Check against delivery.

Thank you Zoe. And good afternoon everyone.

Before we begin I would like to recognize that today is National Child Day.  COVID-19 has been a difficult time for us all, and it has brought a lot of change and uncertainty for our children.

Children have had to adapt the way they learn and the way they play. They’ve missed out on school field trips, birthday parties and hugs from grandparents.

We’ve asked our children to make significant sacrifices.

And we cannot forget the impact that restrictions and COVID-19 losses can have on children’s emotional, physical and mental health, overall well-being and social development.

So on National Child Day, I encourage each Albertan to think of the children in their life as motivation to re-commit to the public health measures.

The choices we make today, will have an impact on their schools, their childcare arrangements, their sports and afterschool activities, and their ability to be close to loved ones who may be at risk of severe outcomes. 

Our current situation is grim.

Over the past 24 hours we have identified 1,155 new cases of COVID-19 and have completed over 17,000 tests.

This means our provincial positivity rate sits at about six and a half per cent and we currently have 10,655 active cases.

There are 310 people in hospital, of those, 58 are in ICU.

Sadly, I must report 11 new deaths over the past 24 hours. Eleven fellow Albertans are gone, and their families and friends are mourning their loss.

They, and everyone else who has lost a loved one recently, must navigate the experience without many of the ways we normally comfort one another.

I encourage all of us to reach out to anyone we know who is grieving a loss to let them know that they are not alone.

I continue to be concerned about the rise in these tragic outcomes of COVID-19. Severe outcomes are not limited just to those already at the very end of their lives, and it is a mistake to think so.

This week, two individuals in their 30s died as a result of this virus. While both had co-morbidities, these were not on their own life-threatening.

The average age of people experiencing hospitalization is dropping.

And about one in four people who need hospital care for COVID-19 and one out of every six in ICU with COVID-19 have no pre-existing medical conditions.

It is also important to remember that having a chronic medical condition is very common. These conditions include things like high blood pressure and diabetes.

In Alberta, almost one quarter of all adults over the age of 20 have a chronic condition.

That is almost 800,000 people. Ten percent have two conditions, and 8% have three or more.

Older adults are more likely to have medical conditions. For example, of those over age 50, 65% have one or more chronic conditions.

When looking just at men in Alberta, more than half of men over 50, and almost 70% of men over 65, have high blood pressure. That should not be a death sentence.

Most Albertans will have a family member or friend with these conditions. We must remember that our actions protect these people as well as ourselves.

With rising hospitalizations and ICU admissions, combined with ongoing outbreaks at multiple acute care and continuing care facilities across the province, AHS is working to increase capacity for COVID-19 patients if needed.

Throughout the pandemic response, I’ve indicated 70 general ICU beds have been planned for patients who test positive for COVID-19.

On Wednesday I said 81% of these beds were occupied andI’ve heard that my use of this number is causing greater anxiety as Albertans see us getting closer to that threshold.

Let me be clear, Alberta Health Services manages ICU beds and staff depending on demand from both COVID-19 patients, and patients with other conditions that require intensive care. There are 173 general adult ICU beds for this purpose. 

These beds can be used for many patient types.

I want to assure Albertans that as more COVID-19 patients require intensive care, AHS is able to add additional intensive care capacity.

AHS has already readied additional ICU beds in Edmonton Zone and additional ICU spaces in Calgary zone will be ready if needed. This is where most of the capacity is likely to be required.

But creating this capacity means stopping or delaying other services and this is the impact we want to avoid.

Demand for COVID-19 is still high and the system is taxed. I continue to urge Albertans to help us reduce demand on our ICUs, and on our hospitals, by following all measures in place.

The best way to ensure capacity is available and to drive hospitalizations down is to reduce community transmission – which in turn will reduce the need for additional COVID-19 beds.

Another way we can support our healthcare system, is to keep healthcare facilities safe.

Recently, Alberta Health Services has had several situations where designated family or support people of patients intentionally did not disclose their COVID-19 related symptomstatus.

While the vast majority of Albertans understand that doing this puts loved ones, and the teams caring for their loved ones, at even greater risk of illness, the few who choose to do this are impacting us all.

Please, be honest.

We are dealing with the “multiplier” effect in Alberta – we cannot afford that in our healthcare facilities.

We can not risk having one COVID-19 positive person who does not isolate and expose others.

I understand that it is hard not to be able to see a loved one or accompany them to hospital.

But we must all think beyond ourselves right now.

If a provider or other member of a healthcare team gets sick, it means they are not available to treat patients for at least two weeks, which translates to a lack of staff to care for all patients.

This also means that we don’t have enough staff to support our many other healthcare services, including elective and non-urgent surgeries, care appointments and more.

Ultimately, if this behavior continues, Alberta Health Services will have to consider limiting designated family or support and visitation even further.

And that’s not something we want AHS to have to do.

Do not go to a health care facility if you are feeling sick unless of course, you yourself need care. Answer honestly and fully when asked screening questions at any healthcare facility.

Speak with site screeners about your symptoms and contacts.

They are here to work with you. We are all here to work together.

Turning to schools, there are currently active alerts or outbreaks in 294 schools, or about 12% of all schools in Alberta.

This number includes 67 schools that are currently on the watch list.

So far, in-school transmission has likely occurred in 166 schools. Of these, about 87 had only one new case as a result.

Schools do not operate in a closed system. Students, guardians, teachers, parents and staff are part our communities.

As we continue to have increasing cases throughout Alberta, this will correlate with cases in our institutions including school and hospital.

In the past week, we have confirmed more new active cases than we have in any previous week to date.

Contact tracers are working heroically to address the backlog, but with the current volume, they’re fighting an uphill battle.

There are still more people and more cases out there that we don’t know about.

We must all continue to do our part to help the contact tracers.

If you test positive for COVID-19, follow the directions that you are given.

If you are asked to visit the AHS online portal, please submit the information for your known close contacts.

I know many worried about being blamed or stigmatized, and I want to stress that this process is anonymous.

When your close contacts receive a text, they will be told to isolate and be given information on symptoms, isolating and testing.

But I want to be clear: they are not given your name.

On the other side, if you receive one of these text messages that indicates you are a close contact, follow the instructions you are given.

You must stay home and isolate for 14 days from your last contact with the positive case.

Monitor for symptoms and arrange for testing if needed. Otherwise, do not leave your property.

And please respond back to the text message so contact tracers can determine what additional follow up may be required.

Finally if you are an event organizer, and are asked to notify attendees, please do so as soon as possible.

As I said Wednesday, many recently diagnosed COVID-19 cases have had no known source of exposure.

Over the past seven days, this number has become larger as contact tracers have faced additional challenges to keep up with the demand. 

Our actions, such as going out while symptomatic, have very real consequences to those around us, whether we know about it or not.

I often ask Albertans to follow public health measures to protect their loved ones. It is easy to think of a cherished family member or friend.

But I want to remind everyone that the health of those we don’t know is just as important.

Every time COVID spreads, it is a threat to our health, the health of others and our health care system.

Every spreading event jeopardizes businesses and activities that could potentially face more intrusive measures than those we introduced last week.

This weekend, I encourage everyone to abide by all public health measures, even if you don’t like them, even if they are inconvenient, or even if you don’t agree with them.

We must all do our part to bend the curve, prevent the health care system from being overwhelmed, and prevent more restrictive measures from coming into effect.

We are all tired, and the stakes are higher now than ever before.

It is harder to keep an even temper when our perspectives are being challenged.

I know it’s not easy for any of us right now, and yet kindness and firmness are more important than ever before.

We need to give ourselves and others permission to grieve as there is much that we have lost and are losing.

Everyone is carrying heavy burdens right now. Please be compassionate with yourself and with others, and remember that we can only get through this by working together.

Thank you and I am happy to take questions.