COVID19 - The Tale of Two Countries
As a techy and former programmer, thereís an old adage that everyone in technology knows and has recited at least dozens of times. That is: Garbage in, Garbage out. Put simply, you put bad code in, youíll get a bad program out. Itís literally that simple. The same goes for decision making: bad data in, bad decisions out. It shouldnít shock us that COVID is now such a polarizing issue here in the US. A polarized culture is our new normal. You could say itís trendy. Itís trendy to have infinitely strong opinions, opposite of others, even when both sides are operating on the same information, even bad information. Thatís where opinion comes in. Weíve been polarized on politics, abortion, LGBTQIA, forced vaccinations, 1 million other topics, and now weíre polarized by COVID19. Some walk in to the grocery store with a mask and see someone without a mask and immediately think, "what a careless moron." Others walk in without a mask and see those with a mask and think, "poor paranoid moron." Some think social distancing and economic shut down is completely insaneÖ while others are passionate that weíre opening back up far too soon and we havenít done enough.
It dawned on me recently that I have close friends, very wise, smart, level headed logical thinking friends, on both sides of this fence. So I ask, why is this? How did we get here? What data, or information, is driving this decision making process? Surely itís not news. I can watch 10 minutes of Fox News, 10 minutes of CNN, and 10 Minutes of MSNBC, and come to 3 completely different outcomesÖ all of which are riddled with opinion based, politically charged, ideological based narratives, carefully designed to spin the story in to what we as a culture somehow (and foolishly) accept as "news." So I turn them all off and deduce, itís just noise. I canít trust it. They all have their own set of so called factsÖ as if real truth is relative, or fluid. And if we canít accept the same facts, weíll never accept the same news narrative, or the same decisions. Garbage in, garbage out.
So what facts do we actually have? Here are some simple ones that Iíve found. There are 328 million people in the US. As of now, the morning of May 11th, 2020, weíve had 80,602 COVID19 deaths. As a percentage, the US has lost 0.0245% of its population to COVID19. Thatís 2.45 hundredths of 1 percent. On the other hand Sweden has 10.23 million people, and has sustained 3,225 COVID19 deaths. Therefore, Sweden has lost 0.0315% of its population to COVID19. So their death rate, as a percentage of population, beats ours by 0.007%. Thatís 7 thousandths of 1 %. Please recognize how small that percentage is. Itís not 1%, itís not a tenth of 1%, itís not a hundredth of 1%... itís seven one-thousandths of 1%.
So I ask: what on earth did these two countries do differently to wind up with such a barely measurable difference in COVID19 death rate? The answer, the facts mind you, are astonishing. The US quite simply shut down. Youíve seen it, and youíve lived it - mandatory quarantine, businesses closed, shelter in place, travel ban, no gatheringsÖ I mean shut down. Shut it all down. As in, make the world stop turning if possible.
What did Sweden do? After all, they have our death rate beat by seven one-thousandths of 1%. Hereís what Sweden did, and donít blink, because if you do youíll miss it: nothing. Virtually nothing. While America shut down, Sweden did not. America stopped going to work, stopped driving, stopped flying, stopped going to church, stopped going to school, stopped eating out, stopped getting hair cuts, stopped socializing with so much as your neighbor, and stopped pretty much anything that wasnít stopped prior to COVID. Sweden basically told its citizens (more or less), "Hey yall, thereís a disease spreading out there, try and use some common sense." Literally, that was Swedenís COVID response measures. They had recommendations, while we had legal mandates. Sweden went to school, ate out, went to gyms, salons, work, gathered, and did nearly everything that theyíd always done. It was business as usual. There is literally a grand canyon of difference in these two approaches. And for what difference? A whopping seven one-thousandths of one percent difference. You might say, well, they donít have thick urban areas like New York City? And Iíd say, well, they do, in their own proportional right. Itís called Stockholm. The fact is, 84% of America lives in Urban areas, and 85% of Sweden lives in urban areas. So factually, more of their country lives in urban areas than we do here in the US. Could that possibly account for a less than 1%.... or seven one-thousandths of one percent difference in the COVID mortality rate? I have no idea. Iím not a doctor, or an epidemiologist, or a news anchor.
But something huge is amiss here. Our outcome is virtually no different than Swedenís, but we shut down while they stayed open. And our shut down quarantine mandates have created incredible repercussions. Weíve squashed freedoms while we murdered our record breaking economy. Weíve killed tens of millions of jobs. If youíre not one of them, imagine what itís like trying to find a job right now, and put food on your table when not only is no one hiring, no one is going to work and companies are closing up shop left and right. Thereís not enough internet space to list all the repercussions, but I can tell you thereís been a 24% increase in domestic violence, and suicide is up. A federal emergency hotline for emotional distress has recorded a 1000% increase in call volume for April 2020 over April 2019. America is quite literally, and collectively, going out of their mind.
What Iím saying is, we as a country are suffering from garbage in, garbage out. Weíre not operating on reliable data, and we never were. No one knows how many people have had the disease, or have the antibodies. Just like no one knows how many people in China have actually died from it. Itís sad and exhausting to operate in this climate. And we canít really blame it on politics. They themselves are making decisions off of terrible data, because we the people force them to. If they act, half the country is infuriated, if they donít act, the other half of the country is infuriated. None of these "models" actually work. The amount that we donít know about COVID19 grossly outweighs what we actually do know. But what we also know, is that Sweden did almost nothing, and America did almost everything, and the two outcomes were the sameÖ not even one one-hundredth of one percent different. So wear a mask, or donít wear a mask, but give grace to the other side - because neither side is making decisions off reliable information. We are living in our own micro world right here in our neighborhoods. Some of us are America, and some of us are Sweden. While the numbers might show there is no difference, the two sides can at least respect each other.