Minnesota versus Sweden [with comment by Paul]

Kevin Roche is the former general counsel of UnitedHealth Group and former chief executive officer of its Ingenix division. We were law school classmates and these many years later wrote “False alarm” for the Summer issue of the Center of the American Experiment’s Thinking Minnesota magazine together. Kevin is the Minnesota version of Alex Berenson. He brings a highly informed but heterodox perspective to the public health issues raised by the COVID-19 epidemic (at his Healthy Skeptic site, where he writes daily).

Paul Mirengoff has discussed Sweden’s approach to the epidemic in a series of posts including, most recently, this one. Sweden’s approach honors the freedom and responsibility of its citizens. Paul noted that Sweden’s per capita death number compares unfavorably to that of Norway, Denmark, and Finland, although it compares favorably to the that of the United States and big European countries including the United Kingdom, Spain, France, and Italy.

Kevin adds this context with a focus on Minnesota (lightly edited):

Minnesota’s deaths per million are at 665. Sweden is at 692…. They are doing much better by that measure than almost every state and the United States as a whole.

There has been a suggestion lately that they are moving away from their relatively restrained approach and that this approach was some kind of failure. Sweden has seen a renewed case wave, as has most of Europe, and that wave is stronger in less populated areas, as has tended to be the case in other countries and the United States as well.

The notion that Sweden’s approach has failed is absurd. They are in better shape than most European countries. Just look at the numbers. And their population has endured much less stress. Their children have been able to have pretty normal lives.

There clearly is some tension in the country and pressure on it by other countries around putting more restrictive measures in place. Some have been put in place, apparently over the objection of the public health authorities. So much for following the science and the experts.

The kind of balance which actually considers the interests of the whole population is what should be foremost everywhere. It would be a shame if Sweden abandoned that notion and if every country didn’t move in that direction.

Kevin has more on the answers I received to my most recent questions to the Minnesota Department of Health, one of which bears on secondary effects of the shutdown. I will post these questions and answers verbatim in the next installment of my Coronavirus In One State series.

PAUL ADDS: I think it makes far more sense to compare Sweden to its neighbors than to a state 4,000 miles away or to countries in very different regions of Europe.

According to Worldometer, there have been 698 deaths from the virus per one million people in Sweden. In Norway there have been only 65; in Denmark 149; in Finland 74. The numbers of per capita deaths in Norway and Finland are unchanged since I wrote this post two days ago. The number from Denmark has increased by two. The number from Sweden has increased by nine.

Numbers like these, coupled with the alarming intensity of the recent surge in cases — hospitalizations are rising faster in Sweden than in any other European country — have caused Swedes to lose confidence in the government’s approach to the virus. I believe it is this lack of confidence, not outside pressure, that has caused Sweden to reverse course.