Check against delivery.

Thank you, Dr. Yiu, and good afternoon, everyone.

Turning to today’s numbers, as the Premier mentioned, over the last 24 hours, we have identified 3,527 new cases of COVID-19 and completed about 11,000 tests, our positivity rate is about 33%.

Sadly, 8 new deaths have been reported to Alberta Health over the last 24 hours.

These individuals were between the ages of 56 and 93, and leave behind family, friends and communities.

My thoughts are with their loved ones and anyone else who is grieving a loss right now, no matter the cause. 

Each life lost to this virus reminds us that COVID-19 still presents a real and present threat in our province.

As you have heard, over the past few weeks, we have seen an increase in hospitalizations in all age groups, and this includes children as well.

I know this can be concerning for parents and families, especially since throughout the pandemic children have made up a very low proportion of hospitalizations. This continues to be the case, with 4% of those who are currently in hospital with COVID under age 18.

As with other age groups, some of these children have been admitted for treatment of COVID, while others are being admitted for other reasons and happen to have a COVID-19 infection.

Thankfully, evidence from other jurisdictions indicates that individually, children have a lower risk of hospitalization for Omicron infection than Delta; however, the extremely high volume of cases means that more children are needing care right now.

This is particularly true for those under one who have always been the childhood group with the highest risk of severe outcomes from infection, this is still true with Omicron. Over the entire pandemic, children under one have had a similar risk of needing hospital care for COVID as adults age 40 to 49, which is dramatically higher than any other childhood age group.

Immunization in pregnancy and immunization of all adults and other eligible children in contact with infants is an important way to protect our young ones.

This is yet another example of why it is important to do everything we can to slow transmission in our communities, get immunized, and stay home and away from others when we are sick, especially away from those who are too young to be immunized.

As the Premier noted earlier, it’s good news that Health Canada has authorized a new prescription drug product for early treatment of COVID-19.

Our initial supply will be very limited, so it will only be available by prescription at a small number of community pharmacies across the province.

We’re reviewing Health Canada’s guidelines and working with clinicians to determine eligibility criteria in Alberta.

We want to make sure the drug goes to those who will benefit the most, especially early on when the supply will be limited.

We expect eligibility will be very similar to the monoclonal antibody Sotrovimab, including adult Albertans with symptomatic COVID infection, confirmed by testing, who are at high risk of progressing to severe disease.  

 We are working to develop the right pathways for Albertans to access both testing for confirmation of COVID and connections to health care professionals for a clinical assessment and prescriptions, if appropriate.

 For example, patients with kidney disease or for whom other medications interact with Paxlovid may not be able to take this medication and that assessment is important.

It is important to be as efficient as possible with these processes considering the importance of getting these drugs to those who will benefit from them within five days of the onset of symptoms.

We will share this process information as soon as we can.

In the meantime, we ask Albertans to please not call their pharmacist or physician’s office until more information is released. Your pharmacist and your physician will not have any additional information for you or access to Paxlovid before then.

I would also like to stress in the strongest possible way that this treatment is not a substitute for vaccination against COVID-19.

Unlike Paxlovid, vaccines are widely available across the province for anyone five years of age and older and you don’t need a prescription to get a vaccine.

The best thing you can do to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 is to be vaccinated with as many doses as you are eligible for as soon as possible.

As our hospitalizations rise in this fifth wave, I am hearing questions about the vaccination status of patients being hospitalized because of COVID-19.

It’s important for anyone reviewing hospitalization numbers in the province by vaccination status to remember that the number of vaccinated people in Alberta is many times higher than the number of unvaccinated people.

With the exponential spread of Omicron, more people are getting sick than at any other point in the pandemic so it is not surprising to see an increase of hospitalizations, even in some who have been partially or fully immunized.

However, as the data shows, immunized individuals are at much less risk of getting severely ill.

For example, in the last few months those who are 80 and older who have had three doses of vaccine have had a lower risk of hospitalization from COVID than unvaccinated 12 to 29 year olds.

Looking at all age groups combined, in the last several months, those who do not have any vaccine protection were 15 times more likely to be hospitalized than those with three doses, and 7 times more likely than those with two doses.

If we look at our current data, the majority of people experiencing the most severe outcomes and being treated in intensive care right now are unvaccinated even though this group represents a minority of the total population.

Specifically, unvaccinated individuals make up only about 10% of Alberta’s 12 plus population. However, unvaccinated people make up over 57% of ICU patients right now. Almost six times their share of the population.

This shows us that vaccines – especially three doses – are very effective at preventing severe illness and death.

That’s why I continue to urge every Albertan five years of age and older to get all vaccine doses they are eligible for.

This will not only help to reduce their risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19, it will also help ease the pressure that is building on our health system and help every Albertan to access to the care they need, when they need it.

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