What we’re witnessing in Italy with the coronavirus crisis seems to bear this out.
We’d hoped we’d be starting to see, through the coronavirus measures implemented two weeks ago, a leveling off of cases and deaths. But it hasn’t happened. If anything, it seems as though the coronavirus reach is expanding and accelerating. Consider the numbers that we digested during last night’s news. Keep track of official numbers here.
5,986 new coronavirus cases (in 24 hours)
627 fatalities (in 24 hours). The President of Lombardy believes this is even an understatement.
620 healthcare workers infected (in 48 hours).
The remaining doctors and nurses are working impossible shifts. Many don’t eat or drink during the entirety of a day because if they remove their masks, they don’t have a new replacement mask. That’s how low supplies are running. Others refrain from going to the bathroom (how do they manage that?) because of the breach in their protective gear and making themselves more vulnerable to the contagion.
We watched an in-depth news story on Italian television two nights ago. One interviewed healthcare worker had an angry rash on his face from not being able to remove his mask for so many hours. He is just one of many having this problem.
Why is Italy’s death rate so high?
In Lombardy, which is the region most acutely affected, the healthcare system is beyond strained. The flood of sick people can’t be attended to or triaged as quickly as needed. Add to that many people who wait until their symptoms are severe before they seek help.
A perfect storm requires even stricter coronavirus measures.
Lombardy is Italy’s most populous and affluent region. To onlookers outside of Italy, the region seems to be bearing the brunt of this pandemic. Maybe this is because of the concentration of people and their continued movements. Buses, trains, and metros have still been operating. People have still been gathering privately. Is the Italian government’s reticence to really and fully restrict movement and gathering contributing to the virus’s continued spread?
Coronavirus cases and spread are ramping up in other regions.
Lombardy is grabbing all the headlines because of the massive numbers of new cases and fatalities. But, while other regions may be lagging, their curves are frightening to me. Was it a week ago that Umbria (one of the least populated regions) had just twenty (20) coronavirus cases? Now it’s bumping up against 400.
I watched Dr. Deborah Birx being interviewed yesterday. She was asked about Italy and what is happening here. Specifically, she was asked about Italy’s higher per capita hospital bed availability (under normal circumstances). I think the question was intended to ask about how an explosion of cases would bear out in the U.S., where the beds per capita were lower than Italy’s. She focused on Lombardy as being unique to the current lack of availability or beds and posited that the other regions wouldn’t have that problem. Though I hope I’m wrong, I’m afraid we’ll see similar strained resources outside of Lombardy. The acceleration in the curve acceleration is no surprise to me given that we know that innumerable people (many already having fevers and other symptoms) have poured out of the north on trains for areas in the south.
Now we know that Italy’s coronavirus measures haven’t gone far enough.
Last night we learned that being out of one’s home other than going to the grocery or the pharmacy will be a reason for prosecution. That means no solitary runs, no outdoor exercise. Sure, many people doing these things have been practicing abundant caution. But, other people aren’t, and in these times, that’s a risk that has to be removed.
What have we (Italy) learned about these last couple of weeks?
Restrictions of movement and gathering haven’t been enough, nor have they been diligently enforced.
Over a month ago we all were aghast at the draconian lockdown measures and enforcement in China. For the moment, let’s set aside focus on their “sitting” on this new virus for too long and not alerting the world. But they did blunt the tidal wave through these perceived-to-be drastic measures.
Why didn’t we learn from that? Why aren’t other countries learning from China’s ultimately effective efforts and Italy’s failure to get serious more quickly?
Compliance with lockdown measures has been less than robust.
Many Italian residents did take this seriously at the get-go and hunkered down and were vigilant about staying put for all but the most essential matters (food, medicine). But others didn’t. They defied the restrictions, moving about, and gathering privately.
And, as indicated above, enforcement and communication of consequences have been stepped up in the last twenty-four hours. In fact, the news reported last night that the carabinieri had become aware that private graduation parties were being organized, and were issuing a stark warning that such gatherings will be broken up, by force if necessary, and involuntary manslaughter charges filed.
This illustrates what it takes to get people’s attention.
Just now, I took a short break to pour a glass of wine (yes, I’m allowing myself this mid-day pleasure during these surreal events). I stood at our kitchen window, looking down and watching a policeman stop a man in his car. The guy produced a bag and pulled out what looked like a prescription from the pharmacy. But, that didn’t appear to be enough (perhaps a ruse to be able to move about?), and the officer asked for the pharmacy receipt to confirm that he was on the up-and-up. The guy dug through his pockets and seemed to come up empty-handed. The officer then took down the guy’s information.
We’re settling in for the long haul.
Even with more stringent coronavirus measures now in place, the horse has long left the barn. We have some serious catching up to do. And we’ve had to prepare ourselves accordingly.
Yesterday, in anticipation of the implementation of further restrictions and closures, I did what I’d consider a massive grocery run (two bulging reusable grocery bags). I wrapped my face twice with a long scarf. I donned surgical gloves. I grabbed my iPhone so that I could use Apple Pay to avoid exchanging money or having to touch the little machine for credit cards and debit payments. Outside the grocery (fortunately just steps from our building entrance, I queued up (maintaining at least two-meter distance) with four other people to await being motioned inside.
My shopping took about fifteen minutes of consulting my carefully prepared list so as not to overbuy. I vigilantly dodged incoming people who threatened to encroach upon my safety distance. It didn’t take long for me to feel as though I was suffocating under my scarf. My reading glasses (which I donned to check that I was buying the right things) were constantly getting fogged up. By the time I was checking out and bagging my haul, I was on the verge of a claustrophobic anxiety attack. I staved it off by reminding myself that this run would allow me to stay put in our home for a solid week-to-two-weeks.
As I write this post, I do so with the news of the death of a grocery cashier in Brescia. It’s a sobering reminder of how the people who are serving us in this coronavirus crisis are putting themselves in harm’s way.
What can I do to not give in to despair during this pandemic?
I have no idea how Italy will emerge when this crisis abates. Putting one foot in front of the other in the face of such dire news and uncertainty seems, at times, impossible. So, I shift my attention to what I CAN do:
Stay informed, but restrict myself to smaller, scheduled windows of checking for updates.
Stay away from my iPhone and iPad. Well, at least keep them out of reach for longer periods of time.
Stay constructive. I’ve been working on a large canvas. I now have the opportunity to dive in and lose myself in it. When I’m painting, I’m back in the moment. The heaviness of the coronavirus crisis temporarily falls away, and I find rest for my soul.
Stay connected to the people I love. Like food, this is essential for my total well being. I’m using FaceTime and Skype more than ever. Each time I have a virtual face-to-face check-in, my sanity returns and I feel grounded.
Stay hopeful. But don’t confuse that with wishful thinking. I believe wishful thinking by our leaders and our peers has kept us from digesting the hard, necessary realities. Still, that doesn’t mean we have to surrender to despair. It’s hard for anyone to imagine what life will be like on the other side of all this. But I do allow myself the luxury of zooming to a future point in time when we’re looking back and saying, “We survived and we’re stronger and better for what we’ve learned.”