Many Americans are fed up with social distancing and stay at home orders, and are wondering what would happen if we simply let COVID-19 run its course. We may soon be able look to Sweden for an example.
The Scandinavian country has taken a light-handed approach to confronting COVID-19, refusing to close primary and junior high schools, and generally keeping the country open for business. Now Sweden has surpassed 1200 deaths, as opposed to neighboring Denmark’s 55 and Finland’s 13, and a new study is predicting a public health disaster in Sweden:
Our results predict that, under conservative epidemiological parameter estimates, current measures in Sweden will result in at least 40-fold over-subscription of pre-pandemic Swedish intensive care capacity, with 15.8 percent of Swedish healthcare workers unable to work at the pandemic peak.
In plain English, there will be 40 times more demand for ICU beds than there is capacity, with nearly 16% of Sweden’s healthcare workers unable to work due to COVID-19, all at the same time. The result? An estimated 96,000 deaths in the country of only 10.9 million, and that’s assuming that ICU criteria remain the same. The paper warns that “modifications to ICU admission criteria from international norms would further increase mortality.”
However, there are a few things to note. The study is preprint and as such has not yet been subject to peer review. Also, although Sweden’s case fatality rate is higher than its neighbors, it’s still lower per capita than Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom.
It will be fascinating to see how this all plays out when everything is said and done. After factoring in the economic damage from lockdowns, will Sweden’s approach prove superior, as some now say, or will Sweden have been wrecked by a public health disaster? And if the Swedish approach does prove disastrous, when and how effectively will the country change course?