Joe Henderson: Ron DeSantis said Sweden “got it right” on COVID-19. He was wrong

COVID-19 rates are skyrocketing in a country Florida's Governor said we should mirror.

Gov. Ron DeSantis repeatedly praised Sweden’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He used that country’s laissez-faire approach to mandatory restrictions and closings as a model for Florida to follow.

“Sweden got it right,” DeSantis said.

Um, no, it didn’t.

Infections and deaths are skyrocketing in Sweden.

Rates are far lower in neighboring countries Norway and Finland, which took more aggressive approaches to containment.

Sweden’s leadership recently began introducing new measures to deal with the virus. Gatherings are limited to eight people, and high schools switched to distance learning through at least Jan. 6. The nation had continued to hold in-person instruction despite the virus. DeSantis approved of that approach.

Sweden reported more than 71,000 new cases of the virus from Nov. 19 through Dec. 2. In the same period, Norway reported 6,478 cases while Finland had 5,840.

Norway also requires visitors from a country with high transmission (that would be us) to prove a negative COVID-19 test upon entering the country. Everyone who doesn’t have a place of residence in Norway is required to stay at a quarantined hotel for 10 days.

In Finland, officials acted quickly last spring when the virus started its alarming spread. Leaders imposed a two-month lockdown. Travel was restricted, and schools were closed.

Which approach worked best?

DeSantis said he likes to rely on the data, so here’s some.

Through Nov. 18, Sweden reported 196,446 cases.

The other three Nordic countries combined – Denmark, Norway, and Finland – had 115,253.

So, um, how did Sweden get it right?

Better question: Is Florida getting it right?

That’s debatable.

The virus tracking site lists Florida in danger territory in the number of new daily cases. It says the virus is spreading, but slowly, and we likely have enough hospital ICU space to withstand another surge.

The 106 deaths related to COVID-19 on Monday was the highest fatality report for that day of the week since the pandemic began. The total death count from the virus is 19,529 people. That doesn’t sound like getting it right to me.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported last week that DeSantis “engaged in a pattern of spin and concealment that misled the public” during this health crisis.

He’s also not big on using the power of government to mitigate a crisis. While he encourages people to wear masks, DeSantis steadfastly refused, and still refuses, to issue a statewide mask mandate. He even cut the legs off local communities with mask requirements by eliminating their ability to fine violators.

His approach, basically, is that we need to trust people to do the right thing. When they do, that’s great, but how many videos have we seen of large gatherings where people aren’t wearing masks?

It has all contributed to a precipitous drop in DeSantis’ once sky-high approval ratings. A Florida Atlantic poll in mid-October showed a 25-point plunge since May.

Missteps, such as following the lead of Sweden, fueled the collapse.

DeSantis is stubborn, though, and I guess that he will ignore facts that don’t fit his narrative. That leaves millions of Floridians with little choice but to ride this out.

Not a pleasant prospect when many people are already jittery enough.

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.


  • Evan Gillespie

    December 8, 2020 at 9:45 am

    Your reporting is incredibly biased to the point of dishonesty.

    Sweden has not had an excessive mortality rate with the latest “surge”. Also, Sweden had a very low death rate with the last influenza season in 2018-2019, far less fatal than its Nordic neighbors. This left many more at-risk elderly.

    States like Minnesota have surpassed Sweden’s death rate per capita while significantly hindering their economy.

    You speak about DeSantis ignoring facts that don’t fit his narrative. Pot meet kettle.

    Florida is in far better shape than many states that have mask mandates and economic restrictions. In both case numbers and deaths, Florida has done quite well.

    Ironically states with mask mandates now have more COVID cases and deaths than those without.

    I’m saddened someone with a multi-decade career as a journalist can be so biased and unscientific, but my guess is you are beholden to your ideological agendas. Scientific you are not.

    Don’t like DeSantis? Come up to the Northeast US where there are 3 times the level of COVID as Florida and everything is closed in hysterical economic catastrophe.

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