Check against delivery.
Thank you, Tom, and good afternoon everyone.
Before I get to today’s numbers, I want to update Albertans about a change to the rules around mask exemptions due to medical conditions.
Wearing face masks is a critical public health measure that helps prevent the spread of COVID-19.
That’s why we’ve recommended wearing them for more than a year and why we’ve had a provincial mask mandate in place since December.
Individuals are only exempt from wearing a mask in public places in certain circumstances.
These include being unable to put on or take off a mask independently, if someone is eating or drinking while sitting down, if there is an occupational risk for wearing a mask, and other specific situations.
In addition, there are a very limited number of health issues for which a mask exemption is possible.
To help prevent spread and make sure that people are masking appropriately, we are clarifying what these health issues are, based on best currently available evidence.
These conditions are:
Effective today, in order to verify that someone has a medical condition that makes them unable to wear a mask, Albertans with these conditions will require a medical exception letter from a health professional.
This letter is important to have, especially if requested by enforcement officials for not complying with the legal requirement to wear a mask in indoor public spaces.
Letters must come from a nurse practitioner, physician, or psychologist.
More details about what needs to be included in this letter are available online and guidance has been shared with the professional colleges of the healthcare practitioners who are authorized to write these letters.
We are modelling this after the approaches already being used in Saskatchewan and Quebec, as well as resources developed by the Manitoba College of Physicians and Surgeons.
This change is not meant to punish people unfairly.
It’s meant to ensure anyone who is capable of wearing a mask complies with this important public health measure intended to keep us all safe – which is especially important during this third wave of COVID-19 in the province.
Turning to today’s update, we have now administered more than two million doses of COVID-19 vaccine in Alberta.
Thank you to every single person who has gotten their shot.
Please encourage everyone you know to be immunized.
One of the most powerful ways to address vaccine hesitancy is hearing from someone you know and trust.
Over the next seven days, there are more than 328,000 appointments booked for vaccine.
If you haven’t yet been able to secure an appointment, please keep trying as more openings will be added as we receive more vaccine.
The response has been excellent and I want to thank every individual who is choosing to be vaccinated – your decision will make a difference in our collective fight against COVID-19.
Over the last 24 hours, we have identified 1,558 new cases of COVID-19, and completed nearly 15,300 tests.
Our positivity rate currently stands at 10.6%.
There are now 722 people in hospital being treated for COVID-19, including 177 in the ICU.
Sadly, I must announce that 9 new deaths were reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours.
As always, I extend my sympathies to all those who are grieving the loss of someone they loved, no matter the cause.
There have been some questions raised about how contact tracing is progressing during this third wave.
The president and CEO of AHS, Dr. Verna Yiu, will provide an update for you in a moment on this topic.
Before we get to that, I want to remind everyone about the importance of self-care during this critical time.
This pandemic has been long, and very hard.
Though each of our experiences through the pandemic have been unique, there is no denying that each of our lives has been affected.
COVID-19 has taken from us many things over the last year.
We have all missed marking important milestones in traditional ways.
We have all lost out on the sense of normalcy in our everyday routines.
And for many, the pandemic has had direct impacts on our mental and physical health.
The current restrictions in place, though, do not limit any access to mental health supports, including counselling, residential addictions treatment for those with substance use disorder, and mutual support groups.
It’s important for all of us to recognize that the pandemic has taken a toll on our mental health.
Recently, Canada’s Mental Health Week promotions encouraged each of us to get real about how we feel by naming, expressing, and dealing with our emotions — the ones we like and the ones we don’t like.
Naming – or labelling – our emotions can help us understand and process them.
However, if your emotions are overwhelming, persistent or interfering with daily life, or if someone you care for is experiencing this, it is important to seek mental health supports.
Help is available and there are safe ways to get the care you or your loved one needs. A list of resources and contact information is available on ahs.ca/helpintoughtimes.
No matter what we face, we must remember that the enemy we are fighting together is COVID-19, not each other.
Please be kind and respectful to those around you – whether the cashier at the grocery store, the bus driver on your daily commute, your co-workers, neighbours, friends and family.
They are all dealing with the worry and stress of the pandemic the best they can.
And you can make a difference by extending them the grace and understanding that you would like extended to you.
We need each other. No one can do this alone.
Thank you, and I’ll now invite Dr. Yiu to update you on the contact tracing system.