The pandemic has caused us to have a number of unexpected debates about the best methods for handling the issue. Sweden’s approach has been discussed by a number of experts but we have reached a point where these discussions are becoming superfluous. Swedish officials essentially decided to keep the oldest members of their population at home, while allowing the virus to run its course.
Meanwhile, there is a wide range of Americans who are wondering if this strategy can be implemented here. In time, we are not going to have a choice. The nation cannot sustain itself forever. The lockdown period must end sometime. Andrew Cuomo has been one of the foremost critics of President Trump’s strategies and even he believes it is time to reopen the economy.
Sweden’s plan is destined to become more relevant as we decide what we are going to do next. There is bound to be a United States city or state that experiences the virus’ inevitable second wave. Since these issues are impossible to avoid, many believe that the United States economy should be reopened sooner rather than later.
Are we going to attempt to douse the virus ourselves or take their approach? The Swedes decided to let the virus run its course and they are now paying the price for that decision. It is easy to see why Americans are hoping to emulate their choices, allowing the virus to run its course. Everyone’s fingers are crossed that the damage will not be as bad as we fear.
At the moment, we do not have any sort of viable alternative. We are either going to watch our economy wither away and die or we will have to make some tough choices. The Swedish debate has gotten a bit out of hand, though. There is zero nuance taking place here. Americans are being portrayed in a certain manner and so are the Swedes.
People talk about the Swedish plan as if they do not care about their population at all. Meanwhile, Americans are being talked about in a ridiculous manner as well. We are not trying to stay on lockdown forever, that is for sure. The pandemic forced our government’s hand and now we are trying our absolute best to make the most of the situation.
Americans began to practice social distancing not because they were ordered to do so, but because, belatedly, our political and cultural leaders woke up to the risks of COVID and sounded the alarm around March 8–13. Having received credible information about the risks of COVID, Americans responded with remarkable solidarity, adopting stringent social distancing measures even in states without stay-at-home orders. These social distancing measures have almost certainly saved tens of thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands, of lives. But policymakers (outside of Washington State and some county officials in California) cannot take credit for this achievement: it was a grassroots campaign by Americans of all stripes working together to protect each other.
There’s more to it than that. Whenever people tell you that Americans need lockdowns because before lockdowns they were refusing to socially distance, they’re not just smearing Americans, they’re also wrong on the facts. Americans, like people in almost every country, were quicker to understand the risks than most of the people who govern us. Alas, had our leaders taken the threat seriously a month earlier, and communicated the risks to Americans more explicitly, COVID could have been a flash in the pan. Instead, many thousands of Americans are going to die unnecessary deaths.
Sweden is not throwing all caution to the wind at the moment. Social distancing guidelines remain in place. They are not placing as many restrictions on their population as the United States but larger gatherings are still banned. Their universities are shut down. Sports have been canceled, older residents are expected to take the proper self quarantining measures and no one is allowed to visit nursing homes.
Swedish businesses remain open but most of the population has the good sense to avoid them. Now that US states are starting to reopen, they are looking to the Swedes. Elementary schools have remained open in Sweden and that is one of the main differences in these countries’ plans. Has their experiment panned out to the point where we can emulate it?
It depends on your own personal risk tolerance and the data that you are looking at. Of course, Sweden has fared far worse than many other countries in its cultural demographic. Finland, Denmark and Norway have all had a much lower death toll. However, the country’s plan is not considered to be a catastrophe by global standards.
Sweden — 18,926 cases and 2,274 deaths among 10.3 million people
Denmark — 9,049 cases and 427 deaths among 5.8 million people
Norway — 7,599 cases and 206 deaths among 5.4 million people
Finland — 4,695 cases and 193 deaths among 5.5 million people
Many of the Swedish deaths have taken place in nursing homes. They are not the only country that has been experiencing such difficulties, though. This is a common issue around the world. Swedish hospitals have also been able to avoid the massive surge in patients that has taken place in so many other locations across the globe.
Stockholm may even achieve herd immunity by the time June rolls around and the rest of the world is watching this situation closely. WHO officials are already suggesting that their strategy was effective. In the meantime, Americans could be expected to continue the social distancing guidelines on their own once the lockdown is over.
2) However, it also increasingly seems that their numbers are leveling off, especially in Stockholm, which is what you would expect if 30% of the population has had it there (as their ambassador claims) providing some herd immunity. Here is their ICU data:https://t.co/I6cNalVUYL
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) April 29, 2020
Sweden’s approach could serve as a model for the rest of us but it is too soon to tell. WHO officials may think so but it remains to be seen. If we decide to reopen and the virus has a devastating second wave, all of this speculation is going to look dubious in retrospect. The United States is nowhere near the herd immunity stage and we are still going to need to take the right steps to stay safe once the major restrictions have been lifted.