Not only am I not a doctor, I've never even impersonated one on TV. That said, I live 25 miles away from the epicenter of the Covid-19 breakout in the Western World, so what I know is first-hand, not filtered by politics or economic interest. At the time of this writing, three people I knew contracted C-19 and have died from it. So what I am writing here in my hopes may be of some use to you.
1. What is COVID-19
It's like pneumonia, only worse. The usual symptoms are fever (in almost 90% of the cases) and cough (70%); other symptoms of course may occur. The resulting sum can lead to death, especially if gone untreated for too long.
However know that it's a virus, and like everything else in the Universe, its existence follows a bell-curve: from zero it spikes, flattens out, retreats, and is gone. This is what we have to get through. The first case in Italy was identified in the town of Codogno, like I said 25 miles from here, in the region of Lombardy, on Feb. 21. Cases spiked immediately, and almost exactly one month later, the curve apparently has finally started to retreat, certainly thanks to the containment measures. So, if the diminishing of cases is confirmed, at this time it appears that we're looking at at least two months of this stuff, from beginning to end - depending of course on how effective the containment measures are (I'll get to those in a minute). That probably means three months between outbreak and some return to normalcy.
2. Why was northern Italy hit so hard
Our Patient Zero was a German guy who met with a lady who proved positive. This guy then came to Codogno for business and left, unfortunately forgetting the virus behind. Interestingly, the outbreak in Codogno was far more rapid and deadly than in the German guy's hometown.
Why? The reason has to do with geography, population, and industry. Most of the populated areas of northern Italy are in the Padana Valley plains, which have mountains on three sides and the Adriatic on the fourth. Lombardy, which is situated in the middle of this virtually windless valley, is home to 10 million people and if you include the Piedmont, Emilia and Veneto regions, millions more people and just about all of Italy's industry.
All of these people heat their homes in winter and drive their cars, while industry does what it does, including heavy transport. One of Italy's largest steel mills is practically within sight of my home. And to top things off, in winter there is usually an atmospheric inversion layer trapping all the emissions close to the ground. The result, if you look up an air pollution chart of Europe, is that the Padana Valley has by far the worst air pollution situation in all of Europe, primarily formed by NoX and microparticulate matter in suspension. Pm10 in particular often goes past over 100micrograms/c.m. in Cremona (the "watch out!" amount is 50).
Air pollution obviously affects peoples' lungs, and that's where C-19 comes into play. It has fair game of those with any chronic lung condition.
3. How bad is the coronavirus?
A small percentage of those infected show no symptoms at all. A majority have mild issues and just staying home is enough to get over it. A smaller percentage need hospitalization, a smaller yet intensive care. So far in the Province of Cremona (population 360,000) we've had 332 deaths.
Regarding the prognosis it must be said that while almost nothing works in Italy, we do have an excellent health care system. While the virus has strained resources to the limit, the limits are barely holding, also thanks to additional equipment and doctors from the U.S., China, and even Cuba. Some overflow patients are now being sent to Germany.
The thing is, everyone in Italy access to doctors, medicine, tests, and hospitals (with very limited or even no co-pay), and almost unlimited paid sick leave. In addition, the government stepped in to allow business owners like myself to close up shop and still ensure salaries paid to employees. Under these conditions, it is clear that risks of contagion were reduced drastically because everyone can stay home and not infect one another. For those of you in other countries, this might not hold, and thus the bell-curve might cover a longer timespan.
4. How do you get it?
The virus is transmitted via water droplets in the air: someone infected who is breathing, coughing, sneezing. So you can pick it up through your lungs. If the virus lands on a surface - such as the handlebar of a shopping cart - it can be picked up by your hands and enter your body via your mouth, eyes, or nose if you touch them.
5. Who is most vulnerable?
The older you are, the more dangerous it is (fatality rate is only 0.2% for those age 0-20). Men are more affected than women. The average age of the death of people having C-19 in Lombardy is 81. I stress however that in 2/3 of the cases, the victims had pre-existing pathologies, including cancer. Pathologies that are complicated by C-19 seem to be especially cardiovascular diseases, lung issues, diabetes and immune deficiency.
6. What to do
China successfully contained C-19; South Korea did an excellent job, and even in Codogno there have been no more new cases in the past three days. Europe is working on it (but we have no idea what's going on in Russia). What to do at this point however is clearly is proven:
I'm sure I've forgotten something, but I wanted to write this as soon as I could. Feel free to share with your loved ones. Good luck everyone, and may the Supreme Being bless us.
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