Update from Italy: Wednesday Afternoon

Photo by Brecht Denil on Unsplash.

An epidemic is like a web, though perhaps less symmetrical than this one. There are contacts and transmissions, points of encounter as the web grows. Florence has now confirmed 3 cases of Covid-19. (These are separate from the two tourists who flew through Florence early in February, and who have since made complete recoveries.)

Italy prohibited extracurricular school field trips late last week; the interdiction includes all academic programs, including study abroad programs. Sure enough, yesterday a well-doctored graphic started making the WhatsApp rounds that all schools in Italy would be closed. It was not true, as easily verified on the Italian Interior Ministry website.

Chatting a friend today who made the point, isn’t the virus now present in every European country? Yes, quite possibly, air travel and global mobility being what they are. Italy, as an example, has tested more than 8000 people – not just people known to have traveled and and returned from China in the centers of outbreak, but also everyone with whom they came into contact. France, about 400 tested, mostly the schoolchildren returning from the field trip to northwestern Italy. Higher testing, greater numbers. It’s basic stats. A couple of weeks ago China lowered the bar to confirm Covid-19, and the number of cases spiked the following day. But then they went down, and the news was, cases went down!

I did a little more reading about the incubation period. It’s about 3 to 6 days. The WHO stated that the very long incubation periods initially registered may have in fact reflected a subsequent exposure. The current official estimated incubation range is 2-14 days. The WHO has also estimated that evidence exists for human-to-human transmission has occurred among close contacts since the middle of December 2019. I am also reading up on transmission by asymptomatic carriers. This occurrence is new/unusual, as conventional wisdom holds that humans are contagious when symptomatic. But that does not seem to always be the case with this virus, making transmission hard to track – or avoid.

All of the EU is on this ride, and the US will be on it soon. Again, my main concerns here are that the majority of healthy people who will contract the virus will be carriers and transmitters of the virus to vulnerable populations, that healthcare facilities will be flooded, and true positives will facilitate cross-contamination. (This is why China built a few new hospitals dedicated to the crisis). A vaccine is 12-18 months away, at a minimum. (Maybe this will make some people rethink their opposition to vaccines and their reluctance to vaccinate.)

More news will be coming soon – this is going to be a heavy week.