Our need for caution is made obvious by the following excerpt from correspondence Technical Society member Jim Beavers had with a friend of his, John Schneider, a seismologist, who with his wife has been living in Italy since 2016 working for Global Earthquake Model (GEM), a world organization for earthquake modeling.
Very nice to hear from you and sorry for not responding sooner. Smart move to go into quarantine for a month; hopefully that will be enough. Jill and I are well, but have been in a progressively deepening quarantine for nearly a month already, with 2 weeks of the current lockdown to go, and an almost certainty that it will be extended beyond that. Needless to say, this situation occupies our minds to an obsessive degree. We are constantly washing our hands and feel quite nervous leaving our apartment for any reason. GEM remains functioning with all of us working remotely, mainly from home.
Below I share with you some of my observations and a bit of armchair analysis of the situation in Italy.
On 20 Feb, Italy recorded 3 cases, and on the 22nd there were 79 recorded cases and the first deaths occurred. On the 23rd in Lombardia public events and the universities started shutting down and suspending or cancelling activities. At GEM we started working from home and avoiding restaurants, bars and public transportation. A few towns nearby went into lockdown. Note that this occurred the day after the first death in the country.
By March 8th there were over 7000 cases in Italy and 4000 in Lombardia. Lombardia went into lockdown and two days later, all of Italy, with only essential services open. For the past two weeks the quarantine has meant we have been allowed to leave our homes only for essential purposes (e.g., food and medicine), and occasional exercise, but with strict observance of social distancing. We are subject to arrest if we are out without a self-declaration of purpose (a form we must fill out and sign everytime we leave the house). Police patrol the streets to break up any gatherings. The streets are empty, with the occasional person walking a dog or carrying groceries. Abbracci (hugs) have been replaced by masks and furtive looks that say, “Don’t get near me”. Despite the control measures, Italy is about to top 50,000 cases, with about 22,000 in Lombardia; and the death toll is over 4000, with 2500 in Lombardia alone. Hospitals and morgues are over capacity. The army was brought into Bergamo yesterday to carry away hundreds of bodies. Yesterday, the government announced that all parks are now closed, so no more exercise, and the lockdown is going to be extended beyond the original 3 April deadline.
Although the stats are grim, there is actually evidence that the lockdown is working to some degree. Two weeks ago the doubling period for confirmed cases was about 3 days, and it is now extended to around 5 or 6 days nationally. In the province of Pavia, the doubling period has extended to about 8 days. Without the lockdown we would probably have 100,000 cases by now, instead of 50,000. My guess is we will do well to limit the total cases to less than 100,000 at the end of the next two weeks, but to do that means getting the doubling rate to shift from 5 days to 30 days. If we get there, we have to keep the pressure on to try to achieve some sort of steady state (x new cases per month) that can be managed. I don’t see total containment, i.e., no new cases, possible for at least 2 months, and to do so means maintaining the strictest of quarantines. Keep in mind that although 100,000 seems large, it is still under .2% of the population, so keeping the active cases to a minimum is critically important until, hopefully, we have a vaccine.
I hope this gives you some idea of what could happen where you are and the importance of observing the quarantine. Stay well and take care of one another. Sorry my news could not be more optimistic, but we are doing our best to stay out of the way.
Jim Beavers is an internationally recognized expert on buildings designed for withstanding earthquakes and he was scheduled to be the Technical Society speaker in May 2020. His presentation will be rescheduled at a later date.
The next scheduled Technical Society meeting will have James Tente, Chief of Building Inspections & Plans Review, as speaker on June 8, 2020.