Someday in the future, when the pandemic is gone, books will be written on the subject of which countries managed COVID-19 the best and which ones did so in the worst possible ways.
Guaranteed, enormous material pertaining to the actions taken by Sweden and the United States will be scrutinized as a cautionary tale for future handling of pandemics.
A tale of two very different countries with two very different pandemic approaches, and so far (this pandemic is not over yet) resulting in a mix of similar yet different outcomes that will be analyzed and debated for years to come.
Comparing Approaches: Sweden Versus the U.S.
From the beginning, Sweden’s approach to preventing the spread of the virus was controversial. While its bordering neighbors of Denmark, Finland, and Norway, along with the rest of Europe imposed strict stay-at-home orders, closed schools, borders and businesses, Sweden’s relaxed approach to COVID-19 stood out like a sore thumb. Strong criticism came swiftly from around the world.
The U.S. opted for a more severe lockdown approach. As COVID-19 cases escalated, the 50 state governors, some harsher than others, individually made their own decisions.
Most closed physical schools and universities to totally online learning making it difficult for working parents to find childcare. As stay-at-home orders were implemented, nonessential businesses like barber shops and gyms were ordered to close.
Air travel was curtailed. Social distancing became a buzzword as public gatherings were strictly limited at churches, funerals, and weddings.
Graduations were cancelled.
Wearing masks became mandated.
Family accessibility to visiting loved ones in long-term care facilities, for the unforeseen future, has been nixed indefinitely. These major disruptions were to flatten the curve preventing overloading hospitals with viral cases and to preserve personal protective equipment.
Sweden’s approach was far different.
Sweden said "No" to a lockdown by keeping primary schools, nonessential businesses like bars and restaurants (at reduced capacity), and its borders open. Instead, it relied on trusting its citizens using common sense to make wise, voluntary decisions for their own personal safety and health rather than dictated by heavy-handed government interventions.
Sweden has encouraged its citizens to work from home if possible, socially distance from others in public, refrain from nonessential travel, to avoid gathering in crowds over 50 people and to follow restrictions on visiting the elderly in care homes.
Masks were not mandated or ever required. Their strategy was similar to the U.S. in emphasizing flattening the curve so as not to overwhelm their healthcare system.
Why such a freeing and liberating approach to an easily spread and deadly virus? As their Public Health Agency’s lead epidemiologist Anders Tegnell stated months ago, "The long-term sustainability of strict rules doesn’t last. You can only impose such restrictions for a limited time. Sweden has gone for voluntary measures because that’s how we’re used to working. And we have a long tradition that it works rather well. All the European countries are trying to slow the spread to keep healthcare and society working; we’re just taking a different strategy to do so."
How has Sweden’s approach to controlling the pandemic panned out? As of August 2, according to the John Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, 80,422 Swedish citizens have contracted the virus while 5,743 people have perished from it. That amounts to a 7.1% case fatality rate or 56.40 deaths per 100,000 people.
Sweden is a country of 10 million people, comparable to the population of either Michigan or North Carolina.
About half of Sweden’s deaths occurred among those in eldercare homes.
From this same website as of Aug. 2, the U.S. has more than 4.6 million people who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 with 154,447 deaths with a case fatality rate of 3.3% and 47.21 deaths per 100,000 people.
Compare these numbers with Sweden, and America looks better.
The United States is a massively much larger country in terms of land mass and a population of close to 330 million people or 33 times the population of Sweden.
It’s estimated more than 40% of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have occurred in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
Even when compared to other European countries, there’s no doubt, Sweden has a much higher death toll. For example, on a per-capita basis, Norway has 47 deaths per million compared to Sweden’s 574 deaths per million which is more in line with Italy’s 581 deaths per million.
Sweden has had its fair share of heartache and grief during the pandemic.
Even Anders Tegnell admits more people could have been saved if stricter mandates had been imposed.
Economically speaking, Sweden did feel some pandemic economic pain but according to a May report from Capital Economics, the Swedish economy was also the least harmed in Europe and actually grew in the first quarter of this year.
Meanwhile, the U.S. economy was flattened. In February, the U.S. had a record 50-year low unemployment rate of 3.5% which rose to a shocking 14.7% in April.
However, the month of June had encouraging news of a drop to 11.1% unemployment rate along with an unexpected job gain of 4.8 million.
Did Anyone Really Get It Right?
To answer this question is not easy. The U.S. so far has managed its death rate from the virus when compared to Sweden. However in July, Sweden has successfully flattened its curve of COVID-19 cases to less than 200 a day and daily death totals in the single digits for two weeks. Certain areas of the U.S. are still struggling to contain viral outbreaks.
But the biggest factor separating Sweden’s carefree approach to the United States is our fiercely contentious presidential election like none seen before. It’s never good when a viral pandemic becomes politicized led by the media’s daily all-out effort to create fear and panic in the American public.
Add to this frenzy increased crime rates, suicides, depression, anxiety of catching the virus, school reopening uncertainties, riots, police defunding and dismantling, that’s a lot in a short span of 6 months for any country to contend with.
As a country, we haven’t had a chance to catch our breath and just live our lives normally for many months. We’re weary from everything COVID-19.
Let’s focus instead on our own personal choices.
Continue wearing masks when unable to socially distance, wash hands frequently, stay home when sick, and protect the most vulnerable.
Remember, we’re Americans, the land of the free and the home of the brave.
As far as who got it right, right now the U.S. has a lower death count per capita than Sweden. Let’s each do our part keeping it that way.
Ultimately, only time will tell who wins this viral battle.
Dr. David Samadi is a contributor for Newsmax and the Director of Men's Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He's a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy. Visit Dr. Samadi's websites at robotic oncology and prostate cancer 911. Read Dr. David Samadi's Reports – More Here.
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