Credit: Isabella Jones & Gary Baker | Courtesy

The United States and Sweden have taken vastly different approaches to handling the COVID-19 pandemic. One Cal Poly alumnus is getting a first-hand view of the Swedish approach.

Gary Baker is a Cal Poly alumnus and member of the Board of Directors for Swedes Worldwide and the American Chamber of Commerce in Sweden, and his experiences offer a unique insight to the way governments are handling the COVID-19 pandemic.

Having grown up in the U.S. and lived in Sweden for the past 21 years, Baker pays special attention to both American and Swedish news. Due to Sweden’s more relaxed approach toward coronavirus, Sweden has gotten considerable media coverage. 

“Sweden kind of has a unique voice in the world and I think people enjoy looking at what Sweden does because we have always been perceived as a little on the fringe, a little bit different,” Baker said.

While closing high schools and universities, Sweden opted to keep open daycares and elementary schools as well as restaurants and bars open if they maintain social distancing. 

Sweden’s COVID-19 response has been relatively relaxed with restrictions. According to Baker, there is not much visible difference when he goes outside now in comparison to before the pandemic. There are no crazy lines outside of grocery stores like there are here in the United States, he said.

“We shut down universities and high schools but beyond that, I don’t know that we have shut down much of anything, maybe public swimming pools but I can still go to the library, we can still go to restaurants, we’ve been able to go to bars all along,” Baker said. 

The Swedish government’s reasoning behind their unique response is to achieve herd immunity or what they call, “flock immunity.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines this as “a situation in which a sufficient proportion of a population is immune to an infectious disease — through vaccination and/or prior illness — to make its spread from person to person unlikely.” According to Baker, Sweden’s government wants approximately 60 percent of the population to get the virus and become immune. 

“Early on the public authorities went out and said ‘our goal is not to completely stem the spread of COVID-19 but to control the burn, to avoid the surge that we saw in Italy,’” Baker said.

As of May 5, Sweden has 22,721 cases with 4,074 recovered. Sweden’s top epidemiologist said their strategy is working and “herd immunity” could be reached in Stockholm within weeks, Sweden’s Public Health Agency, told CNBC.

“If you go into total lockdown then you lose that ability to reach a flock immunity you’re basically delaying the process until you let people go back out,” Baker said. “It’s still going to spread.”

As for why the government chose this approach, Baker said it has to do with the total impact it has on Swedish society and the government’s capitalistic nature. With their more lax response, businesses are not affected heavily as they are here in the United States.

Some of the major differences between the U.S. and Sweden that make their decision different is their access to healthcare, high number of single family and single person households and lower population.

“That is something that you don’t see much of in Sweden and in fact that is a major difference between Sweden and what we see happening in the U.S.,” Baker said. “Over half of the households in Sweden are single person households.”

While there are some people staying at home, Baker said that coronavirus has not brought as much change in Sweden as many other places worldwide. The grocery store is  as busy as always and people generally respect social distancing. 

“It’s not New York, it’s not Milano but we do have some hot spots… but there’s not that much of a difference,” Baker said.

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