Coronavirus Caught Us Off Guard. Don’t Let This Happen to You.

March 8, 2020

To all our American friends who recently reached out to us: thank you! So nice to hear from you and heartwarming to know you are thinking of Italy!

The short answer to your concerns is: situation still feels unreal, so many “this has never happened before” moments, but we are all ok; not in lockdown, yet, but social life very limited; just focusing now on doing our parts to try to stop this thing (staying home is the best thing one can do right now); caring for friends and neighbors who need help.

If you want to know (much) more, continue reading!

Just two weeks ago, I replied to your messages with “All is good here, few isolated cases,” while also thinking to myself: “Where do they think we are, Hubei Province?”

Now I would just add: “Are you aware just how quickly your surroundings can turn into a Hubei-like situation?”

As you all know, the government shut down much of Northern Italy overnight, with a communication and logistical clusterf***k that culminated in a 2:30 a.m. press conference by the prime minister.

The shock of having Milan, Venice, Lombardy and so many more places in complete lockdown is hard to convey; the social and economic significance will take weeks to grasp.

And yet, it has been only two weeks since the first COVID-19 case with no identifiable contact with the virus was reported in Italy. The situation has deteriorated so quickly that we went from watching, in disbelief but from a safe distance, what was happening in Wuhan’s hospitals to wondering if we have enough beds in intensive-care units in our country.

All happened in what feels like a heartbeat.

We are doing well so far while living a safe yet surreal situation. Anna is getting used to online school (well, so far only online homework), and Alex is not yet affected in London (but for how long? Will he be able to travel home for Spring brake? Will your kids?) We take extra precautions when visiting my house-bound elderly parents. Theaters, movies, public events — all closed. Telework and conference calls mostly. And now, but just in the last couple of days, we are drastically limiting our social interactions, after spending too long only joking that we should really, really do it. Overall, we feel personally very lucky – Bolzano has wonderful surroundings, spring is inevitably coming, and walking outdoors is the one thing that we can do and can also help our mental health…

Our region — Alto Adige/Südtirol, in the deep Northeast, bordering Austria — is not on lockdown, but the numbers of cases are quickly going up after contagions were reported in important numbers among German tourists following ski trips here. The positive cases will inevitably grow exponentially: it’s just math, at this point. Germany and the European Parliament have classified us as a no-go zone already. The slow response might cost us dearly, but let’s hope we are now acting decisively. The winter season is now coming to an abrupt end, closing down entire valleys, so that South Tyrol can avoid becoming another red spot on Italy’s COVID-19 map.

So, please, do prepare, wherever you are, because the situation can get worse very quickly (as I type the first case is confirmed in DC, many more will follow). Hopefully the rise of cases won’t happen in such a dramatic way as we had here … and I hope other countries will learn from our mistakes – including the mishandling of communication, the initial half-hearted measures, the cavalier behavior of the vast majority of the population so far – but also from more decisive actions now.

Remember that your attitude can also go a long way in this fight: having the right one is as important as being in possession of a bottle of Purell!

Immediately stop any discussion – in your head or with friends — that start with:

“This is just like the flu. Weaker than the seasonal one – which kills more people!”
“The panic will be worse than the disease itself.”
“The majority of those infected will never know they had coronavirus – it will be like a bad cold!”
– “Only less than [pick a low percentage] of infected people die— and they are mostly old or have pre-existing conditions.”

All these arguments will be pointless when the health system of your area will reach breaking point because of the speed of contagion and because we do know that so many patients of all ages will inevitably need a lot of very rapid, very intensive, very specialized care – this is what is happening in Lombardy, one of Europe’s richest regions. The question you need to ask now is how many ventilators your hospitals have – everything less is irrelevant.

Italy’s heroic health care workers are currently posting videos saying how worried they are about the limited number of hospital beds, and wondering in disbelief what part of “We need to stop this contagion!” Italians still don’t understand, as life outside the “red zones” is going on mostly as normal – hopefully the overnight measures might have finally had the intended effect.

Artists are posting viral videos with the hashtag #iorestoacasa (I stay home) as they beg us all to Please. Just. Stay. Home!

Forget percentages, and who is likely to get it or now. Save your mental energy to prepare yourself and your family for what is very likely to come to your doorsteps as well. It’s scary but beatable. Be responsible. Stay home whenever this is an option for you; reduce social interaction to a minimum; follow the WHO guidelines on hygiene; help somebody in need if you can. Once over, we will need to pick up the pieces. Hopefully the world will come together to do this collectively, more so than what we have seen lately on so many issues.

Stay safe. Let me know how you are doing.

And stop touching your face! 😊😷😊

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