Fox News host Laura Ingraham is apparently trying to revive the conservative media fascination with Sweden’s decision not to lockdown to control the spread of the coronavirus -- even as the country is back in the news owing to the failures of its strategy.
A group of 25 Swedish doctors and scientists published an opinion piece in USA Today on Tuesday, with a straightforward warning in its headline: “Sweden hoped herd immunity would curb COVID-19. Don't do what we did. It's not working.”
We do believe Sweden can be used as a model, but not in the way it was thought of initially. It can instead serve as a control group and answer the question of how efficient the voluntary distancing and loose measures in Sweden are compared to lockdowns, aggressive testing, tracing and the use of masks.
In Sweden, the strategy has led to death, grief and suffering and on top of that there are no indications that the Swedish economy has fared better than in many other countries. At the moment, we have set an example for the rest of the world on how not to deal with a deadly infectious disease.
But Ingraham is still pushing for America to emulate Sweden. Her rhetoric matters because not only has she been Fox’s No. 1 misinformer on the COVID-19 pandemic, she was also reportedly advising President Donald Trump in the early days of the crisis. Ingraham reportedly urged him to promote the unproven use of the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine to treat the virus, and then she later objected to the Food and Drug Administration revoking its emergency authorization of the drug.
And as Trump and members of his administration have started attacking Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, much of their rhetoric has mirrored Fox News and other right-wing media sources, including Ingraham herself.
On the July 21 edition of The Ingraham Angle, Ingraham hosted popular right-wing “COVID contrarian” Alex Berenson to again champion the Swedish model. During the segment, Berenson made multiple claims that were verifiably false or misleading.
“If you look at the overall picture in Sweden, they have had fewer deaths per capita than Italy, France, the U.K., or Spain -- four major European countries,” Berenson said. “They have done it without blowing up their education system, without major shutdowns that have been societally disruptive.”
Using the statistics for those four countries Berenson named, Sweden’s death rate from the coronavirus per million people actually surpassed France in early June, and it is now on track to match Italy soon. (The United Kingdom had also been an early cause célèbre of some Fox hosts for pursuing a “herd immunity” strategy despite being a major hotspot — right up until Prime Minister Boris Johnson changed course and imposed a national lockdown strategy in late March.)
The most apt comparison for Sweden is arguably not a disparate grouping of relatively faraway European countries — all of which were early hotspots at the very start of the global pandemic — but rather its immediate neighbors: Denmark, Finland, and Norway. And by that measurement, Sweden has been an absolute failure in keeping the death counts down, compared to its neighbors which have kept their numbers relatively flat — and which have also shut their borders to Sweden.
Berenson also claimed: “There's reason to believe if you look at the more recent data, they will not talk about herd immunity. They — I don't like to use that term, but they may have actually gotten there or close to there because deaths and ICU admissions are very low this month. … So it's still too early to tell that they've definitely gotten through this, but the signs are positive for them.”
Berenson’s claims about Sweden actually achieving the “herd immunity” goal are also easily disprovable. The USA Today piece by Swedish scientists noted: “The proportion of Swedes carrying antibodies is estimated to be under 10%, thus nowhere near herd immunity.” (Numbers released about a month ago put the figure at 6%.)
A study published this month by the University of Virginia School of Medicine and Sweden’s Uppsala University also shows a finding that, under other circumstances, would’ve had Fox News and other right-wing media outlets howling about “death panels” and the rationing of care.
Sweden’s unusual approach also saw fewer patients admitted to intensive-care units than expected. But the country has seen a higher percentage of COVID-19 deaths in older patients outside ICUs than other countries when ICU beds were not limited. That suggests health authorities there have considered patients’ chances of recovery in deciding who receives access to intensive care, the researchers say.
Indeed, during the 2009 debates around health care reform in the United States, Ingraham herself was one of those right-wing media voices warning about government bureaucrats delivering a “mandatory counseling session” over what type of care her own father would receive.
And as a final point: Sweden’s mortality rate from the coronavirus is “30% higher than that of the United States when adjusted for population size.” So why would anyone suggesting that America emulate another country — let alone somebody like Ingraham, who has spread racist conspiracy theories about how Democrats supposedly want to “change the country, any way they can” — then select a country that is doing measurably worse on the key measure of a discussion?