Roberto Pesenti is the former United States Bureau Chief for Rome’s largest daily newspaper, Il Messaggero.
I am currently quarantined in Italy and as I have watched what happened in my country, it is crystal clear what America needs to know and do. Now.
Watching from Italy as the coronavirus sweeps across the United States, I think that mandatory prevention measures are necessary to stop the spread. The U.S. will need to go as far as my country did 10 days ago.
Italy’s situation today could be America’s in a matter of days. Lombardy — one of the wealthiest territories in Europe hit by the coronavirus — shows how an outbreak, almost overnight, can spiral into a full-fledged crisis when officials don’t prepare and react too slowly.
Italy has banned mass gatherings and barred citizens from traveling outside of their home region — forcing more than 60 million citizens to self-isolate — and even threatened penalties, including prison, for quarantine breakers.
In Italy, those measures weren’t implemented proactively — only as a desperate countermeasure after health officials started to see coronavirus cases climb.
Italy’s current national health service, the Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN), provides free universal care to patients, yet remains under-funded.
We did our best but we were not completely prepared.
We do not have enough doctors for all the sick. Many doctors and nurses are infected, they are working long shifts and are exhausted. And the number of intensive care beds will not be large enough if the virus keeps spreading.
Doctors are reporting having to choose in the intensive care unit which patients to treat: the oldest or the youngest.
In the meantime more than 24,000 Italians have tested positive for the new coronavirus, more than 1,800 have died, and hospitals are at a breaking point.
As I write this report I have been secluded since the beginning of March, with my wife Ilike, in our home in Liguria, 200 kilometers from Milan — a town at the center of the Lombardy Region.
We cannot not shake hands with people.
We have to be careful in touching door handles, elevator buttons, ATM screens.
We keep more than one yard distance from other people.
We cannot stay in a group with more than two people.
We go out only to food, beverages and drugs, with special authorization and only within the borders of our village.
We wash our hands many times a day.
For a society as communal and physical in its habits as Italy, social distancing has been an extraordinary blow. Restaurants and bars are closed, invitations for dinner are forbidden.
Shops have been shuttered, with the exception of food stores, pharmacies and a few more, along with public spaces such as cinemas. Public events have been banned and schools have been cancelled. The penalty for defying the lockdown can be jail or a fine of $234.
Inmates are banned from having visitors or day releases, sparking protests at prisons throughout the country. But it needs to be done. The whole goal of social distancing measures is to decrease the epidemic’s peak and take that pressure off the health system.
This kind of approach is long overdue throughout America. New York is now beginning that effort by closing non-essential public places, but the country needs to move faster and more broadly.
At risk are literally millions of Americans with chronic conditions and people who require medication for diabetes, seizure disorder, and high blood pressure. That care needs to not get interrupted.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.