Interview. We spoke with Mirko Tassinari, the secretary of the family doctors’ association in the province most affected by the coronavirus. They might be over the peak, but the danger is not gone.

Bergamo doctor: ‘Official data is the tip of the iceberg’

“When I read the news, I hoped it was an April Fools prank, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. But this is no joke,” Mirko Tassinari tells us, the secretary of the family doctors’ association of the province of Bergamo, the city most affected by the coronavirus. The “news” in question refers to the 600,000 masks delivered by the Civil Defense that the Federation of the Orders of Physicians has said should not be used because they are not authorized for medical use.

More than 66 doctors have died from the coronavirus and hundreds are ill. And now, to add insult to injury, comes the scandal of the non-certified masks.

“In the Bergamo area, more than 140 family doctors out of 600 have become infected, and five have died. I call it a state tragedy, because the loss of health workers in the line of duty is not only a tragedy for their families or for the profession, but it affects all citizens. Delivering masks without certification means going to work without knowing whether we are protected or not, it’s a very dangerous thing. Just 15 minutes ago I received news of another one of our colleagues from the province of Bergamo who has died.”

What hasn’t worked this month, and whose responsibility is it?

It is not my job to assign responsibility, but I can see the facts, and I saw that here in Lombardy, in the first month, we were completely focused on the hospitals alone, abandoning the territory and not providing personal protective equipment, not understanding the extent of the problem and what problems might arise with home care. We have accumulated more and more patients who are not being treated in hospitals because the hospitals are full. The number of intensive care beds has been increased, and this has saved many lives, but it has not been enough. Just as much attention needed to be paid to the territory.

Lombardy has been reducing the use of swab tests for a few days now. What do you think about that?

You have to choose who to test. Now, there is a pandemic here that involves a significant part of the citizens’ households, and if we don’t have swabs for everyone, we have to decide together who to test. I would propose two categories. The first is health workers, because people who see their family doctor must not risk getting infected. The other—and this is a huge problem that we are seeing now—is the people who will have to go back to work. You have to be very careful and not reignite local outbreaks.

The official figures say we’ve reached the peak.

That data has to be taken with a grain of salt, first of all because there are different testing policies from region to region, and secondly because it doesn’t represent all the people who are ill with the coronavirus. In the province of Bergamo, we estimate about 100,000 cases of coronavirus patients compared to 9,000 official ones. The official data represents the tip of the iceberg, but there is everything else that is submerged underneath.

But the number of new cases is decreasing — are you getting fewer calls?

There are fewer calls from people reporting the onset of symptoms. But there are very many calls for monitoring the tens of thousands of people who are sick at home. Among my 1,500 patients alone, there are about 200 of them who need medical assistance at home.

The investigation conducted by the newspaper L’Eco di Bergamo regarding deaths claims that the real number of deaths is more than double the official one. Is that true?

Double might even be an underestimation. Analyzing the data from the official registries of deaths is certainly the way for us to get closer to reality.

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