Category Archives: The Pandemic of 2020

Teeny Tiny Thanos

The drama of the past few weeks will offer study material for virologists, epidemiologists, and public health specialists to last a generation. Another interesting aspect to review will be how communication shaped the perception and the public response in the early stages of the contagion in Europe. It took a while for people in Europe to grasp the gravity of the situation and act accordingly. What was missing in the messages about the epidemic?

Anna Nardello

We still have a lot to learn about the virus but we can already say with confidence that we are dealing with a teeny tiny son of a bitch who is also incredibly cunning. Cunning and mean. Like a Teeny Tiny Thanos. 

How cunning? Well, first and foremost, he found the perfect way to spread very widely. Like all of his kin, he needs a host to survive, but many of his cousins play tough and die while killing the hosts, or make them so sick that social distancing instinctively or forcefully kicks in. Teeny Tiny Thanos, on the other hand, invites himself in, and, all too often, gets all snuggly without bothering the host at all. Or maybe causes only a little fever or a nasty seasonal cold. But while all silent and polite, he is already shedding away with gusto. Contagion galore without making noise. Very cunning.

Secondly, in a stroke of marketing genius, he got himself a cute little name. So cute that we made beer jokes and crown jokes, and soon we were blabbering away like expert virologists that he is from the “same family as the flu, which we all know kills many more people.” 
How on earth did Teeny Tiny Thanos get away without getting “respiratory” or “pneumonia” or even “acute” added out in his name? Of course, if we spell out the full acronym – SARS-CoV2 – we do read “acute respiratory sindrome.” But, who does use this, let alone spell it out? Any name linked to this virus should have immediately flooded our brain with images of respiratory crisis – pulmonary fibrosis – can’t breathe – might need respirator in ICUs – are there enough of those in my hospitals? Next step might have been, what can I do to stop the contagion?  Instead, we thought about the beer, and the many times we went about our daily life when we had the flu. Extremely cunning.

His next winning move was to choose the perfect location for his big premiere. China. So many people, so open to the world, so many opportunities to travel around, at globalization breakneck speed, to the four corners of the world, by plane, cargo, ship… We watched in horror and disbelief as he ravaged China, but we also felt at a very safe distance. And it looked like another peculiar Chinese disease that the Chinese were addressing with unfathomable measures: people locked in their apartments; doctors dressed up like Star Wars soldiers; police patrolling empty streets; hospitals being built in 10 days; smartphone tracking…. China displayed a strange disease and an alien reaction: something we were horrified by but could not relate to. And we couldn’t relate any more to South Korea and its highly technological and digital response.

His latest skillful move was to choose Italy for his European debut. Beautiful country, excellent food, the oldest population in Europe mingling with the younger generations either by necessity or by inclination, millions of tourists, and an innate sense of distrusts for rules. What’s not to like for a mean, cunning virus? 

Most of all, when the world realized that something really bad was happening here, it thought that Italians had, as usual, messed up. They couldn’t get their act together. They socialize too much anyway. They know about food and soccer but what do they know about health care? They react slowly, emotionally, and of course they touch their face with their hands – they are always gesturing! 

So our little cunning virus had all the time to ravage the country before others could relate to Italy, who could not relate to China. And at the same time he was traveling on ships and planes, playing Hollywood celebrity, basketball in the NBA, and soccer in Italy. Even getting very close to playing prime minister in Canada.

But then something finally clicked. It took us a while to get there, but hopefully we are now getting a little bit smarter than Teeny Tiny Thanos. His power comes from using so many of us as transport. There is no need to fight him or run from him. A few of us need to hide — the more vulnerable and fragile. For the rest of us, the most important thing to do is to stop playing Uber for him. It took us too long, but a  collective Avengers mentality is finally emerging – unfortunately still one country at a time, as he seems to have gained a time advantage in every other country through his cunning moves. But we are getting there. The real superheroes are fighting in our hospitals and ERs and ambulances and family practices. The rest of us, millions of minor characters, get to play superheroes while sitting on the couch- the role of a lifetime!

We will isolate ourselves to isolate this cunning virus to protect our most elderly, our sick, and those who need it the most. We will thus buy time to get our health systems stronger. We will support our brave doctors and nurses. We don’t know that it will work, or how long it will take. We don’t know yet if Teeny Tiny Thanos will destroy our way of life in the process. But his time setting the rules is up. This is Infinity War. Endgame is not far behind.

#ItalyLockDown 6

Tough day – 368 deaths today, over 20,000 infected, and, in other otherworldly news, Germany is closing its borders… It is very, very hard to look at Europe right now, with the tragedy unfolding across the continent and every leader handling things his or her own way… So one hopes against hope that all this will be temporary, but it takes a long time to build trust and only a moment to destroy it. When it is gone, how do your rebuild it? For instance, wil parents in the future have the same confidence that their Erasmus student will be able to travel back and forth freely across Europe, at any point in time?

There are currently no flights between London and Vienna, just one of many examples of flight suspensions, and there is no way to know when they will resume.

In all this mess, Alex has decided after much deliberating that he will bunker in London with a roommate, and weather the storm in the UK This only adds exponentially to the anxiety and heartbreak of these tragic times.

I hear that in DC people still go out and about. So am adding a chilling “show and tell” that has already circulated widely on social media: The obituary pages of the local newspaper in Bergamo, a town in Lombardy that has been hit particularly hard.

Stay home. Stay home again, and maybe a little bit more. Good night, and good luck.

Il drammatico aumento dei necrologi sull’Eco di Bergamo

#ItalyLockDown 5

Only a quick note tonight to say that we are ok. Everything looks quiet outside as well as very orderly. Supermarkets are well stocked I hear, like bakeries, produce shops, and so on. Life continues as well as it can in Bolzano, Alto Adige Südtirol, in the year of the pandemic.

I feel mentally exhausted – so am not adding more tonight, as I would only repeat what I said already, and I imagine that some of these are things you will now start seeing in your local news (bar the worst numbers, I pray).

A moving moment today: at midday in the whole country clapped from our balconies to show support for our medical staff. And you might have seen videos of people singing together across buildings as well. A wave of optimistic anxiety (something that a Danish sociologist said we should all need now) signaling that we are all fully aware of what is asked from us while supporting those on the front lines.

In the picture below: this is the closest I have been to my older sister this week. She visits my parents regularly, so we are being extra careful at keeping our distance … My other sister walks up to my door and we chat briefly from afar …

But yes – everything will be alright, like doctors keep telling us, if we do our part … Optimistic anxiety indeed.

Stay safe and stay home!

I miss you, too!

ItalyLockDown 4

Europe is locking down, one country at a time, and every closure is a painful event for every European citizen. I spent the day trying to figure out if, and if so, how, Alex should come back home. Hopefully he can do so on Sunday. Anxiety is mounting at the enormity of what is unfolding in front of our very own eyes. Even Christine Lagarde messed up! So, thank God for the fifth season of Black-ish on Amazon.

I see schools closing and lockdowns everywhere. Many of you will be living the same reality soon, hopefully with less devastation outside – like when you have a hurricane warning but it does not materialize. We humans make a habit of our routines – or routines of our habits? – so now staying inside seems already normal (maybe fear helps in this regard…) And it feels normal that your sister or your neighbor leaves grocery bags outside your door and you chat with them from a very safe distance, even if you are totally fine (thermometers don’t lie!) and life outside your window looks so very normal – just a bit more quiet. Today I looked at our winter coats hanging in our entrance, and I realize we might not need them when we will get out – inevitably, spring is coming.

The news is like a war bulletin: updated numbers of infected, deaths, recoveries … Some good news from the areas in Lombardy that first went into complete lockdown: very few new infections, social distancing seems to work, but unfortunately more cases expected elsewhere, after thousands left Milan in a hurry last Saturday mostly traveling South.

We are now at three deaths: our elderly as always are the first one to succumb. The Red Cross is setting up camp hospitals throughout the region, hopefully they will not be filled. I write this and I don’t believe what I am writing.

I leave you with a corny video about Italy that chocked me up. Sound on (if it works) for the greatest tenor of all times (hope on in all countries!)

You know what you need to do. Good night and good luck.

#ItalyLockDown 3

Not less surreal than yesterday. But today it all became also very personal.

Our hometown registered the first victim, the grandmother of somebody very, very close to us. She was 85 and relatively ok, with pre-existing conditions – well, who among your parents or grandparents in that age group doesn’t have pre-existing conditions?!?She had been admitted only on Monday, with the usual symptoms – a fever and a bad cold; she received a positive test result on the same day. She passed away last night.

So a statistic becomes a person in flesh and blood, who will have to wait until the end of the emergency to have a proper burial, because funerals are currently not permitted. How horribly sad is that.

Also, self-isolation has turned into a formal quarantine. A friend called to say they tested positive … This was not surprising – the virus is everywhere, as the NBA and Tom Hanks have realized, and very widespread in our region, particularly in our nearby ski areas. So it was bound to happen. And in fact, my reaction was not fear, but an even bigger sense of guilt. For not having started social distancing and/or isolation earlier. For not seeing the huge, clear writing on the wall. For having sleepwalked, collectively, into this disaster.

In practice, this doesn’t change anything. We have been in self-isolation since Monday, I was already checking our temperature regularly, so our routine of online lessons and homework for Anna, and obsessive news watching and calls with friends for me continues, except that will will receive a regular call from a nurse to check on us; the protocols so far seem to be working.

Guys, I know I sound like a broken record, but the speed at which things change is really breathtaking. My dad, born in 1933, says he remembers the curfews during wartime, and remembers empty shelves; but does not remember anything comparable to this complete shutdown. He is worried – as he should be, as it seems that the virus aggressively seeks out his demographic. He misses my daily visits and those of his nieces, and, if this wasn’t enough, his beloved Juventus won’t play for a long while.

And still, we are privileged, sitting in our homes, while people get sick, the world is falling apart, and doctors and nurses fight on the frontlines… I think that it is their stories and their pleas that are having an impact and changing attitudes.

TVs, social media, online platforms should get politicians out of the way, even esteemed epidemiologists, and only interview ER doctors and ICUs nurses. It is only when we saw them on the brink of collapse that we had our Kaiyser Söze moment and, like in the final scene of The Usual Suspect, we put all the pieces together. Put the people on the front lines on our screens.

Don’t wait. Stay safe, get ready, stay home. The more you do this, the lighter the wave will be.

(Can’t find the name of the artist will add it as soon as I do!)


I avoided any comparison with 9/11 in the past few days, out of respect for the victims of the attacks and the wars that followed.

But the feeling of loss of all certainties, the feeling that the ground below your feet is giving in, taking you to uncharted territory, is very similar.

The difference is that in 2001 things changed immediately on that clear September morning.

Now, every day, every hour, something else is chipped away from the pillars of our everyday life. And when it happens, we wonder how could we simply take it all for granted?

Woke up to the latest blow just now. By now we know more will follow, maybe today, maybe in the next few minutes. Still, the suspension of travel to our home of 20 years – takes a moment to take in.

Imperative to focus our minds on the light at the end of the tunnel. This will end. The sooner we change our habits the sooner we can rebuild our certaintlies – they will be different of course, but hope and pray that unrestricted travel to the U.S. will again be one of them.


Stay safe, stop touching your face!, and stay home.

ItalyLockDown Day 1

I don’t even know where to start. I can just say that it still doesn’t seem real. Overwhelming mood: sadness.

First of all, lockdown does not mean standstill – shops and workplaces are open, so (fewer) people are out and about, supposedly keeping at a safe distance from each other. Policy makers in Lombardy want a complete standstill in all activities (exceptions for food and health). Wuhan docent.

We are not in a ghost town, but some sense of urgency has finally set in.

[Stop touching your face, BTW]

I have stopped visiting my elderly parents (should have done it earlier!); Anna stopped meeting with friends even for walks (should have done it earlier!) Doing all meetings by phone (should have done it earlier!) And I met my sister for a few minutes, outdoors, keeping at a safe distance…

The disconnect between what little is, in fact, asked of the majority of us (just stay home!) and the enormity of what is going in the hospitals is gigantic. It is brought home only by the dramatic stories from exhausted health workers circulating on social media, all appealing to our sense of responsibility and urging us to stay home, you as!

Just saw that Sanders and Biden suspended campaign events. About time! Maybe some of our pleads to learn from our mistakes are having an impact!

Stay safe and stay home!


Well, that was quick. The whole country is in total lockdown, and, strangely, the news almost came as a relief, simply because it was the right thing to do. Mitigation, mitigation, mitigation.

And about that thing that “only the elderly really need intensive care:” Lombardy’s Welfare Minister Gallera said today that 33% of those needing intensive care, for up to 4 wks, are in the 50-to-64 age bracket. He also described how the region is rushing to increase its ICUs, including by turning ORs into ICUs. And this in the country’s best health care system.

We are now starting to wrap our heads around the enormity of this. We will wake up to a strange new world.

Stay safe and stay home.

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! 😊😷😊