Swedes #persist in refusing to die from COVID-19

On April 12, I noted “Everything the gleeful journalists said would happen to Sweden has happened… to Massachusetts”. Massachusetts has been shut down since mid-March. Swedes, on the other hand, are still going to school, eating at restaurants, and working at offices and factories as necessary. They may not even be using #StayHome and #SaveLives on their Facebook posts.

Combining what we’ve learned from U.S. media and 4th grade arithmetic lessons regarding exponential growth, we would expect most Swedes to be dead at this point. Yet as of April 12, a smaller percentage of Swedes had died compared to Massachusetts residents, and there was a dramatic difference in the rate of new cases (8X) and deaths (6X).

Maybe the sharp difference was a holiday (Easter) weekend data entry effect?

Here’s an update for today, based on WHO and mass.gov numbers:

The latest report for Sweden: 465 new cases and 20 deaths (Denmark was at 144 and 12). Massachusetts had 1,296 new cases and 113 deaths (8X the death rate).

I.e., Sweden (10 million population) is doing dramatically better than Massachusetts (7 million) and the stats per person are roughly comparable to shut-down Denmark (5 million). (see this post for numbers on previous days)

How does the U.S. media cover a country with a lower death rate than Massachusetts’s? “Sweden: 22 Scientists Say Coronavirus Strategy Has Failed As Deaths Top 1,000” (Forbes):

Sweden’s relatively relaxed approach to controlling the spread of the coronavirus has come under fire in international media and from many locals in the capital Stockholm, where more than half the country’s deaths have been recorded. Now, 22 researchers have publicly criticized the strategy and called on politicians to make changes.

Major public events such as the start of the Swedish soccer season are postponed and the physical buildings of universities are closed, but otherwise everyday life continues. Schools remain open.

(I will hazard a guess that the “22 researchers” referenced still get paid regardless of how long the shutdown lasts!)

The MD/PhD infidel (not a “scientist”) who doubts the shutdown religion does get one paragraph:

State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell quickly hit back at the researchers’ claims. SVT reported that Tegnell said there is “a fundamental inaccuracy in that article” regarding the numbers used.

How about the local newspaper in what became Wuhan-on-the-Hudson? “Sweden taking lax approach to coronavirus, top doc says it’ll ‘probably end in a historical massacre’” (New York Daily News):

Following the terrible examples of China, the United States, Britain and others, Sweden has decided that coronavirus is overrated.

The European nation known for being cold and socialist has not ordered any sort of lockdown, is still allowing up to 50 people to gather in groups and has been weeks behind the rest of Europe on social distancing advice, Time Magazine reported.

A top doctor as a large Swedish hospital told Time that this lackadaisical approach will “probably end in a historical massacre.”

What about Massachusetts? Is our forecast of suffering 12% of U.S. COVID-19 fatalities (with just 2% of U.S. population) a potential “historical massacre”? A search into the New York Times reveals only a concern about a Massachusetts roommate dispute regarding social distancing religious orthodoxy.

Update from my cumulative tracking post:

4/15 comment: Sweden at 1033/114; Denmark at 299/14; Massachusetts at 1,755/151. It seems that there was a substantial lag in reporting deaths in Sweden due partly to a three-day Easter holiday weekend. Even if all of the 114 deaths had occurred in the preceding 24 hours, the rate of new deaths in Massachusetts is substantially higher when adjusted for population. Total deaths in Massachusetts are at 1,108 versus 1,033 in Sweden, a 1.5X higher rate in the shut-down region of Massachusetts versus the up-and-running get-it-over-with region of Sweden.

It does look as though neighboring Denmark has at least deferred some infections and deaths with its temporary lockdown. As the top epidemiologist in Sweden says, “time will tell.” As noted in the comments below, we were told that, without an economic shutdown, coronavirus would kill 2.2 million Americans. Sweden did not shut down. They should be suffering close to 70,000 deaths from the exponentially growing virus, not 1,000 or 2,000. Even with the upsetting catch-up number of deaths following the holiday weekend, Sweden’s outcome so far seems inconsistent with most epidemiologists and government think that they know about coronavirus.

51 thoughts on “Swedes #persist in refusing to die from COVID-19

  1. In Sweden it is mainly the ethnic minorities that are the spreaders of the corona virus

    Could it be that Sweden just is lucky from a statistic point?
    Or is it the viking culture and general health of the population that is protecting them?
    During the Spanish flu of 1918, Sweden’s death rate was 5.9 per 1000 (0.59 percent) vs about 2.25 percent for the US. So even back in 1918 they were better.

    • A note to readers. Pavel is a foreigner who has admitting to try and meddle in our election. This may be a crime!

    • Comrade Toucan Sam, unfortunately Comrade Babuska was unable to deliver the brown envelope this week with payment for your services for the mother country due to the corona plague. We will reconnect once the corona plague has passed.

  2. I’m not sure why you’re looking at the Massachusetts death rate and thinking, “What we really needed two or three weeks ago was less social distancing.”

    J. D. Vance:

    I’ve been reading a lot of the contrarian (primarily from fellow righties) COVID19 opinions, and I wanted to work through them in good faith. …

    “4. The economic damage we’re causing with COVID-containment lockdowns is a cure worse than the disease, and will lead to a lot of human suffering. So we should end the lockdowns soon.”

    I’m sympathetic to this argument, in part because a lot of people freak out if you even mention the economic cost. This isn’t about dollar worship or stock prices—a lot of conservatives are genuinely worried about the anxiety, stress, and death that comes with a severe recession.

    That said, one big problem with this argument is that it overstates how much of the “lockdown” has come from policymakers.

    The Ohio governor closed restaurants at 9pm on March 15. Here’s the foot traffic data from OpenTable for Ohio, March 15 through March 5 (compared to the same days in 2019). This is not business as usual: [it was down 19% on March 9, then 29%, 37%, 51%].

    On March 17, Bloomberg ran an article about the UK’s approach to herd immunity, making it seem as if London was operating normally.

    But that same OpenTable data suggested restaurant traffic was down on March 17 by 89 percent, and had been down substantially the weeks prior. Again, this was *before* the UK government closed restaurants and bars.

    Some have pointed to Sweden’s laissez-faire approach to the virus as a model to emulate. Set to the side whether that’s accurate (it’s incomplete at best), Swedish economic forecasts are grim.

    The most recent estimate I’ve seen from Swedbank is a 4 percent 2020 contraction. Goldman’s late March estimate for the US was a 3.8 percent contraction (they’ve since further adjusted down to 6.2 percent for the US).

    In other words, a lot of the social distancing appears organic, and independent of the policy response. That doesn’t mean good policy can’t help (or bad policy hurt), but the idea that our economy just hums along absent lockdown orders from the president and various governors is implausible. It turns out that people get freaked out about catching a deadly disease and adjust their behavior accordingly.

    Further, China’s manufacturing indices suggests continued stagnation. India is locked down. Western Europe’s hospitals are overrun. Singapore appeared to have things under control, but has shut down again. Japan delayed the Olympics, and appears to be getting worse.

    You can criticize globalization all you want (I do all the time). But a consequence of globalization is that you can’t thaw your own economy while the rest of the world is frozen, even if concerns over the virus are overblown. American politics can do only so much.

    An interesting article I ran across today: Greece learned from Italy’s and Spain’s mistakes and used rapid response to keep its virus deaths low. Greece and Sweden both have about 10m people. Sweden has about 10X as many deaths as Greece.

    If there were any country in Europe least capable of dealing with the novel coronavirus pandemic, you might think it would be Greece. …

    Yet today, two months after the pandemic hit the continent, Greece, so far, has been spared the disasters that have hit Italy, Spain, Britain and other European countries. As of Tuesday, it had recorded 2,170 COVID-19 cases and 101 deaths. Two countries of comparable size, Belgium and Netherlands, had recorded 4,167 and 2,945 deaths, respectively. Italy continues to have the highest death toll in Europe, with 21,067 fatalities by Tuesday night, followed by Spain (18,056), France (15,729) and Britain (12,107).

    Speed – not widespread testing – was the crucial factor in preventing COVID-19 illnesses from overwhelming Greek hospitals [total ICU beds: 560]. [Takis] Pappas created a timing response table to measure Greece’s lockdown performance against those of Italy and Spain (Greece’s first positive coronavirus case was reported on Feb. 26; the first death came on March 12).

    All Greek schools were closed within 13 days of the first positive test. Italy did not shut its schools until 33 days after its first positive; Spain took 43 days. … Non-essential shops were closed in Greece within four days of the first fatality. Italy waited 18 days and Spain 30 days.

    Mr. Pappas said Spain’s slow response was alarming, since the disease in Europe hit Italy first, giving Spain some time to formulate an effective response. It didn’t. “Spain was reluctant to learn from Italy,” he said.

    • Wouldn’t it be better, “Russil” to try to make your point in a few concise sentences rather than lifting and pasting all of this banter — which does not seem to prove much of anything?

    • Fair point. More concisely:

      Lifting public health measures isn’t going to get the economy back to normal, so long as people are worried about COVID-19.

      Sweden appears to be doing considerably worse than Greece, which acted early. Greece has the same population as Sweden, and 1/10 of the deaths.

    • I think this is more evidence that journalism is essentially a religious activity. Massachusetts and Greece are both examples of the success of the shutdown faithful while Sweden (whose actual rates of cases and deaths are lower than MA) is an example of the suffering of heretics and infidels.

      Because Greece is part of the community of the righteous, no journalist will ask “What happens when the shutdown ends? Won’t they just have the same exponential growth into an unexposed population that we’ve seen everywhere else?”

      The example of Russia certainly will not be invoked. Seemingly similar to Greece, Russia had the virus under control back in March. Now it is raging out of control: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/russia-coronavirus-putin-moscow-hospitals-beds/

      “We are seeing that the situation is changing every single day and regrettably not for the better,” [Putin] said Monday during a video conference with senior health care officials. “The number of sick people is increasing along with the number of serious cases.”

      He acknowledged that Russia has not yet hit the peak of its epidemic, not even in hard-hit Moscow, where two thirds of the cases have been diagnosed.


      Prediction: Although New York Governor Cuomo is regularly praised for leadership by giving citizens the straight bad news, Putin will no similar praise in American media!

    • Not sure why you dismiss Greece’s low death count as an example of magical thinking. If you’re looking for journalistic commentary on the Massachusetts outbreak, here’s a March 12 story: Massachusetts Virus Outbreak Looks Like Italy’s Just Two Weeks Ago.

      Also not sure why journalists would be gleeful about an economic shutdown that’s destroying their own jobs (since businesses aren’t buying advertising).

      Great minds think alike:

      “Why don’t we let this wash over the country?” Trump asked, according to two people familiar with his comments, a question other administration officials say he has raised repeatedly in the Oval Office.

      Fauci initially seemed confused by the term “wash over” but became alarmed once he understood what Trump was asking.

      “Mr. President, many people would die,” Fauci said.

    • Russil: Why is Greece’s low death count not interesting? If they achieved it by hiding in their apartments, it isn’t sustainable. Unless the superstition about coronavirus dying in hot weather proves true, or a therapy is developed, they will just get infected and die, with roughly the same statistical chance, as people anywhere else.

      What is special about Greece? The latest WHO report shows 101 deaths compared to 1,328 in Brazil (a popular subject of vitriolic articles in U.S. media due to the president’s heretical views). Greece has 11 million inhabitants. Brazil has 209 million (i.e., Brazil has a lower death rate so far).

      Every day, the U.S. media needs to remind Americans of the evils that are befalling Brazilians due to their infidel president, e.g., https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/14/opinion/coronavirus-bolsonaro-brazil.html (I wonder if they realize that they are implicitly endorsing Trump 2020! Trump was an initially reluctant convert, but eventually embraced the true religion and thereby saved more than 2 million Americans from dying.)

    • “If they achieved it by hiding in their apartments -”

      Yes, that’s exactly how they achieved it. Social distancing is expensive, but unlike the self-flagellation practiced by religious zealots attempting to repel the Black Death, it’s not magical thinking.

      Greece is interesting because of its proximity to Italy, and because it doesn’t have a particularly strong state.

      “- it’s not sustainable.”

      Sure. Eventually social-distancing measures will need to be lifted, although I’d expect this to happen gradually, and with widespread testing and contact tracing to prevent further outbreaks.

      “Unless the superstition about coronavirus dying in hot weather proves true, or a therapy is developed, they will just get infected and die, with roughly the same statistical chance, as people anywhere else.”

      I’m not sure whether to describe this as “learned helplessness” (you don’t think a therapy is likely to be developed? you don’t think contact tracing is going to work?) or “social Darwinism” (if they’re going to die eventually, why not now?).

      The skeptical position reminds me of a reversed version of Pascal’s wager. If the skeptic is right and the coronavirus isn’t that dangerous, great. If the skeptic is wrong and the coronavirus kills a lot of people, is it really that bad?

    • Russil: Greece has “proximity to Italy”? How? Greece is #30 in the list of countries that send visitors to Italy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tourism_in_Italy#Arrivals_by_country (Sweden sends twice as many, for example)

      When will a useful therapy be developed? I previously guessed October 2020 (https://philip.greenspun.com/blog/2020/04/06/best-guess-as-to-when-the-first-successful-covid-19-therapy-will-be-widely-available/ ).

      The analogy to Pascal’s wager does not make any sense. If a therapy is developed soon, the economic shutdown might save some rich older people (like me!) but it will kill millions of people of all ages worldwide and certainly tens of millions if the shutdown lasts until October 2020. That poverty kills was an accepted fact in 2011 (https://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/05/health/05social.html ) and for the entire 20th century (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preston_curve ). Adherents to the #StayHomeSaveLives religion now reject the causal connection between not having enough money for food, shelter, and medicine and dying, but they have not offered any scientific or technical explanation for why “this time it’s different.”

    • The humanitarian argument against lockdown isn’t one that comes up often! Generally speaking, a coronavirus skeptic who dismisses mass deaths at home, like Bill Mitchell of YourVoice America, would care even less about mass deaths abroad.

      March 3:

      So this Dr. Anthony Fauci is pushing the panic button today. Always helpful. Talking about closing schools and businesses?

      Hell, why don’t we just shut down the whole country over 104 sick, 6 dead?

      Sorry President Trump, but replace this crackpot.

      April 5, after more than 8000 deaths:

      While death is sad for the living left behind, for the dying, it is merely a passage out of this physical body to a spiritual existence, free of this mortal coil. If one turns off the radio, the music is still there. For all we know, the dead weep for us.

      “Greece has ‘proximity to Italy’? How? Greece is #30 in the list of countries that send visitors to Italy.”

      I would respectfully suggest that you’re demonstrating a certain degree of confirmation bias here. Which is human nature – it’s natural to think like a lawyer, looking for facts to back up your arguments and ignoring those which contradict them, rather than to think like a judge, weighing evidence both for and against. The evidence isn’t hard to find: Consider visitors from Italy to Greece.

    • Russil: I’ve never heard of this guy Bill Mitchell whom you’re quoting. Why did you pick him instead of Swedish state epidemiologist if you were looking for someone who expressed skepticism that shutting down the economy and society was the most sensible approach to dealing with coronavirus? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anders_Tegnell is not as prominent as Bill Mitchell?

      Italian visitors to Greece? Why would there be any in the winter/early spring? Isn’t Greece a beach destination? Would an Italian go to Greece to ski? People go to Italy to do business. People go to Italy to ski. People go to Italy to see historical sites and art museums, even in the winter/spring. Greece is overwhelmingly a package tourism beach destination.

    • I quoted Bill Mitchell to illustrate Pascal’s wager, as an example of someone (other than Trump) who regards mass deaths in the US as acceptable, and who was initially skeptical that the coronavirus was worse than the flu. (Is it fair to say that this describes your views as well?) I haven’t seen Tegnell take either of these positions.

      I’ve never been to Greece, so I can’t comment on its appeal as a winter destination, but looking at Google Flights for mid-January 2021, there appear to be six or seven direct flights a day between Rome and Athens (compared to three direct flights a week between Rome and Stockholm, i.e. less than 1/10). I assume airlines won’t make those flights without passengers to make it worthwhile.

      It seems obvious to me that Italy and Greece are close to each other, but I’ll let you have the last word!

    • Russil: Shutdown skepticism does not mean indifference to mass deaths, as you put it. It means skepticism that a shutdown will have a significant effect on the number of people infected or kill by a virus. Tegnell does not take the position that 1,000+ deaths in Sweden are not important. He takes the position that these 1,000+ deaths could not have been avoided, only postponed slightly, by denying children what had formerly been considered their right to go to school, play in playgrounds, etc. Although Trump is not an MD/PhD like Tegnell, and lacks his experience in epidemiology, I don’t think that Trump’s position was substantially different (it became different, however, when everyone in the U.S. panicked).

      I have been to Greece. It is rare to meet another visitor who is not speaking either English or German. I speak some Italian and don’t remember ever meeting an Italian tourist. The shorelines are packed with resorts in which the visitor who closes his/her/zir/their eyes might imagine that he/she/ze/they is still in Brighton, England or Hamburg, Germany.

      Americans implicitly accept that there are deaths that are not practical or economic to prevent. A solo traveler could order an UberXL minivan for every ride and sit in the middle seat of the middle row, thereby reducing the chance of dying in a car accident. Most people, however, order a regular UberX and accept the additional statistical risk of being killed in a car accident. An American could dramatically reduce the risk of injury and/or death by never leaving the house (just behave like a COVID-19 bunker-dweller all the time). But few people do this, even though there is no economic or survival imperative to leave the house (some Americans can work from home; the rest can live on welfare or child support or some other form of non-earned income). Government could be mobilized to outlaw potato chips and candy, as well as desserts in restaurants. We could save a ton of lives by banning most situations in which alcohol is offered. Americans do not live personally or organize society politically so as to minimize the number of deaths.

    • Russil.
      I can not get this out of my mind.

      “looking at Google Flights for mid-January 2021, there appear to be six or seven direct flights a day between Rome and Athens (compared to three direct flights a week between Rome and Stockholm, i.e. less than 1/10). I assume airlines won’t make those flights without passengers to make it worthwhile.”

      I have been to Italy, Greece, France and Austria more times than I can remember. I have traveled by cars, busess, train and planes. I´ve landed on major airports and smaller, both with regular and chartered planes. All over northern Italy, Austria and southern France there are airports that welcome skiers and take them up the Alps by buses. And all flights do not take off from Stockholm…
      So my question is WHY it would be relevant to look at flights between Stockholm and Rome (and to compare that to flights between Rome and Athens)? If I would like to know how many that fly from D.C. to, lets say, Chicago and Detroit everyday – why would I check out the flights from Miami to New York? No basic knowledge about geography and traveling-patterns in Europe?

    • “No basic knowledge about geography and traveling-patterns in Europe?”

      None at all. I’m just using data that happens to be conveniently at hand (like the drunk looking for his keys under the street-light).

      Would you visit Italy and Greece on the same trip? For tourists from further away (China or North America), I think that would be pretty common, but I’m curious if that would also be the case for tourists from northern Europe.

    • Russil!
      I do apologise, my tone was not correct or acceptable.
      I am no expert concerning tourism in Europe – but this is what I know (I looked up Swedish statistics – they might be wrong, but most of this is own experience and what I have read during my life).

      Northern Europe is richer than the south, and have a climate that attracts people to the south.
      Many people from the Nordic countries (Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland) go to the south at least once a year.

      Sweden. A third of the Swedes may go to the south of Spain or the Canary Islands (or “abroad”) a few times during a decade.
      A third might go there (abroad- mostly to the south) almost every year.
      A third of the Swedes go (or have the funds to) on multiple trips. They go somewhere abroad during summer, to a warm climate during Christmas (Thailand, Spain, Portugal, Florida and Kap Verde for example), to Swedish Ski-resorts or to ski in Austria, France an Italy – or to the warmth, during winterbreak and the same alternatives, but then maybe different destinations, during Easter-break. Remember – we got a five week, at least, paid vacation… I´ve got 8 weeks…

      As a Swede you go to Rome for a prolonged weekend (a package-trip including all) by air, or as a part of a bus-trip that for 7-10 days cover for example Austria (Vienna), Tuscany and on the way back Fiorentina and Venice. Bustrips like that mostly attracts 60+ and you can go all over Europe in that way. (A bus, coming from Spain 4-5 weeks ago, turned out to have about 40 of 60 passengers that were sick. All 70+.)

      During the 70s and 80s Interrail was popular. If you were 16 (I think it later was 18) you could buy a ticket that during 30-50 days (different costs) took you anywhere by train in non-Communistic Europe (Yugoslavia was connected to the Interrail-system). My friends and I did as loads of other youngsters – we bought the ticket underage, hitch-hiked when German railwayofficials refused to let us ride on, and once we were past the German-speaking countries – the relaxed officials in the south did not care or could be handed a bribe… The wine and songs lasted for weeks…

      That way I went by awful local trains through Yugoslavia to Greece and went island-hopping in the Greek archipelago. Therefore I actually went on a boat from Greece to Bari (top of the “heel” of the Italian “boot”). But already then – most of the passengers were Greeks going to Italy to look for work.

      I do not know much of tourism concerning Italy and Greece. But the latter is not as rich as the former (remember – north Italy and south Italy are two complety different economies). Americans and Chinese and other folks that just want to mark out “Europe” on their bucket-list… They might go to both Greece and Italy.
      I do, however, not know why. Most Americans, +70, I have encountered in Stockholm and Gothenburg had no clue what country they were in. But all were almost always surprised at our “freedom”. I always answered the same: Just because you in a song CALL your country the land of the free – it does not mean others aren´t…

      Milan, Turin and all of the north of Italy is a part of the western European “hot triangel”. It starts north of London, stretches to Frankfurt and the Ruhr (maybe to Berlin) and then down to northern Italy. 60-70% of all of EUs business and GDP – and regular flights – are done in that triangle. Looking at flights from and to Rome is therefore futile. I should have said that nicer, Again, I am sorry. (BTW – I liked your example of a drunk looking for keys…)

    • “I do apologise, my tone was not correct or acceptable.”

      No problem, I didn’t think you were rude at all, but I appreciate your politeness! (I like the old FidoNet rules: “1. Don’t be offensive. 2. Don’t be easily offended.”)

      The main point I was trying to make, using easily available data, was that there’s several flights a day between Italy and Greece in the winter, so it’s surprising that Greece wasn’t hit very hard. The only reason I looked at flights between Rome and Stockholm was to provide a quick point of comparison for the flights between Rome and Athens. (A better comparison would look at all travel between Italy and Greece in the winter, and then all travel between Italy and another country, but 30 seconds on Google didn’t provide that information.)

      Thanks for describing tourist travel between northern and southern Europe! There’s similar flows in North America, driven primarily by climate: Quebecers often go to Florida in the winter, for example. Vancouverites often go to Hawaii to escape the rain. Of course it’s likely to take a long time for travel and tourism to return to pre-pandemic levels.

  3. Is it only the Swedes who “#persist in refusing to die”? For example, see this grim prediction of “more than 120,000” US Coronaplague deaths by April 15th; actual number, according to worldometers as of that date was 26,064.

    • Good point, that was my prediction. On March 25 there were about 1000 deaths so far in the US, and I predicted that three weeks later, it would have doubled seven times (every three days). In fact it’s doubled a bit less than five times. I was too pessimistic in assuming that the piecemeal social distancing measures in place at that point wouldn’t have any significant effect by now.

    • Russil: The states with the most population and/or the most problems with coronavirus had mostly shut down on March 25! (the prophets at https://covid19.healthdata.org/united-states-of-america/new-york says that New York shut down schools by March 18 and had a “stay-at-home” order by Marrch 22, with non-essential services closed.)

      Are you sure that you’re not the man who goes into a psychiatrist’s office with a duck on his head? Psychiatrist: “Why do you keep a duck on your head?” Man: “It keeps the lions away.” Psychiatrist: “But there are no lions in Manhattan.” Man: “See! It works!”

    • I like this version:

      Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.

      Homer: Oh, how does it work?

      Lisa: It doesn’t work.

      Homer: Uh-huh.

      Lisa: It’s just a stupid rock.

      Homer: Uh-huh.

      Lisa: But I don’t see any tigers around, do you?

      [Homer thinks of this, then pulls out some money]

      Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.

      But unlike the guy with the duck on his head (or Lisa Simpson’s tiger-repelling rock), we know how social distancing works! When two people are staying home, one can’t infect the other.

      My prediction was based on the average five-day incubation period, plus the seven-day time between first symptoms and hospitalization. If New York put their shutdown measures in place around March 22, they wouldn’t have much effect on deaths until two or three weeks later (around now).

      The Kinsa thermometer data is interesting because it provides a much earlier indication of how the virus is spreading than hospitalizations and deaths. Kinsa reports the same pattern:

      Data from more than 1 million Kinsa thermometers tells the same story across the country: 3 to 7 days after a stay-at-home or shelter-in-place order is enacted, fevers in that community start to drop.

    • People aren’t “staying home” unless they want to starve. They are going out to get food and mingling at the supermarket, at a minimum (I was at Costco today at 10:00 am; it was jammed). The “essential” workers, such as at marijuana retailers here in Massachusetts (and another 100 or so categories of business, including daycare), are still going to work. The thermometer data means that the curve is being flattened, as promised, and therefore that the hospital cases will be spread out across a longer calendar period. But it is unclear how this saves even one American life, given that most of our hospitals are empty and laying people off. https://www.mprnews.org/story/2020/04/10/mayo-clinic-announces-sweeping-pay-cuts-furloughs Absent a new drug treatment, if they were going to end up in the hospital, those Kinsa thermometer owners will end up in the hospital soon enough. (Separately, I wonder how many Kinsa owners are upper-income folks, such as school teachers and lawyers, who can “work” from home as opposed to “essential workers”. It might not be a representative sample of the U.S. population.)

    • When I went to school, BCG was compulsory in the Soviet Union (I tested positive for TB when I came to the US, the local medicos did not have a clue at the time as to why their test was positive).

      Not sure if they still do it in Russia, though.

  4. There’s no good reason to compare Sweden to Massachusetts. The more sensible comparison is to the other Scandinavian countries. However, Sweden currently has a high death count. It’s 1,203 in Sweden and 957 in Massachusetts.

    The Public Health Agency announced a death toll of 1,203 people from Covid-19 on Wednesday, a rate of 101 per million inhabitants, compared to 51 in Denmark and just 11 in Finland, both of which imposed strict early lockdowns to curb the virus’s spread.

    Sweden’s per-million tally is also significantly higher than the 37 recorded in Germany and the comparable US figure of 79 – but remains lower than the UK’s rate of 182 and far below Italy’s 348 and Spain’s 386.

    Meanwhile, Denmark is opening up schools for kids 11 and younger.


    Another thing to keep in mind is that the disease takes a toll on many who survive.


    • Vince: No good reason for me to do that other than that I live in Massachusetts?

      I like to use the WHO numbers for Sweden and mass.gov numbers for the same day (we don’t get the MA numbers until 4 pm Eastern time) . But what you call a “high death count” for Sweden at 1,203 versus, presumably, a “low death count” for Massachusetts at 957, seems odd to me. When you adjust for the difference in population, the “high death count” for Sweden is actually a lower rate. (Separately, the official WHO death count for Sweden, is 1033, (not 1203 with 114 “new” (presumably there was a lot of underreporting over the long Easter weekend). https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/situation-reports/20200415-sitrep-86-covid-19.pdf?sfvrsn=c615ea20_2 ).

      Denmark is opening back up? Today’s WHO report shows 193 new cases for Denmark. If they haven’t eradicated COVID-19, won’t they just suffer any cases/deaths that they avoided during the shutdown in the coming weeks/months? The priests of the” Flatten the curve” religion told us in March that we wouldn’t reduce the total cases, but would avoid deaths by keeping ICU demand below the ICU supply. Sweden never ran out of ICU capacity so they shouldn’t have any excess deaths due to a lack of hospital care.

      There still isn’t any effective treatment for COVID-19, right? No more than in March, right? So if we believe Flatten the Curve priesthood back in March, the Danes haven’t avoided even a single death. They’ve only possibly delayed some.

      Finally, we were told that, without an economic shutdown, coronavirus would kill 2.2 million Americans. Sweden did not shut down. They should be suffering close to 70,000 deaths from the exponentially growing virus, not 1,000 or 2,000.

    • Vince: No good reason for me to do that other than that I live in Massachusetts?

      So you want to compare to your state to some other place? The point is that there’s no good reason to choose Sweden. Connecticut might make more sense.

      No one knows what will happen in the future. The current situation is that the death rate in Sweden is much higher than that of its Scandinavian neighbors, the countries that are most similar to Sweden.

  5. Hi!
    I like your, Mr. Greenspun, way of arguing/looking up facts. I do not understand some media-outlets that since a few weeks back are trying to establish the “Swedish Corona-model” as being something totally different than it really is. (The alt.right and Russian news – but of course. It is their MO. But there are “real” media doing the same…)

    First of all, I am Swedish.
    Second, as a Swede, I am sceptic to officials BUT follow most of what they order me to do (now and otherwise).
    Thirdly, there are so many different aspects that many debating Sweden never takes into account. A few examples.

    A/ Government and constitution.
    Even though a lot of people refer to THEIR country as the best in the world (freedom etc), the Swedish government have few instruments (if any) to radically impose restrictions on its citizens. We now have, since a week back, a new law, lasting 3 months, that can order people to this and that – in a very limited way. So much for the “dark Socialistic Sweden” as opposed to personal freedom… (Source: Many – for example Radio Sweden)

    B/ Sweden is a somewhat extremistic country in certain values/in trust in its institutions. Hence; recommendations probably work better than orders…. (Source: Worldvaluesurvey)

    C/ Who and where are peope dying from Covid in Sweden – and how did it get here?
    C1/ The first case was a woman that had been on a businesstrip to China, that was in the last days of January. She was isolated and is now out of hospital. But the big spreaders were more or less wealthy people, from Stockholm, that hade been on skiing vacations in Italy or the south of Austria.
    Here everyone must understand this: Swedish schools have a “winterbreak” week 6-10, depending on where in Sweden you live. It starts in the south and in the north it often merges with Easter-break. So – when people from Stockholm came back w.8-9 (the very south do not ski as much and if they do, often travel to other areas than the Stockholmians. AND if they (from the south) had traveled to the same area as Stockholm – well – the spread was not as bad yet).

    C2 Who dies?
    People mainly from Stockholm (but it will be more evenly distributed the experts say). The ones that dies are older and sick. People that got service-jobs for the rich/for the benifit of ALL of society are also victims. Why? Lack of information CAN be one reason, but living many in small apartments and with many generations might be another.

    C3 When the Swedish Prime minister said “we should have done more” (I did not vote for him) he was not talking about lockdowns, he referred to our huge failure – to keep the virus out of our elderly homes. My father is 89, of course I am worried, although he lives in a lockdown almost 5 weeks back.

    So… Greece? How many in Athens went skiing in the Alps? Norwegians tend to – because of their “Kronas” value – to ski at home. Danes might ski, but often in Sweden…
    And all of you that wonder: We are not by LAW ordered into a lockdown – but socially we are. But the school I work in is open, and so is our society as a whole. Many Swedes that still work have now a “make-shift” air-lock at home: We strip nude, use loads of alcohol externally (new for Swedes…) and then live for ourselves.
    The big differene is, I guess, if I may jest in days like this, is the use of the alcohol….

  6. Another ill-timed post. COVID-19 deaths in Sweden: April 14: 114, April 15 (so far): 170. In just the last day, Sweden has again more deaths than Norway has registered since the start of the crisis (146 so far), and in the last two days it has nearly as many as Denmark has since the start of the crisis (309 so far). So far Sweden has 1203 deaths, Denmark + Norway have 355. Updates on https://www.aftonbladet.se/nyheter/a/3Jgxj9/senaste-nytt-om-coronaviruset (by the way, the WHO numbers seem to have a delay of 24h compared with the official Swedish numbers).

    Your theory is totally wrong, when will you let it go? Perhaps Sweden is not doing as badly as MA because the health system here is much better, and we are not as morbidly obese?

    • The post was extremely well timed, as I see it.
      As about 4 million other Swedes I watch the pressconference (no politians… only experts) everyday at 14.00 Swedish time. The numbers are really interesting. There are an in-built tardyness in the reporting – and if you look att the death-date, we now have numbers (fingers crossed) that are going down…
      Besides (but important): Norway/Denmark and Sweden report deaths in diffent ways. Cause of death is important.

    • And, I forgot. I have no theory whatsoever. I just described some circumstances that seldom come into light. But, as a Swede, I comply. I kind of like “The Dude”… A hippieversion of a Swede? (Again – a joke…)

    • Jono: I did wonder if there was an administrative delay in reporting deaths that happened over the Easter weekend. I guess we now know that there was. As noted above, even at 1,203 deaths the Swedish death rate from COVID-19 is lower than the rate here in Massachusetts, even if 0 people here have died in the last 36 hours or so (and we won’t have yesterday’s numbers until today at 4 pm).

      I am glad that the death rate has been low in Denmark and Norway, but as noted above, I don’t see how they can avoid infection once they reopen, as Denmark has already announced plans to do.

      If we take your number of 1,203 deaths and map that to the U.S. population of 330 million, it would be 40,000 deaths. That’s less than the number of Americans who are killed annually by taxpayer-funded opioids (paid for with Medicaid). It is a shame, of course, to have 40,000 people die, but it is not something that has previously motivated Americans to take any action (e.g., regarding motor vehicle deaths, opioid deaths, medical error deaths, obesity deaths (if the restaurants were open, there is no law against me ordering a 10,000 calorie dinner; why not?)).

      Before Americans decided that COVID-19 was the only cause of death worth avoiding, and that it should be avoided at any cost, Americans believed that poverty was a cause of death. https://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/05/health/05social.html says “For 2000, the study attributed 176,000 deaths to racial segregation and 133,000 to individual poverty. The numbers are substantial. For example, looking at direct causes of death, 119,000 people in the United States die from accidents each year, and 156,000 from lung cancer.” (the U.S. population was only 280 million back in 2000, compared to an immigration-boosted 330 million today, so deaths from a poverty wave would be higher today)

      To rationalize their faith in the shutdown religion, Americans now simply deny that by impoverishing themselves and trading partners there will any adverse consequences. Certainly nobody will die as a result of impoverishment. Thus, we are “saving lives” even if we cut our GDP to 5% of what it formerly was in order to save a single 95-year-old from being killed while testing positive for coronavirus.

    • Jono: Is the health system in Sweden truly “much better”? What does Sweden have in terms of hospital critical care support that the U.S. doesn’t have? Certainly the U.S. isn’t efficient, spending about 2X what Sweden spends per resident, but what is the practical difference when someone shows up to a hospital and needs to go on oxygen?

    • Hi Jono, Norwegian expat here.

      You are showing that news of how well Sweden is doing is premature. I don’t think twice as many death per capita as Norway and Denmark’s proves anything. The tally at the date an effective vaccine becomes available is really what matters.

      Regarding your point about Sweden’s healthcare being better than Massachusetts’, I doubt that’s the case on average, although there might be some individual examples to the contrary.

      We’re a multi racial society, in any measure where you control for race, be it education, health outcomes, wealth, American ethnic Swedes do better than Swedes in Sweden, ethnic Japanese do better here than in Japan and so on.

  7. Sweden is so sparsely populated, they can get away with it, they say. Try that in Calif* & it would be a disaster, but the rest of US might be as vacant as Sweden.

    • lion2: A higher percentage of Swedes live in cities than do Americans. https://www.statista.com/statistics/455935/urbanization-in-sweden/ versus https://www.statista.com/statistics/269967/urbanization-in-the-united-states/

      Looking at the raw population density of Sweden to determine the risk of the 87 percent of Swedes who live in cities makes as much sense as say that the U.S. purchase of Alaska reduced the chance that someone who lived in Boston or New York would contract a disease due to the reduced U.S. population density.

    • You got a point there Lion!
      And therefore it would real thick and dense to close ALL of our nation down, when the worst troubles, for now, are in a small area (the Stockholm region), but with 1.5 million of 10 million in population… Sweden is the 3rd largest EU country as to area-size…
      At the same time… The Metropolitan New York is about as big as Sweden (populous) – and it can´t fully be compared. But compare Stockholm to parts of Lombardia – the size and population almost fits…

  8. Mr Greenspun.
    Thank you for your response!
    I found your blog (you maybe/probably already know about this link) where publications in English about Sweden can be found. (I also read German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and some French publications.)
    As you browse around you might find some of the arguments against you/your standpoint, copy-pasted as a whole, or sometimes modified. Nevertheless – some arguments are not that very original…
    Sincere regards.

  9. So a few Swedes went skiing in Italy. How does that compare with the number of people who traveled from NY to MA?

    Deaths/1M pop:
    New York 591
    Connecticut 197
    Massachusetts 140

  10. As I understand it now, in Sweden, the advice to stay home and maintain distance is not mandatory, but Swedes generally trust their government and are following the advice. On the other hand, in Massachusetts, where staying at home is mandatory, cell phone data shows that people are not complying. That, by itself, could explain why Massachusetts is doing comparatively poorly.

    So not everyone in Massachusetts is being righteous.

    • Arthur: I don’t know where people would be going here in Massachusetts. I never see any traffic when I go down to Cambridge, even through the Alewife and Fresh Pond rotaries. Restaurants, bars, museums, etc. are all closed. Malls are closed. Most offices are closed.

      Swedes are following advice to stay away from each other? The cell phone data presented in https://philip.greenspun.com/blog/2020/04/12/google-is-monitoring-our-social-distancing-failures/ shows more social activity for Sweden than before coronapanic. It shows less for the U.S., but the Bloomberg article doesn’t break out Massachusetts separately.

      https://www.businessinsider.com/smartphone-location-data-shows-which-states-are-social-distancing-best-2020 ranked Massachusetts #3 out of 50 in having reduced distance traveled (only Nevada and Hawaii were more static).

    • I think this is a key part of any religion. When the Portuguese arrived on the west coast of India they stayed for an entire season (or more than a year?) without realizing that Hinduism was not a form of Christianity. So when we see that a lower percentage of Swedes have died than here in Massachusetts, as members of the Church of Shutdown we look at a Swede dropping her children off at school, going to work, going to the gym, meeting the babysitter, eating dinner at a restaurant with friends, and returning home and see a woman in a shut-down society. It is just a variant of the shutdown in which we place our faith.

    • Arthur and Phil!
      Recommendations in Sweden… And more…
      I might have to be a bit unpolite… Sorry!
      1 The Swedish Constitution (midst of the 1700’s, partly rewritten in the midst of the 1800’s and again in 1971-74) is by most political scientists viewed as one of the most “liberal” in the world: The individuals rights is (almost) always superior to the “State”. In general practice, like taxation, this does not comply. But in it as being instruments/tools to FORCE people, if there isn’t a war – well there are no such possibilities. That might be a weakness, but also a strength. (To, by the might by law, resist Soviet occupation, was one of many ideas in the foreworks in the 60’s – learnt by Norwegian and Danish experiences during Nazi-occupation…)
      So. Imposing restrictions is not only a question about WILL, it as much a question about LAW.

      2 Sweden is an extremistic country in many ways (check out Hans Rosling and/or Worldvaluessurvey). We trust our institutions, loath Big Brother and do not trust ourselfes/our souls to a Deity… To sum it up…

      3 We are – or used to be – well informed. Swedes are, in general, wellread and have/used to have a high level of knowledge. (I spent 1,5 years in a High School close to DC, and most kids knew… well… nothing. (Of course there is NO science to back me up in that statement!)

      4 The different phone-companies in Sweden have let the different agencies working with Corona to take part of their “stats”. Compared to last Easter, 96%, more of the Stockholmians stayed at home compared to last year. They did not go to the north, northeast, the Stockholm archipelago or to the island of Gotland… Law or recommendations?

      5 We might have read different books about the Portuguese and India. I my books the very interesting part is not the same as descibed here…
      A/ By that time, the Islamic faith had not yet spread all over the sub-continent.
      B/ The Portuguese failed to see/understand that many of the people they met were Thomas/Nestorian-christians. Heretics/and or/not “real” Christians accordning to the Portuguese… (It feels good to know things like that as an Atheist… Right, do I care?!)

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