Italy sets vir­tu­ous ex­am­ple as ground zero

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - FRONT PAGE - By Colleen Barry

CODOGNO, ITALY >> For three weeks, chil­dren’s play has not echoed in the main pi­azza of the town of Codogno, over­looked by a statue of the town’s pa­tron St. Blaise, a 4th-Cen­tury physi­cian. But over that pe­riod, too, the si­lence has been pierced in­creas­ingly less of­ten by am­bu­lance sirens, which in the early days roared through ev­ery cou­ple of hours.

The north­ern town that recorded Italy’s first coro­n­avirus infection has of­fered a vir­tu­ous ex­am­ple to fel­low Ital­ians now fac­ing an unpreceden­ted na­tion­wide lock­down — that by stay­ing home, trends can re­verse. In­fec­tions of the new virus have not stopped in Codogno, which still has regis­tered the most of any of the 10 Lom­bardy towns in Italy’s orig­i­nal red zone, but they have slowed.

In the town of 16,000 lo­cated near the Po River about 40 miles south­west of Mi­lan, al­most ev­ery­one knows some­one among the nearly 200 in­fected with the virus, or the 34 who have died.

When news went out this week that there had been zero new in­fec­tions in the pre­vi­ous 24 hours, me­dia hopes of erad­i­ca­tion were ex­ag­ger­ated. But the trend ap­pears to be real — and one of the rea­sons that led Pre­mier Giuseppe Conte to im­pose a se­ries of dra­co­nian new mea­sures across the coun­tries this week.

Five new in­fec­tions were regis­tered Wed­nes­day, com­pared with 35 a day at the start of the out­break, said Mayor Francesco Passerini, who like most peo­ple in the town wears a mask and who has mourned at a dis­tance with friends who lost their fa­thers.

Those whose lives the virus has claimed in­clude

Um­berto Falchetti, 86, who helped turn the MTA car com­po­nents busi­ness founded by his fa­ther into one of the city’s ma­jor in­dus­trial con­cerns, sup­ply­ing Fiat Chrysler and Re­nault, among oth­ers. “He was healthy, he had no con­di­tions,” his daugh­ter, Maria Vit­to­ria Falchetti, told The As­so­ci­ated Press by tele­phone. He died within a week of com­ing down with a fever.

Over three weeks, res­i­dents have grown ac­cus­tomed to their iso­la­tion from the world, and from each other. They mostly wear masks when they do go out. Hand­shake greet­ings are re­placed with new forms of ac­knowl­edg­ment — a steady gaze, say. “We need to make it our own,” the mayor said of the stillawk­ward pas­sage of cus­toms.

Even with the masks, res­i­dents stead­fastly abide by the 1-me­ter dis­tance rule, as they wait out­side a bank to pay bills, a phar­macy to have their pre­scrip­tions filled, or a bak­ery for a few pro­vi­sions.

While the rest of Italy has had to ad­just to rapidly chang­ing mea­sures, the pace within Codogno has never re­ally changed since the first di­ag­no­sis was con­firmed on Feb. 21 — not even when po­lice and army bar­ri­cades came down ear­lier this week when Lom­bardy be­came one big con­tain­ment zone.

“More than a sigh of re­lief, there was some con­cern over the risk that all of the sacri­fices were in vain,” Passerini said of the open­ing. “We are con­tin­u­ing with our vir­tu­ous be­hav­iors. We have got­ten used to them, with the hope that this emer­gency ends as soon as pos­si­ble, not only in Codogno but in the rest of the coun­try and Europe.”

So while peo­ple can no longer at­tend Mass or swap news at a café, a lo­cal parish ra­dio sta­tion has stepped in to par­tially fill that gap, trans­mit­ting Mass and prayer, along with bul­letins from the civil pro­tec­tion agency and mes­sages from the mayor. Trains no longer stop at the sta­tion — no one is go­ing any­where any­way. And shops for non-es­sen­tials like ap­parel and bi­cy­cles that opened long enough to post signs in­struct­ing cus­tomers that they must wear a mask to en­ter, are shut­tered anew.

“Codogno has been in the spot­light since the very first day,” said Rosy Ron­si­valle, who stopped at a news­stand her way home from the phar­macy this week to pick up a mag­a­zine for her 4-year-old daugh­ter. “We have be­haved well.”

But it has been with great per­sonal sac­ri­fice.

Ron­si­valle im­pro­vised meals af­ter shops — in­clud­ing su­per­mar­kets — were or­dered closed Feb. 21 at 4 p.m., leav­ing her with an empty re­frig­er­a­tor, and ar­ranged play for her 2-year-old son and 4-yearold daugh­ter, who have not been out­side since. Be­side pro­tect­ing them, she must also pro­tect her mother, who has re­cently fin­ished chemo­ther­apy and who had been sched­uled for ur­gent surgery un­til the lock­down made travel out­side the red zone im­pos­si­ble.

“Her sit­u­a­tion is del­i­cate, and doc­tors (ini­tially) said, ‘Let’s op­er­ate right away, we don’t have time to lose,’” Ron­si­valle said. “Now, un­for­tu­nately, there is a lot of time to lose be­cause of the de­mands on hos­pi­tals. There are not enough beds in in­ten­sive care for her, be­cause af­ter be­ing op­er­ated on, ob­vi­ously she would have to go into in­ten­sive care.”

They are now await­ing surgery to be sched­uled. “This is just an­other prob­lem that coro­n­avirus can bring to fam­i­lies,” she said.

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