Passing by — The closed States

I recently visited the Bay Area, coming in from Copenhagen, Denmark. The difference of the state of COVID-awareness and lockdowns was simply remarkable. Some of the differences I list will seem obvious, but in general, I think that Danes will underestimate how closed some parts of the USA has been. The point is therefore not to discuss whether lockdowns are good or bad, but simply to list what is happening and present some possible explanations.

Masks:

The first area of extreme difference is masking. In Denmark, almost all masking restrictions are lifted. In SF, not only is masking reinstated, but people wear mask while running, driving in their car (alone) and walking. Mask mandates are applicable all the way down to 2-year-olds. In comparison, children haven’t worn masks in Denmark and mask wearing was rarely seen outside.

Some possible explanations:

#1) Political signaling. Mask wearing didn’t quite get politicized in Denmark, while it seems to be a highly partisan topic in the states. Democrats wear masks and Republicans don’t. The reason why people jog with masks on is to signal political allegiance.

#2) Economical. Getting sick is more costly in the States than in Denmark (in terms of not being able to work, health care etc.).

#3) Helicopter kids. This one is slightly more speculative, but I was very surprised to see that particurarly kids and young people wore masks. At one point, I saw a young man with his family exit a cable car (which is open, so you’re basically outdoors) frantically get off the cable car in a distressed fashion, because people were too close to him. The point here is simply that American kids seem more psychological fragile than European peers, why the mask serves as a comforting device.

#4) Scientific literacy. Americans know much more (or less) on the effectiveness of masks relative to Danes.

#5) Communication by authorities. Americans have used stronger words and images to make people wear masks. This is linked to #1.

#6) Perhaps I’m totally wrong and I’ve just seen a bunch masks and Americans (even in SF) care much less about COVID than Danes.

Lockdowns:

Denmark closed its schools for a couple of weeks in spring, but school for especially small children was never entirely closed — and when it was, solutions were there. The US on the other hand, has literally had its schools shut down since March 2020.

Possible explanations may here be that the U.S. is controlled by a giant and slow machine, which doesn’t have the necessary capability to open and close quickly. Here, a country like Denmark probably has an advantage in being relatively small and easy to monitor (lots of data). Second simple explanation may be that US health authorities haven’t succeeded to think in a sufficiently holistic manner when closing schools completely — but that also implies a low-risk perception of COVID-infections in children.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see how authorities will adapt to the fact that COVID will became a seasonal flu, which will continue to mutate. And by simply taking this quite anecdotal account of two countries, it is obvious that there are vast differences in the understanding of the “science” — which, regrettably, too often is presented as a universal entity with correct answers. The diverging behavior of authorities simply disprove the existence of such a clear textbook.

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Marc Sabatier Hvidkjær

Danish/French/American Political Science student with great passion for politics, economics, philosophy and history.