Checked against delivery.
Thank you, Minister and good afternoon, everyone.
Over the last 24 hours, we have identified about 4,752 new cases of COVID-19, and completed about 12,000 tests. Our positivity rate for lab-confirmed cases is 36.9 per cent. Both of these numbers bring us to new record daily highs, underlining the impact of this wave.
There are currently 470 people with COVID-19 in hospital, including 72 in the ICU.
Sadly, I must announce that 11 new deaths have been reported to Alberta Health over the last 24 hours.
My thoughts and sympathies are with the family and friends left behind to mourn these people, and anyone who has recently lost a loved one from any cause.
I know the rampant spread of Omicron has made this a challenging start to 2022 for many Albertans, including parents, children, teachers, school staff and administrators who are all working to do what’s best for children in Alberta. Once again, the shifting nature of the virus required us all to pause and re-evaluate the best path forward for the second half of the school year.
We all know the impacts that being away from the classroom can have on our children's mental health, learning, and social interaction.
We know that COVID infection has a low, but not zero risk for children. We also know that in-person learning is critically important for many kids' educational and social development and can provide a sense of stability and normalcy in these challenging times.
There are no perfect, completely risk-free solutions available to us – or any jurisdiction around the world and I believe the provincial approach balances the many competing risks that our children face.
The use of rapid testing and medical masks, in addition to the measures already in place, will help to protect students and staff as they return to the classroom. Given the current situation, I also want to note that I strongly recommend that students in all grades wear masks, including Kindergarten to grade 3.
To keep the risk in schools low, it will be critical for all of us to stay home, and keep our children home, if any of us have symptoms.
I want to remind Albertans that we’re in a very different situation today than we were when school started this past fall or the year before. That’s thanks to widely available, safe, effective vaccines and the thousands of staff and students who have been immunized against COVID-19.
Now, all children 5 years and older are eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Approximately 85 per cent of youth between the ages of 12 and 17 have received at least one vaccine dose and around 80 per cent have received two.
While children between 5 and 11 have only been eligible for vaccines since late November, 37 per cent have already received at least one dose of vaccine.
If your child hasn’t been vaccinated against COVID-19 yet, I strongly recommend doing so as soon as possible. It is the single, most effective tool we have to reduce the risk of infection and severe illness from the virus. A recent publication from the US CDC affirmed the safety of vaccine in 5 to 11 year olds, looking at 8.7 million doses of vaccine and identifying any significant adverse events such as fever and severe vomiting happening after only 0.001% of all doses.
As parents, our first priority is always the safety and wellbeing of our children, and I understand the need to make the best, data-informed decision for them. If you have questions about the vaccine or would like more information, please reach out to a medical professional to get answers.
You can talk to your family doctor or pediatrician, call 811 or listen to the pediatric vaccine townhall recording that’s posted on alberta.ca.
Since March of 2020, children of all ages have sacrificed a lot to keep others safe. This was especially true in the early months of the pandemic when they missed out on in-person learning, extracurricular activities, and time spent simply being kids.
Now that we know more about preventing transmission and we have safe, effective vaccines available to everyone age five and older, I believe it is prudent to keep schools open for in-person instruction.
However, we all have a role to play in helping to keep schools open and children safe by limiting community transmission.
Next to getting vaccinated, the most critical thing we can do is stay home if we are sick – even with the mildest of symptoms.
Wearing masks and keeping our distance at all times also reduces our risks of spreading the virus, but they cannot eliminate all risks of exposure. This is especially true with the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
Each day, parents must complete a health assessment of their children to see if there any signs of illness and should do a rapid test a couple of times a week to screen for asymptomatic infection and limit the risk of introducing infection into schools.
These steps are critical to limiting exposure in schools and keeping them open.
As a parent, I want to say that I understand the mixed emotions that many families may be feeling with today’s announcement.
As students return to the classroom next week, including my own, I know some parents will be relieved that their kids will get to see their friends and teachers in person again.
At the same time, they may be worried about their children’s health and wellbeing, or have anxiety over the uncertainties of the new variant.
Every family needs to make the right decision for their own situations knowing that community transmission will continue to be high over at least the next month. The current approach balances the risks all our kids face, and each family will need to weigh the impacts of those risks for them.
Finally, given the changes we’ve made to our testing protocols and contact notification process in light of the Omicron variant, I also want to advise Albertans that we will be moving to a different approach for school reporting that reflects the current situation.
Similar to other provinces, with the growth of COVID-19 cases, Alberta is now focused on investigating cases in high-risk settings such as continuing care and those who work in health care.
Other cases, including in students and school staff, will still be notified of their own test result and they will receive a call to ensure they are aware of their isolation requirements, but AHS will no longer have the capacity to do full case investigations for those non-high-risk cases.
As a result of this change, and similar to other provinces, Alberta is assessing different options for an approach for school reporting that reflects the current situation. Details on this will be shared as soon as they are available.
There are no easy paths to take in a pandemic, but as has always been critical, we must do our best to look at the whole health of our communities, our families, and our children.
Thank you, and we’re happy to take questions.