What I’d like my US friends to learn from Italy re Coronavirus
Our Coronavirus journey began on February 11 when we landed back at Linate Airport in Milano after a month’s vacation in the US. The death toll in China had gone crazy, and the first death in Europe had happened in France. Italy was on alert. As we walked towards the exit after baggage claim, we were screened by hazmat clothed workers with a touchless thermometer to see if we had a fever. Wow, we thought – that was unusual. The country changed dramatically in the next few weeks as millions were put in “restricted travel” for weeks, and ultimately the entire country went into quarantine on March 11, a month after we returned home.
We are often asked “what went wrong in Italy to make it such a hotspot”, and the answer is, we’re not sure anything “went wrong”. First of all, I’m no expert on this at all, and am only writing this missive to give my family and friends in the US my perspective of what’s been going on, and sharing some key information that I’ve gleaned from respected websites and authorities. Two key places I think you should be looking are WorldOMeter and this great article by Tomas Pueyo entitled “Coronovirus: Why You Must Act Now“
Italy approached this issue head on in a way that was very unusual, not only for Italy, but seemingly for the rest of Europe. Italy started testing very quickly and efficiently, and thus the reporting of numbers seemed unusually high and fast moving. It seems like the virus found a stronghold in Italy first, and due to it’s geography, didn’t migrate very fast out of the country. As a peninsula, when things got “hot” in Northern Italy, most Italians who tried to escape went south rather than going to other countries. So the spread moved down Italy rather than up and across to neighboring countries. Italy also proved that it is difficult to have “limited” quarantine. As I mention, Northerners fled to the South. Areas of Italy that really had been unaffected, suddenly had new cases. Even though to the rest of the world, it seems like Italy acted swiftly, in reality the Italian government has bemoaned that they didn’t act soon enough. Even the lag between increasing the “Red Zone” on March 8 and locking the entire country down on March 11 is seen as a mistake by the government. Limited quarantine hadn’t worked. Everyone in the country needed to participate.
Thus, we watch the US carefully, almost like watching a movie unfold where you know the outcome, but so strongly want to yell to the heroine “don’t walk down the stairs, don’t you know what is in the basement!?!?!”. We know that there is a fear of “panic” in the US, but what you really need to fear is “inaction”. Getting scared enough to act isn’t a bad thing! Being complacent is the worst thing that can happen in the US right now. We hear “but we only have 2,000 cases in the entire country, what are we worrying about?” Unfortunately, every graph looks the same for this particular virus. Here are a few examples from WorldOMeter:
Note that these are all moving generally at the same pace when they start their upward trajectory. The only thing that is different is the date when the rise starts. Since COVID-19 cases are estimated to double every 4-6 days on average, it’s important to look at the beginning “day” of these graphs to understand why it really is important that you “only” have 2300 cases so far in the US. Italy only had 2300 cases on March 3. That means Italy has doubled it’s cases every 3.66 days. Here are the stats on how many new cases have been reported each day (also from WorldOMeter).
Of most interest in these stats is yesterday’s “new cases” in Italy and the US. Italy had a bruising 2,547 new cases yesterday, while the US only had 550. However, if you look at March 4, Italy had 587. That’s 10 days ago. This means that within 10 days, if the US takes the same trajectory as Italy, the US will have over 17,500 total cases.
Of course, there is a lot of skepticism about the US numbers. As of March 9, 2020, Italy has tested 60,761 people, or 1,005 people per million of the population. The US has tested 8,554 people, or 26 people per million. Italy has taken a much different tact when deciding who to test. Italy has tested anyone who has symptoms, AND everyone they can find who has been possibly exposed by those with symptoms or who have tested positive. The US is only testing people who have active symptoms. Canada seems to be doing the same. For example, Justin Trudeau’s wife has tested positive, but the prime minister himself has not been tested. Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Ted Cruz, and others in Congress have been directly exposed to Coronavirus, but have not been tested. Ted Cruz has put himself in quarantine, but the President and Vice President were together at a press conference yesterday with other government officials and industry leaders, touching the same podium, mic, and shaking hands. This would NEVER have been allowed in Italy. And every one of those people would have been tested. If you aren’t testing, your numbers will be low.
So, yes, we worry about our US family and friends, because we know the risks here. A quote by Dr. Michael Osterholm essentially says “Winter is Coming”. He says that the US is treating this like a “Coronavirus Blizzard”, when in reality it’s going to be a “Coronavirus Winter”. This won’t pass in a couple of days.
This dilemma between wanting to preserve personal freedom in the US and protect the public is starting to become more pressing. In the US right now, many State and local governments, school districts, business owners and individuals are making their own risk assessments as to whether they should take this threat seriously. Here in Italy we can no longer make those decisions. They’ve been made for us. So, the best thing you can do as Americans is to stand on your right to your personal freedom, and choose your RIGHT to stay home! There is no other way realistically to stomp out this virus. Italy’s giving this virus the boot!
Thank you for your insight and experience