In the last 72 hours, I have read a lot about what is needed to flatten the curve. It’s a lot, more than most people understand. We need to take many measures that in normal circumstances would be considered extreme. I stand by that panic is bad, and that it is real – hoarding masks and medical supplies are real and serious problems. Above all, we need to maintain societal order and cohesion. But we are in deep trouble here in Stockholm.
After sharing an infographic three days ago, I got some pushback that I didn’t really understand at first. Two friends thought that I was promoting complacency, while I felt I was promoting attentive but measured proactive behavior. One of them ended up unfriending me over it - even though we basically agreed on the major points. A very strong reaction and a strong signal should not be wasted. This led me down the path of spending eight hours last night getting even more familiar with the data, setting up my pipeline of data so that I could better understand what was happening. I looked at a lot of numbers, graphs, and plots. But what really hit home for me was a series of tweets from the ground, from a hospital in Northern Italy.
This is what I am worried about happening in Stockholm. Doctors having to choose which life to save, letting some people die unattended because they are old or far gone. We can prevent this from happening by flattening the curve and keeping the load on our hospitals from breaking the system.
Countries that are prepared, like South Korea or Hong Kong, manage to keep fatality at 0.5%. When systems get overwhelmed, it is rather 5%. We can prevent 9 out of 10 deaths by being prepared!
This estimate, and much more, came from a very insightful Medium post.
After reading up for the last 24 hours, I came out with a changed understanding of the situation. I think there is no denying it - Covid-19 is going to hit us very badly in the next week or so. Stockholm is likely to be very badly hit by Covid-19. Worse than most cities, by my predictions. In a 2 million people city, we already have around 250 confirmed cases, of the total 500 in Sweden. Out of those 500, only 35 were confirmed a week ago. Community transmission has been confirmed, and today we had our first death.
It is not looking good. It has been a well-known fact for a couple of years that our hospitals in Stockholm are already at full capacity and the regional government passed a budget earlier this year that cut funding further, no joke.
Everything we can do to #flattenthecurve is paramount. And I can now better understand the pushback from those friends 72 hours ago, since they probably felt a lot of frustration towards what they felt was complacency. We should indeed cut back on contact, work from home when we can, practice social distancing, cancel public events and take plenty of other measures in the next couple of weeks.
However, there is also a tone of “blame the incompetent government” and “this useless society that will crumble at the smallest crisis” in the Swedish discourse. This is directly counterproductive. Sowing distrust in public institutions is the last thing we need when we might be about to face a crisis where it is paramount that people get accurate information. You may think they are incompetent, you may think they are wrong, but when your only response to that is to ignore what they say and trust what you read on social media, you are begging for chaos. We need to have faith, not because of authority, but in all of us as a society. We need to improve our cohesion and tune in to a common cause. That’s how we beat this.
I am also truly worried about how the distrust in society and everyone-for-themselves sort of bunker mentality will play out. I think that keeping calm but careful keeps us compassionate, and there are plenty of examples of how a crisis plays out when we lose compassion. The people I was arguing with didn’t rate that risk as high as I do, and that is fair enough. I won’t be smug about it though – the pushback of these two people made me spend another 8 hours looking at the data and reassessing the situation. Having a number of people in a society going very far is pushing the overtone window towards caution, and that is probably a good thing.
So what am I doing this week?
Last week I started plans to order 25 liters of ethanol and a liter of glycerol to make large amounts of hand sanitizer to hand out to people around me if stocks keep running out.
Started contingency plans for Noden, Blivande, and cancellation of all events I am involved in.
Washing my hands whenever I arrive somewhere.
Working a lot more from home.
Avoiding public transport when I can.
Going out less, a lot less.
Reading up, spreading the word. Especially making sure that friends and family in risk groups are well informed about the risks and developments.
And because I find it soothing to really understand the data, I have set up my own real-time updated dashboard with calculations that I find relevant to keep track of. If you have any use for it yourself, go ahead. Among other things, I am keeping track of how Sweden is developing in comparison to Italy (disaster), Germany (systems still standing) and South Korea (reversed trend).