Alabama health officials warn Saskatchewan: don’t repeat our mistakes in the battle against COVID-19

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It has one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates in the country and the lowest vaccination rates.

Hospital admissions are skyrocketing, with many surgeries and other medical care canceled or delayed.

For weeks, its medical community has been asking for indoor mask warrants and vaccine passports to curb the spread of COVID-19, but its political leaders have repeatedly resisted those calls, citing individual freedoms.

This describes the situation in Saskatchewan, but also in the US state of Alabama.

Alabama health professionals interviewed by CBC News say their number of cases started to rise earlier than those in Saskatchewan, but the province is moving in the same direction. They say Saskatchewan should learn from the unnecessary tragedy and death sweeping their state.

They say the solution is simple: Leaders should make decisions based on expert advice and evidence, not political calculations.

“Passports for vaccines and inside masking warrants – those are the two things that could make the most difference right now. We know that. Science tells us,” said Dr Paul Erwin, Dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“I can’t speculate on why they didn’t, other than their particular political belief.”

Lindsey Harris, president of the Alabama State Nurses Association, says her members are exhausted as they struggle to treat waves of COVID-19 patients, most of them unvaccinated. (Lindsey Harris / Zoom)

In Alabama, more than half of all intensive care beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients, most of them unvaccinated.

The full vaccination rate in Alabama is only 40%, compared to 55% nationally. Saskatchewan’s rate is 60 percent, compared to the Canadian average of 69 percent. Medical experts say the more virulent Delta variant will require vaccination rates of up to 90% to achieve full community protection.

Like Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, Republican Governor Kay Ivey has criticized Alabama residents who have chosen not to be vaccinated, saying they are “letting us down.” But like Moe, Ivey has rejected calls for statewide interior masking or vaccine passports.

Ivey went further by passing a law banning vaccine passports or similar requirements in any business or institution.

In Alabama, overwhelmed nurses have organized brief outings outside their own hospitals before their shift in a “cry for help,” but nothing seems to be working, said Lindsey Harris, president of the Alabama State Nurses Association.

“We’re so tired,” Harris said. “We are the backbone of the system. Nurses are on the front line. Nurses are there when patients arrive and when patients die. It is particularly exhausting for nurses at this time.

“More people will die until we do the right thing.”

Dr Paul Erwin is Dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He says it’s clear that indoor masking and vaccine passports are the two best ways to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. (Dr Paul Erwin / Zoom)

University of Saskatchewan professor Andrew Potter said it was clear Moe had stopped listening to the reason and the facts regarding the pandemic.

Potter, an infectious disease expert and former chief of vaccine developer VIDO-InterVac, said Moe was wrong and the evidence from those other jurisdictions is clear – vaccine passports and interior mask warrants work.

“It’s a no-brainer. It really is, and we need to improve as a province,” Potter said.

British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and other provinces have all announced vaccine passport systems and indoor mask warrants.

On Friday, Moe announced new requirements for people to be isolated if they are positive, and said the government will buy thousands of diagnostic tests from the private sector to meet the growing demand. However, he rejected calls for vaccine passports and indoor mask warrants.

Moe said he wore a mask indoors when he felt it was necessary and was convinced others would as well. Regarding vaccination passports, he said that “the creation of two classes of citizens according to your vaccination status is a very difficult and very confrontational path for a government”.

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