Sweden catch your eye? Not so fast.

Here’s What Actually Helps Countries Relax Distancing And Lead Semi-Normal Lives

America chose an approach that allows more autonomy but is less effective, more expensive, and likely to lead to higher case counts and longer distancing. If we don’t like our results, we can change course, but we did indeed choose this reality.

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April 1-Apr 23, 2020

Looking at countries relaxing distancing and thinking it could work for us, is a bit like seeing a marathon runner eating cake and thinking it’s proof the doctor lied about cake. If you don’t adopt the running to go with it, you may find you don’t like the results.

We elected to forgo working out (not to act early with coordinated effort) and cake (fewer cases, less money lost, shorter distancing) while other countries elected to work out and eat cake.

We choose a decentralized approach and that came with negatives. Whether or not they are worth it is another subject. We cannot look at a marathoner eating cake and think this is proof the doctors were wrong about cake. If you simply eat the cake and neglect the running, you may not like your results.

Swedish officials strongly disagree that life has gone on as normal, and still their case counts are skyrocketing. It’s a testament that no one should forgo formal distancing, although it’s true they practiced a remarkable degree of distancing with government suggestion.

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This is the same graph as the one directly below it, except this one doesn’t have the US
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Sweden looks better next to the US. This is the exact same graph as above, just the US added.

Even if their approach had worked as some believe it has, the US differs far too much for us to assume the same approach could work here.

  • Community-oriented Swedes followed recommendations to stay home when possible — officials confirmed significant drops in travel via cell towers
  • more people work from home there than in the US
  • more people live alone as compared to the US
  • professionals effectively communicated with citizens, where the US sent conflicting messages
  • acknowledged the threat and cooperated within government
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Here’s what countries doing well have in common

1. Government and public quickly recognized the threat and acted

2. Track-and-trace programs

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3. Coordination across government levels and disciplines: Teamwork

  • Lack of national supply chain management leads to economic waste and pits states against one another
  • Many of the enviable countries worked across disciplines and levels of government; you can hear about the approach here

4. Countries doing well scored higher than the US in a healthcare analysis that assessed:

  • public health infrastructure,
  • cost to seek medical care, and
  • health care professionals per capita

We have elected not to nationalize our healthcare — the pros and cons we can debate another time—meaning we differ in baseline health, access, cost, and capacity.

Just as we prioritized not having a centralized strategy, we prioritized freedom in healthcare choice. If that’s what we want, that’s fine, but we cannot look at places who chose differently and assume we can apply their approach.

The US currently ranks 30th on the assessment mentioned above. Countries performing better than the US in COVID-19, rank higher than on the assessment, too.

5. Female leadership is common among countries doing well, but. . . as much as I would love to say that means women are better leaders, I would be a poor scientist for it. Two things appearing related is not interchangeable with causality.

More research is needed to see if female leadership impacted the response and consequences within a country. Then, we may claim it. *winks*

Whatever approach we choose, it will be hard work and it will be out of our comfort zone, but much like running, we won’t regret it and we will love eating the cake.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are my own and do not reflect any other people or institutions.

Public health biologist studying at Johns Hopkins | Science writer & artist | Views reflect me alone | Subscribe @ Novel-Science.com

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