CORONAVIRUS: DAY-DREAMING

As of yesterday the number of cases of COVID-19 in Italy reached 105,792 with 12,428 deaths. Here in Lombardy there are 43,208 cases, and 7,199 deaths. As bleak as those numbers are there has been one encouraging sign in the last few days. Yesterday we saw the lowest amount of new cases in the last 13 days. Although the number of deaths continues to hover between 700 to almost 1,000 a day, the rate of infection has slowed down. On March 21 there was a daily increase of 6,557 new cases. Yesterday, March 31, there were 4,053 new cases. The experts tell us the reduction in new cases is a sign of two things: first, the lockdown measures are working and second, it signals we are close to a decline in the number of deaths. In other words, we are finally at the much anticipated peak. Sadly, here everyone knows someone who is sick, or worse, someone who has died. It is a relief that we are finally seeing a little light at the end of the tunnel.

As we enter into week five of the lockdown, I find myself day-dreaming of places I’d like to visit once we are able to travel again. One of the places I’d like to return to is the town of Stresa on Lake Maggiore. Stresa is a beautiful resort town which is bustling with vacationers from all over Europe in the spring and summer months. Just a week before the virus outbreak, my family and I visited Stresa for the first time. The town mostly shuts down in winter and given that tourism had, by February, slowed significantly,it was virtually empty when we visited. Aside from being a quaint town with glorious lake views and grand hotels, there are three little islands a short boat ride from town worth exploring. These islands, bought by the powerful Borromeo family in the 1600s, were originally just clumps of rocks which were transformed into livable places. The most famous island, Isola Bella, named after Isabella Borromeo, is where the Borromeos have their summer palace along with a magnificent garden. Unfortunately, the day we visited, Isola Bella was closed but we were still able to take a short boat ride to Isola dei Pescatori (Island of the Fishermen).

isola dei pescatori and Stresa, lake maggiore

We were blessed with sunshine and clear skies.
Isola dei Pescatori is a small collection of houses, restaurants and fishing boats.
The highlight of my son’s day was skipping rocks on the water.
The island’s little empty alleyways are a photographer’s dream.
The pedestrian streets of Stresa are generally empty in winter.

While this lockdown continues, I’m looking forward to returning to Stresa and I’ll continue to day-dream and plan future trips to explore “Il bel paese.”

CORONAVIRUS: LOSSES IN LOMBARDY, PART 2

This week brought horrific losses here in Lombardy. Yesterday, there were 627 deaths in Italy, the highest number yet. Sadly, this brings the number of deaths in Italy to 4,032, making Italy the country with the most deaths attributed to Coronavirus.

Of the 47,021 cases of Coronavirus, 22,264 of them have occurred here in Lombardy. To date, the hardest hit provinces with the most deaths are Bergamo (5,154), Brescia (4,648), and Milan (3,804). This week there have been so many deaths in the town of Bergamo that the Italian army has been called in to transport coffins (see the videos below). Morgues are full, cemeteries are at the brink, and because of the stringent measures in place prohibiting gatherings, the dead do not get the funeral they deserve. Mourning families who weren’t allowed to be at the bedside of their loved one, not allowed to comfort and reassure them as they suffered through their last moments, are left doubly heartbroken.

The Italian army transporting coffins.
Coffins lined up in a cemetery in Bergamo.

Last night the Protezione Civile, who hold a daily press conference announcing the dreaded COVI-19 numbers of the day, announced that the “peak” they anticipated would happen by Sunday, March 22, is nowhere in sight. They don’t know, they can’t predict when it will come.

The mood here in Lombardy has shifted from laughing at funny quarantine videos and singing on balconies, to that of shock, disbelief and grieving. As I write this, a friend is in the hospital, gasping for air, fighting COVID-19 alone. He is my age with a wife and two young children. Another friend, mother of 7, and her teenage son have the symptoms of the virus, fever and cough. Not a good sign, but I’m hopeful they’ll only have a mild case.

As the death toll climbs the government is cracking down on its citizens, handing out fat fines to those who are out for no good reason. Until recently, here in Lombardia, lone joggers and dog walkers have been going out (as I did) citing a health necessity. Now, it seems even those activities are discouraged. I haven’t walked my dog in almost a week. I’m thankful I have a yard where my dog can chase a ball and get some exercise and where, on a clear day, we can enjoy the precious afternoon sunshine. I know most in the Milan metro area do not have the luxury of a small yard. Most are quarantined in small, cramped apartments, their only escape is a balcony or a view out a window.

Today, I went through photos, reliving happier times. I found some beautiful photos of Bergamo (see below) taken by my son, a blossoming photographer and videographer. Bergamo is a short 40 minute drive from here and we often go there to enjoy the views from the Citta Alta, the old medieval heart of the city that sits on a hill, walls in tact, with stunning views of the valley on one side and the Alps on the other. I know one day we’ll return to take a passeggiata and eat brasato at our favorite restaurant. Until then, I pray for the city, that their citizens would heal, and that all the losses in Lombardy, and the rest of the country, would come to an end.

CORONAVIRUS: BRACING FOR THE PEAK

As of 6 p.m. last night, there are 27,980 cases of Coronavirus and 2,153 deaths in Italy. We had our second day of losing over 300 people in a 24 hour period. Yesterday there were 349 deaths, one of which was a relative of a dear friend.

POSITIVI = POSITIVE, GUARITI = RECOVERED, DECEDUTI = DECEASED, CASI TOTALI = TOTAL CASES

Over the past week I’ve grown increasingly concerned that so many people in the U.S. and other places dismiss the gravity of this virus. They simply don’t get it and won’t listen to us here in Lombardia, the Wuhan of Europe. The young selfishly disregard the danger because they think they’re not at risk, never stopping to think they could be asymptomatic and carry death itself to their grandparents or other vulnerable person. Then there are the skeptics who think the media has exaggerated the danger, so they go about their business, ignoring the call to stay in their homes. They can’t be bothered to be inconvenienced temporarily in order to protect and save those weakest in society. They’re the experts, knowing everything and scoffing at those who disagree with them. The sceptics are giants in their own minds.

I’m no expert, but I do know basic math and the numbers don’t lie. The numbers are terrifying. The mortality rate ranges from 5-9 percent depending on location here in Italy. The median age of those who die is 64 (see the graph below). The experts say we might reach the peak this coming Sunday, March 22. By the end the week, Italy might have reached 30-40,000 cases and hundreds of more deaths. In Rho, the next town over from us, an enormous indoor fair grounds is being converted into a make-shift hospital. We’re bracing for what’s to come. All we can do is listen to the authorities, help the elderly, do our part and pray. Thankfully, in the last few days the U.S. is finally taking some action, but is it enough? I fear not.

CORONAVIRUS: LOSSES IN LOMBARDY

Last night, as all of Italia received the news of the latest COVID-19 numbers, you could almost hear a collective, national sigh of grief. 368 people died in a single day, the highest number of deaths in one day so far. The new death toll is 1,809 nationally, 1,218 of those deaths are here in Lombardy. As we approach the peak of the virus this week, we’re bracing ourselves for the worst.

This morning, as I read the local news and as I skimmed through the headlines, I read story after story of the suffering in Bergamo, a town 40 minutes north of here. Of all the provinces of Lombardy, Bergamo has suffered the worst losses. One article in particular brought me to tears. The author describes the situation in Bergamo with chilling detail: a burial takes place every half hour, everyone has either lost someone or knows someone who has died, a whole generation is being wiped out. He goes onto to say that, in Bergamo, no one is singing or clapping from their balconies. He ends his article with these words:

“Perhaps this massive loss of life has not been understood nationally and internationally because we are a reserved people, we don’t like the limelight. Yet we would like to shout out to all the world: stay at home, protect yourself. This storm named Coronavirus is taking a generation away from our society, a wealth of wisdom and love: there is no time to waste. Who can and has understood holds loved ones as if under a display case, venerates them as a relic. Protect them against any contact with the outside world, because outside this invisible glass it would be the end for them. No, even if we wanted to, we could not sing and applaud on our balconies: our hearts are swollen with pain.”

Pray for Bergamo, pray for Lombardy, pray for Italy. May this come to an end soon.