How One Small Italian Town Cut Coronavirus Cases To Zero In Just A Few Weeks
A small Italian town at the epicenter of the country’s COVID-19 outbreak has reportedly halted all new coronavirus infections. By implementing an experimental method of testing, the village of Vò has successfully reached zero cases. (1)
An Experimental Response
The northern Italy community was the site of Italy’s first COVID-19 death on February 21. Just 30 miles from Venice, the town was put on lockdown as the rest of the country shortly followed suit. While most countries tested for coronavirus in those who showed symptoms or have verified contact with someone who was infected, Vò decided to employ a more aggressive tactic.
In late February, the governor of the Veneto region ordered all of Vò’s 3,300 residents to be tested for the virus. Swabs were administered to the entire population. Those who tested positive were immediately quarantined, many of who did not show any symptoms. Two weeks later, the population was tested again: this time, the rate of positive cases had dropped by 90%.
On initial testing, 3% of the population tested positive for coronavirus–including those who were asymptomatic. Employing strict quarantine measures saw that percentage drop to 0.25. Now, Vò is reporting zero new cases. (1, 2)
How Early Testing Made The Difference
Professor Andrea Crisanti of Imperial College London helped the small Italian town to combat the coronavirus. He told Italian media that it was testing of asymptomatic residents that really made the difference. “It is clear that you cannot test all Italians,” Crisanti said, “but you can test people close to those who are asymptomatic. We must use asymptomatic cases as an alarm bell to widen our action.” According to Crisanti, for every COVID-19 patient that shows symptoms, there are 10 others who won’t. These people are still able to transmit the virus.
In light of the positive results of these measures, the World Health Organization is urging countries to ramp up testing for their citizens. By identifying who has the virus–regardless of their symptoms–patients can be quarantined to stop any further spread. WHO Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus further urged this testing in a simple message. “Test, test, test,” he said. “All countries should be able to test all suspected cases. They cannot fight this pandemic blindfolded.” (1)
While Vò is now one of the safest places in Italy, the rest of the country is still combatting coronavirus. Italian citizens are currently under lockdown, with orders to stay inside except for essential activities. Many other countries around the globe are following suit. However, testing is still not widely available for those not showing symptoms. While this is obviously to prioritize the most vulnerable of the population, Vò’s example shows that more is needed to stop the spread. (2)
A Testing Method Case Study
Many have compared the situation in Vò with a quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship. With similar population sizes, both groups were at risk because of being confined to a relatively small area. The Diamond Princess was quarantined off of the port of Yokohama, Japan with 10 confirmed cases. While the number of cases in Vo decreased, the cruise-liner saw a jump to 712 testing positive. The difference? The way the populations received their testing.
On the Diamond Princess, passengers and crew only got a test if they showed symptoms–and after they disembarked. The number of positive cases could have been dramatically reduced had the entire ship been tested. This “case study” serves as a simple, easy example for the way all countries, cities, and villages should conduct their testing. (2)
How The US Is Falling Short
Vò has shown that early testing of all citizens is key in stopping the spread of coronavirus. Unfortunately, many other countries are lagging behind. The United States, for example, has currently performed about 71,000 tests to date. South Korea, though, has already performed more than 270,000. This discrepancy concerns health experts in the U.S. who say supply is not meeting the demand.
Without knowing exactly who has the virus, it’s almost impossible to fight the pandemic. Michael Mena, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, worries about the lack of testing. “The testing capacity remains extraordinarily limited compared to where we should be,” he told NPR. “In many ways, we are absolutely flying blind at the moment.” (3)
Companies in both the public and private sectors are working hard to produce more tests. Time will tell if Vò’s model will inspire other countries to better contain COVID-19.
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