Keep calm and be Wyoming

Posted 4/30/20

As Wyoming prepares to lift public health restrictions, there are concerns this will lead to a second surge of COVID-19 cases that will put us right back at square one or worse. Like most things …

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Keep calm and be Wyoming


As Wyoming prepares to lift public health restrictions, there are concerns this will lead to a second surge of COVID-19 cases that will put us right back at square one or worse. Like most things about this virus, no one really knows what’s going to happen, but a rise in cases — as well as deaths — is a possibility. It’s also possible that Wyoming’s economy will rebound much quicker than other states, which will stave off a host of problems associated with poverty.

Gov. Mark Gordon has been criticized throughout this pandemic for not passing stronger measures to protect the public health. Sweden is in the same boat. Unlike all the other European countries, Sweden didn’t enact the “shelter in place” orders. Large gatherings of people are banned. Visits to care centers are restricted, and colleges are closed. Otherwise people are mostly free to make their own choices. Hair salons, shops, and restaurants remain open. Schools for younger kids continue to hold classes.

Rather than “flattening the curve,” the country has tried to create herd immunity in which more of the population develops a higher level of immunity through wider exposure to the virus. Flattening the curve slows down the infection rate in order to prevent overwhelming health care resources. It may produce lower death rates, but the primary goal is to spread cases out over time so health care resources are not overwhelmed.

Critics of Sweden’s approach point to its per capita death rates from the virus, which are higher than its neighbors Norway and Finland, both of which have strict public health orders. While the rates are higher, Sweden has lower per capita death rates than other neighboring countries — namely the Netherlands, Spain, France, Belgium and the United Kingdom — all of which enacted heavy restrictions.

To that point, Sweden’s critics argue that Norway and Finland more precisely mirror Sweden’s demographics. Italy, for example, has an older population than Sweden. But Sweden’s demographics are not that different from Belgium and the Netherlands, both of which had tight restrictions. Montana has similar demographics to Wyoming and much stricter shelter in place orders. Our northern neighbor has seen 17.1 deaths per million residents, compared to Wyoming’s 4.05 deaths per million residents.

These correlations should be taken with a grain of salt. They’re not scientific by any stretch. There are a lot of factors that impact death rates from COVID-19, and trying to find a causal relationship between public health orders and deaths will lead to misleading conclusions. The truth is no one knows for certain if Sweden and Wyoming took the right approach or not. Sweden might find itself next year a prosperous nation while its neighbors languish in poverty, or it might find its health care system overwhelmed with dying patients in the next month.

Having the room to try different approaches, though, might provide good insight that will help us better respond to future pandemics. This was the goal behind states’ rights. It allows us 50 incubators of democracy that try different approaches to solving all kinds of issues, including global crises like the coronavirus pandemic.

Wyoming, as well as a few other states, bucked the trend. Years down the road we might find our coronavirus death rates were not too different from other states, but our economy is in much better shape. We might find that we made some mistakes. Looking at the cases and death rates so far, it doesn’t appear our approach will turn out disastrous. So it’s good we had some room to try something different. We might teach the other states a thing or two about how to handle a crisis.

As Wyoming prepares to open up again, it would be good, though, to remember that this experiment in liberty can go disastrously wrong if we don’t exercise some responsibility. Just because you can get a haircut or hit the gym doesn’t mean the pandemic is over. You need to keep washing your hands. Continue to order take out, cough and sneeze into your elbow, work from home if you can, and don’t leave your house if you’re sick. If we do this right, Wyomingites can prove liberty, even in the worst of times, is not such a bad thing.