I’ve seen several people slavering grossly on my social media about how things got real bad for Sweden this fall. They were delighted (I mean uh, concerned, very concerned) that Sweden was finally getting their comeuppance for their arrogant policy of not shutting everything down and handling things through recommendations and focused policy.
My own glorious state of California, home to high technology and artificial intelligence, chose the virtuous path of destroying the village in order to save it. Sure my social media friends bitch about how even in California they see people all the time not behaving up to the highest standards of covidine virtue, but still we’re doing better than those suckers in Sweden (where I heard pretty much everyone is dead).
So let’s head over to Worldometers for some numbers.
To review, Sweden had a pretty bad peak early on followed by a slow summer and an easy to predict surge in the late fall. The fall surge was not as bad as the spring one and it sure looks like things are petering out there. Will there be another surge a couple weeks after Christmas/New Years? Plausible.
California with its stricter measures managed to titrate out the deaths at a lower steady rate but it looks like general exhaustion with the measures is catching up with us and our current surge looks like it will continue at least for a few more weeks.
Per Worldometer, as we begin to vaccinate, Sweden is at 861 deaths per million population and California, for all its great policy is doing only slightly better at 665 deaths per million. I expect these numbers to close further. The question for later will be whether all the extra pain to the economy and peoples’ lives and psyches was worth the number of incremental deaths prevented. One can always argue that any number of deaths prevented is worth any other sacrifice. I will never agree.
One can also argue that the policy in California would have been more successful in the absence of all these wreckers strutting around outside without masks, seeing their friends in private, and going to parties at fancy French restaurants in wine country. But I reject that too. The choice of the less restrictive policy is based on the idea that the average person can only stand virtue for so long before he cracks.
If your policy only succeeds if 90% of people behave behave as virtuously as you imagine you do, it will fail.
Then I started thinking about how comparable those numbers are. I looked it up and Sweden started with a significantly older population than California, and California (likely due to this age difference and the weather) tended to have fewer respiratory virus fatalities in past seasons.
Let’s do a quick, not at all rigorous, but good enough for government work calculation to normalize for different in population ages.
Quick web search finds California age distribution by percent here:
In 2019 4.4% of the population was 75-84 and 1.8% was 85 and over. So that’s 6.2%. Multiply by California population of 39.512 million gives 2,449,744 people 75 years and older in California in 2019.
According to this:
In Sweden in 2019 people age 75-84 was 702,000, 85-94 was 240,000, and 95 and up was 23,000 for a grand total of 965,000 people 75 and older in Sweden in 2019.
Per Worldometer on this date (January 2nd, 2021) there have been 26,294 total deaths in California and 8,727 in Sweden. Let’s check the ratio of population over 75 to COVID deaths.
California 26,294/2,449,744 = 0.010733366… or 1.07% or 1073 per 100K population 75+
Sweden 8,727/965,000 = 0.009043523… or 0.90% or 904 per 100K population 75+
I concede this is a quick and dirty correction for age and a more rigorous calculation should be done, but it is still much better than looking at raw deaths per population numbers because age-wise California and Sweden are significantly different.
Based on this Sweden has actually done better than California WRT deaths so far and it doesn’t look like that is going to flip before vaccines (or the natural course) end the epidemic phase of this virus in both countries.