The Wall Street Journal published a story today on the spread of coronavirus in Italy, which has been the worst hit country in the world outside China. The death toll in Italy has just surpassed 2,500 and the total number of cases is now beyond 31,000. At the current rate, Italy will have more virus-caused deaths than China by the end of the week. But those figures don’t really communicate the horrible situation taking place on the ground the way this story does:
Ambulances here have stopped using sirens. The frequent blaring only adds to local fears. Besides, there are few other vehicles on the road in Italy’s national lockdown.
Most are headed to the Papa Giovanni XXIII Hospital, a large, modern medical facility in a prosperous Italian city that has been overwhelmed by the coronavirus disease. There aren’t enough ventilators to intubate all patients with Covid-19 who have severe breathing trouble. The intensive-care unit is taking almost no patients older than 70, doctors said…
Now, people wait an hour on the phone to report heart attacks, Dr. Giupponi said, because all the lines are busy. Each day, his team fields 2,500 calls and brings 1,500 people to the hospital. “That’s not counting those the first responders visit but tell to stay home and call again if their condition worsens,” he said…
Doctors taking a break at the Papa Giovanni swap stories of woe, including the call from an elderly-care home reporting suspected virus sufferers who were over 80 years old. The hospital said the elderly residents had to stay put.
An Italian doctor on the front line of this crisis told the WSJ, “Every day you lose, the contagion gets worse.” Last week, ABC News pointed out there are several reasons the virus is so deadly in Italy. For one thing, it has the oldest population in Europe, meaning far more people are likely to become seriously ill. Another factor has to do with living arrangements in Italy. It’s common for younger people to live in homes with their parents and grandparents, making it more likely the young can spread the disease to elderly relatives.
Today, Wired points out that in America there are different regions of the country with different demographics. One region know to have an abundance of elderly people is the state of Florida:
Some cities might have far more young people than seniors, and some suburbs are likely just the opposite. Or think about Florida and its masses of retirees. “Florida is like an uber-Italy,” says Andrew Noymer, a demographer at the University of California, Irvine, who wasn’t involved in this research. “Florida is going to be a tough situation, I would predict.”
In a place with so many elderly people, many of them living close together in retirement homes, social distancing will be extra important to avoid disaster. “It’s not destiny to say Florida is going to be absolutely clobbered by this,” Noymer says. “There is time with social distancing to flatten the peak. Maybe we can make this the dog that didn’t bark, so to speak.”
And yet, that message clearly hasn’t gotten through to everyone yet. This is from Sunday:
Students are sent home and they take it to the beaches & bars in Fort Lauderdale Florida right now. Are they wise to have fun like this? pic.twitter.com/SL0i0UCPfR
— Alex Jungle (@AlexJungle2) March 15, 2020
— WFLA NEWS (@WFLA) March 16, 2020
After viewing that clip above, infectious disease experts told Mashable this was a really bad idea:
“This is how it is going to spread,” said Dr. Timothy Murphy, an M.D. and infectious disease researcher at the University of Buffalo, after seeing the video.
“In order for social distancing to work, everyone has got to do it,” said Murphy. “It’s not going to work unless everyone buys into it.”
Another epidimiologist pointed out that this particular beach is full of tourists who will eventually return home and potentially spread what they picked up all over the place:
“Even if you yourself are a healthy 20-something person, you’ll go home and transmit that infection to someone else who might not be as successful in fighting off that infection,” said Amanda Simanek, an epidemiologist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee…
A looming, if not unsettling problem, is that tourists flock to Clearwater Beach. Many Florida beachgoers will then hop in cars (and some on planes) and then disperse around the state or region. “We have to think about what that means for people flying back home,” she said, noting asymptomatic people could very well shed the virus in their communities.
Today, Florida Governor DeSantis announced bars would be closed and beach gatherings would be limited to no more than 10 people.
Gov. Ron DeSantis closed bars across Florida, recommended ending classroom instruction at universities for the semester, ordered a limit of 10 people at beach gatherings and restricted restaurant occupancy to 50 percent, the most aggressive actions by the state so far in the fight against coronavirus.
The moves were taken on a day when the number of Florida coronavirus cases increased to 192 and it was revealed that the virus had found its way into a Broward County assisted living facility and killed a 77-year-old man, an ominous development in a state with many frail seniors in such facilities who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19, the disease caused by this coronavirus.
It’s better than nothing but I wonder how practical it will be to enforce this. Are police going to ride over to groups of 12 and toss them off the beach? Also, tracking the social contacts of the infected backward to alert other people becomes much harder when you’re talking about random groups of strangers wandering about on a beach. It’s like a real-life version of those visualizations the Post published.
Update: Interviews from Clearwater Beach in Florida.
— Jennifer Holton FOX 13 (@jennholtonFOX) March 17, 2020