Harrop: Why would Trump want to repeat Sweden’s deadly mistake?

Sweden largely stayed open to build herd immunity, but it now has a higher mortality rate than the U.S.

By Froma Harrop / syndicated columnist

Many of us lit candles and prayed that Sweden’s approach to the coronavirus would succeed.

As the rest of Europe locked down, Sweden stayed mostly open. Its plan was to keep vulnerable people separate while letting the virus infect the others, thus creating herd immunity; a large proportion of people no longer able to spread the disease. Meanwhile, everyone would go about their business, and the economy wouldn’t suffer.

The Swedish example could have offered deliverance from mask wearing, closed gyms and fights over when to open schools. But it didn’t work.

Sweden has recorded about 571 virus deaths per million, more than even our 563 deaths per million. Its formerly locked-down Scandinavian neighbors have reported far, far lower mortality, while their economies are doing just as well, if not better. Guess disease and death are bad for business.

And despite the suffering, Sweden is nowhere near achieving herd immunity, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, writes in The Wall Street Journal. Neither are we.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, President Trump’s favorite coronavirus adviser, Dr. Scott Atlas, now recommends following Sweden’s example. Two other non-surprises are that Atlas has no background in infectious diseases or epidemiology and that Trump found him on Fox News.

And, oh, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just advised not testing people who have been exposed to the virus but show no symptoms. This “let-it-rip policy,” Gottlieb complains, “will make it more difficult to track and trace cases.

It’s screwy from an economic standpoint because frequent and widespread testing can help the country reopen by identifying those who need to be isolated. Many states and cities say they will ignore the lax new CDC guidelines, another sign of the Trumpian times.

Meanwhile, concerns grow that the virus may not pass easily through strong, young people to then exit leaving them good as new. Doctors are seeing more and more virus survivors with lasting heart damage and dangerous inflammation. And it’s not just old people. In the last week of June, nearly half the hospitalized coronavirus patients in the Sunbelt states were ages 18 to 49.

Sweden’s inferior performance is especially shocking given certain advantages it has over the United States. They include a far lower rate of obesity, a factor in coronavirus deaths, and a strong public health system serving everyone. Physical distancing is easier in Sweden because its urban centers are less densely populated than ours. In addition, about half of all Swedes live in single-person households versus a quarter of Americans.

Furthermore, it isn’t true that Sweden was totally open. There were rules for social distancing, and gatherings were limited to 50 people. And many Swedes took it upon themselves to self-isolate.

By the way, stores in Sweden are reporting a run on masks, as people anticipate a government tightening of regulations.

One might wish otherwise, but the only way to contain this virus is to follow the bothersome guidelines: Wear masks in public. Maintain social distancing. Test and trace.

They are also key to boosting public confidence in any reopening. Bringing back Dr. Anthony Fauci as America’s prime voice on the pandemic would further reassure Americans that someone in power is serious about this.

Trump will do none of the above. But you already knew that.

Eventually, we’ll have a vaccine, and — this is another prayer — a competent leader in the White House. At that point, it’s back to a kind of normal as we tend to hurting businesses, restore jobs, grieve losses and deal with those still suffering side effects of the disease.

Light a candle for all the above.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. Email her at fharrop@gmail.com.

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