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There has been considerable debate regarding the validity of the Swedish approach to mitigating the effects of COVID-19. At National Review, John Fund and Joel Hay have written an excellent article detailing the successes of the Swedish “herd immunity” strategy. Next to it is Theodore Kupfer’s thoughtful response. The debate regarding the Swedish strategy vs. the US strategy will likely go on into the foreseeable future, with political, social, economic, and healthcare ramifications. Until all the data is in, we will most likely not know if Sweden’s gambit was worth the risk or if the path the US took was the right one. I think, though, that much of this debate misses out on an essential truth, one that we’ve turned a blind eye to, perhaps on purpose.
In the long term, we’re all Swedes.
Let me explain. One of the primary reasons that the Swedes went this route was that the other options simply were not sustainable. From the Fund/Hay article:
“We try to use evidence-based measurements,” Emma Frans, a doctor in epidemiology at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, told Euronews. “We try to adjust everyday life. The Swedish plan is to implement measurements that you can practice for a long time.”
The problem with lockdowns is that “you tire the system out,” Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s chief epidemiologist, told the Guardian. “You can’t keep a lockdown going for months — it’s impossible.”
The Swedes where well-aware of the “shelter in place” option. But they also knew what many epidemiologists have all but admitted: COVID-19 is likely here to stay. This summer, the virus will die down in the northern hemisphere and flare-up in the southern hemisphere. This fall, it will make its way back to the northern hemisphere and will cause problems again, at least until we get a vaccine, which could be years away. Even the “flatten the curve” crowd admits that drawing out infections over time isn’t the same thing as reducing infections. Shelter-in-place orders are designed to spread the impact of the disease over time in order to reduce the strain on the health care system. The problem we have found is that lengthening the duration of the epidemic has its own set of risks (economic, social, and perhaps even greater numbers of “deaths of despair”). The Swedes looked at this scenario and decided that hiding from the virus was simply not a long-term solution and made the choice to fight the good fight now. They were well aware that they’d take their lumps, but they decided that it was better to go ahead and bite the bullet and get it over with.
In the US, we have made the decision to avoid the fight, to stretch the pandemic out for the foreseeable future. We have done so at great economic cost and perhaps even greater cost to our civil liberties. Indeed, the COVID crisis has given rise a set of authoritarian behaviors from governors and mayors that would have been unthinkable three months ago. And for what? To merely delay the inevitable reckoning? One day, maybe a month from now, maybe a year from now, we will have to come out of hiding and face the harsh light of day. We will reach the inevitable conclusion that countless civilizations have found over the course of history: the only way to conquer this menace is to face it head-on.
In short, we will become the Swedes.
The only variable left is “how long.” How long will we delay before arriving at this conclusion? How many lives will we destroy in the futile attempt to hide from the invisible terror? When do we face the light and move forward? The answers to those questions will be the ultimate test of our courage and resolve.Published in