.
My recommendations are always based on the best information available at any given time. Which is why, as new variants, trends or data emerges, recommendations can change as well.
Albertans’ overall health, considering all health risks, is at the center of every recommendation I make.
So as I have throughout the pandemic, I will continue to adjust my recommendations as needed.
This is why we paused changes to testing and mandatory isolation several weeks ago, and why we are announcing more changes today to address our current situation.
To illustrate the difference between what our modelling looked like two months ago, and what it looks like today, I would like to share what we are seeing at this point in time.
Additional graphs in the document posted online show our current modeling estimates for case trends over the coming weeks. The impacts are much higher than in previous models, with later and higher potential peaks.
It should be noted that there are no guarantees of when our peak will arrive, and this modeling assumes a constant mixing pattern amongst the population.
We know that behaviour and contact patterns will likely change in September as fall activities begin, so it is likely that the peak hospitalization and ICU numbers will exceed these current predictions if we do not implement public health measures now.
This model has a high, moderate and low curve that reflect possible futures.
When looking at the current projections of the ICU burden over the coming weeks, and the actual numbers trending sharply up over the past week, we have crossed from the low scenario, moving up towards the high, and it is clear that we are at risk of exceeding our province’s ICU capacity if we do not make changes to our approach now.
Our non-ICU hospital admissions are also trending on the high side of all projection lines, and we could exceed even the high projections in the coming weeks, if no changes are made in our public health approach.
To provide additional context, of the varying risks and the impact of vaccines, and not being vaccinated, on the current hospital burden, in another chart in the data summary, you can see that the risks of COVID hospitalization in fully immunized adults are extremely small while the risk of COVID hospitalization in unimmunized adults is higher than COPD or heart disease, and approximates the risk of cancer admissions.
Unimmunized adults are taking a significant risk for themselves, and also for their community by not accessing the protection that is available.
What all of this means is that we are at risk of not having enough hospital capacity for COVID and other health issues of Albertans within the coming weeks if we do not take action together.
In recognition of this, as the Minister just announced, we are resuming mandatory masking in indoor spaces provincewide and putting other measures in place to slow transmission and protect our health care system.
These measures are needed to keep health care available for all Albertans, and the best thing we can do to get to a point where we can lift restrictions is to have as many people as possible get the protection that vaccines offer.
Vaccine is a powerful individual action that benefits all of us.
Viruses will continue to evolve to try to get to us.
But if we continue to take basic actions every day, like staying home when sick, wearing our masks regularly, and getting vaccinated, COVID will lose its power.
Thank you, and I’m going to turn the podium over to Dr. Yiu.