COVID-19 Day 26: No man is an Iceland


In the nightly news coverage of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, you hear about Italy, Spain, China, etc. But one country hardly mentioned by media or health officials in Iceland. The land of volcanos, ice, and Björk, is also a country dealing with COVID-19.

An ideal scientific study of an epidemic requires a sizable and isolated population of test subjects. This is nearly impossible in a world where people can travel by air, rail, car, or their feet. Iceland, an island nation in the middle of the Atlantic, is a unique exception.

Iceland reported its first confirmed case on February 28. Today it has over 1500. That number may seem small compared to the US, with +130,000 cases in New York City alone. But in proportion to its population of 365,000, Iceland has the highest number of confirmed cases of anywhere in the world! It has also tested a greater percentage of its population than any other country (5 times more than South Korea). In addition, they tested “healthy” individuals as well as individuals suspected of having the virus.

Iceland’s broad testing has helped create a clearer picture of COVID-19 statistics. Their case death rate is 0.27%, which is even lower than South Korea and Germany’s well regarded 0.5%. Iceland’s rate of COVID-19 patients requiring critical care rate (ICU) is a remarkably low 0.7%, lower than any western nation. These numbers make COVID-19 appear far less deadly than previously modeled.

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But before drawing too many conclusions, it should be noted that Iceland’s population is younger, healthier, and happier than most western countries. Unlike larger countries, Iceland has been able to trace and quarantine those infected with the virus. That, along with its modern health systems have helped keep the rate of new cases among the lowest worldwide.

The most surprising discovery in Iceland’s tests is that 50% of individuals who were tested were asymptomatic. That means that, “healthy” people had the virus, didn’t know they were sick and likely infecting others unintentionally. This high percentage lends greater weight to widespread mask-wearing by the general public and the importance of social distancing.

It’s still early days for Iceland and their new case rate has still yet to peak. We can only hope that the hopeful numbers show in Iceland bode well for the rest of the world.


What We Should Have Learned From Iceland’s Response to COVID-19

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