Listen up! Italy has a nation wide policy on Covid that includes a Rapid Response Team. Wouldn’t it be cool if the USA did too? The health care system, under the Ministero della Salute – Ministry of Health – remember, Italy has national health care – Il Servizio Sanitario Nazionale – is administered by each region. What follows is a true tale of fast contact tracing and testing in Southern Italy. The country and regions are working together for the greater good –
It all started in the Sannio Hills with the renovation of the medieval castle below. Man the battlements!
On a Saturday at the end of August, the village of Reino in the province of Benevento held an event to celebrate the grand opening of their restored medieval castle. They got great press and hoped the castle would become a tourism anchor. (That link has a video of this grand edifice designed to ward off all war mongering enemies.) The sun was shining and people, including Pontelandolfo’s own mayor, Gianfranco Rinaldi, enjoyed exploring the space. The following Monday, the warm memories turned cold with fear. The mayor of Reino tested positive for Covid 19. Immediately the town and the Azienda Sanitaria Locale (ASL) – the local health agency leaped into action.
- The town immediately activated it notification system. Masks were made mandatory everywhere in the town of Reino. With outdoor social distancing they had previously eased up on the wearing of masks.
- Everyone who was at the grand opening was contacted. Those contacted helped spread the word. Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and local media all were full of the news.
For example, our Mayor quickly posted his possible Covid contact on Facebook and went into isolation quarantine. Facebook in Pontelandolfo is read by the majority of the citizens. The town uses it to let people know about everything from new laws to weather alerts. The Mayor is a Facebook Friend with just about everyone.
Just how did the town of Reino know who was at the event? How were people contacted so rapidly? How did the Ministry of Health do something that we haven’t been able to do In the USA? One answer is that the majority of citizens in our little corner of Italy have loaded the App Immuni on their smart phones. The idea is simple and doesn’t sacrifice privacy. Immuni doesn’t collect names, dates of birth, addresses, telephone numbers or email addresses. It cannot determine someone’s identity or the identity of those that they come in contact with. It doesn’t save GPS or geolocation data. The data is saved on your smartphone and the connections to the server are encrypted.
Simply put – the App notes where you are, the date and time of the day. That information is saved to your smart phone. If someone else who was in that same place at that same time is tested positive for Covid, you will immediately be contacted through the app. Yeah, yeah all you folks who are afraid of them knowing where you are need to remember that if you have a smart phone, use social media and don’t have an spy quality encrypted phone they probably already do. I realize that not all Italians have a a smart phone and that not all Italians have downloaded the App. What I do know is purely anecdotal from my very politically active sources in the Region of Campania that tell me everyone they know has the App and shares information with elder family members who may not have a phone.
3. Besides the alarm on the App sounding, phones ringing, town websites putting up notices and social media being loaded with information, the province’s Rapid Response Team left the bat cave. The ASL Rapid Response Testing Team set up a mobile voluntary testing site across the piazza from Reino’s castle. Folks got quick blood tests to see if they had Covid antibodies hard at work in their systems. Everyone cooperated. Out of the 746 people in this tiny village who took this quick test 15 people tested positive for the antibodies and went to take the yucky nasal-pharyngeal Covid test. In reality anyone who wanted to could also make an appointment for the full Covid test. Happily Pontelandolfo’s mayor tested negative but remained in quarantine for fourteen days.
4. To control the pandemic, people entering Italy register with the town they are going to and remain in isolation quarantine for two weeks. The police will stop by and check on you. We know that because my cousin, returning from New Jersey to Pontelandolfo, made the mistake of sitting outside on her veranda during her isolation. The police arrived and sent her back inside. We are so blessed in Pontelandolfo that everyone working together for the greater good has kept us Covid free.
Obviously it is much easier with National Health Care and a national plan. I wondered about App use in the USA. Jack insisted he read about Apps were available in the USA but that people were hesitant to use them. Are any connected to government Departments of Health? I wondered if New Jersey’s Department of Health recommended an App. Just for fun, I searched at NJ.gov and then called the General Covid Questions hot line to find out. The gentleman who answered the phone was very nice and put me on hold to investigate. Nope, nada, niente. Unlike Italy, New Jersey residents don’t have access to a tracing application that is coordinated by a government health agency. I asked the call center person to please forward my suggestion that New Jersey needs an App – we can’t wait for the Federal Government – and if there were to be an App it should be mandated. The states I found that have asked citizens to voluntarily use Apps haven’t been successful. North Dakota was the first state. At the end of August, Nevada launched an App. Let us hope that Nevadians sign up. I haven’t been successful in finding many more. Wooo Wooo fear of Big Brother watching seems to be the problem. I’m a theatre kid – I don’t care who watches me, where, doing what or when. Seriously, I don’t care. If tracking where I go can help stem the pandemic, I am all for it. The New York Times just had an article about Apple and Google creating software. Click Here to read the article. If it is coordinated by our home states, I hope we are encouraged to use the software.
As those who follow this blog know, I am not afraid to point out things that don’t work in Italy. We hate to admit it but not everything in Southern Italy is absolutely amazing. This commitment to keeping the population safe, however, is incredible and something that one would hope other bigger countries would copy.