Alabama health officials warn Saskatchewan: Don't repeat our mistakes in COVID-19 battle

Health-care workers in Alabama say Saskatchewan could learn from the tragic consequences of their state's inaction in the battle against COVID-19.

Alabama and Sask. have among the highest COVID infection rates and lowest vaccination rates in each country

Workers from USA Health test a person for COVID-19 during a drive-up clinic in Mobile, Ala., on Thursday, Aug. 12. Health officials there say Saskatchewan should learn from Alabama's failure to act communally and decisively. (Jay Reeves/The Associated Press)

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

Hospital admissions are soaring, with many surgeries and other medical care cancelled or delayed.

For weeks, its medical community has called for indoor mask mandates and vaccine passports to curb the spread of COVID-19, but its political leadership repeatedly resists those calls, citing individual freedoms.

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

Alabama health professionals interviewed by CBC News say their case numbers began to spike earlier than those in Saskatchewan, but the province is trending 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.

"Vaccine passports and indoor masking mandates — those are the two things that could make the most difference right now. We know that. The science tells us that," 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 haven't done it, other than their particular political persuasion."

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 ICU beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients, most of them unvaccinated.

Alabama's full vaccination rate is just 40 per cent, compared with 55 per cent nationally. Saskatchewan's rate is 60 per cent, compared with Canada's national rate of 69 per cent. Medical experts say the more virulent Delta variant will require vaccination rates of up to 90 per cent to achieve full community protection. 

Like Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, Republican Gov. Kay Ivey has been critical of Alabama residents who have chosen not to get vaccinated, saying they're "letting us down." But like Moe, Ivey has rejected calls for statewide indoor masking or vaccine passports.

Ivey went a step further, passing a law banning vaccine passports or similar requirements in any businesses or institutions.

In Alabama, overwhelmed nurses have been staging brief walkouts outside their own hospitals before their shifts in a "cry for help," but nothing seems to be working, said Lindsey Harris, president of the Alabama State Nurses Association.

"We are so tired," Harris said. "We are the backbone of the system. Nurses being on the front lines. Nurses being there when patients come in and when patients die. It is especially draining for nurses at this time.

"More people will die until we do what it takes."

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's clear Moe has stopped listening to reason and facts when it comes to the pandemic.

Potter, an infectious disease expert and the former head of vaccine developer VIDO-InterVac, said Moe is wrong and the evidence from these other jurisdictions is clear — vaccine passports and indoor mask mandates work.

"This is a no-brainer. It really is, and we need to smarten up as a province," Potter said.

B.C., Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and other provinces have all announced vaccine passport systems and indoor mask mandates.

On Friday, Moe announced new requirements for people to isolate if they test positive, and said the government will purchase thousands of diagnostic tests from the private sector to cope with the rising demand. However, he rejected calls for vaccine passports and indoor mask mandates.

Moe said he wears a mask indoors when he feels it's necessary and is confident others will, too. On vaccine passports, he said "creating two classes of citizens based on your vaccination status is a very difficult and very divisive path for a government to take."


  • A previous version of this story stated that unvaccinated people who test positive for COVID-19 are required to isolate in Saskatchewan. In fact, anyone who tests positive in the province is required to isolate.
    Sep 14, 2021 9:03 AM CT


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