VO, Italy (AP) — Italy delivered the first shocking confirmation of locally transmitted coronavirus infections outside of Asia a year ago Sunday, with back-to-back revelations of cases more than 150 kilometers (nearly 100 miles) apart in the country’s north.
First, a 38-year-old man in Codogno, an industrial town in the Lombardy region, tested positive for COVID-19, sending panicked residents to pick up their children from school, stock up on provisions at grocery stores and search in vain for surgical masks at pharmacies.
By the evening of Feb. 21, a 77-year-old retired roofer from Vo, a wine-making town in the Veneto region, had died — at the time, the first known fatality from a locally transmitted case of the virus in the West, setting off alarm bells far and wide.
In the days and weeks that followed, densely populated Lombardy would become the epicenter of Italy’s outbreak and, by the end of March, countries the world over would be under lockdowns to slow the spread of the virus that has now taken 2.4 million lives. But Vo, as one of the first towns in the West to be isolated, has a unique story, providing some of the first scientific insights into the deadly virus.
Adriano Trevisan’s death sent shockwaves through the town west of Venice. Trevisan, well-known around Vo and a regular at a card game in a local bar, had been hospitalized for two weeks with circulatory issues related to a heart condition that could not be resolved with drugs, according to his physician, Dr. Carlo Petruzzi. There was no reason to suspect the coronavirus — as the retiree had had no contact with China, until then a key element in diagnosis.
After being advised of the death, Mayor Giuliano Martini, who doubles as the town’s chief pharmacist, ordered schools and nonessential businesses to close and forbade residents from leaving the town, even for work. He asked local volunteer groups to help ensure food and pharmaceutical supplies entering the town were ferried to shelves. The town’s three family doctors were put into quarantine because of suspected contact, and the closest hospital, a 30-minute drive away, was closed.
“It was like a war film,” Martini said. “We were completely alone.”
Surrounded by vineyards and farmland, the town of 3,270 people nestled against Monte Venda has long enjoyed bucolic isolation. But by three days after Trevisan’s death, its isolation was ensured by government decree: Rome dispatched soldiers to seal the town’s 12 access roads. Blockades were also set up around the 10 towns near Milan where the other early case of local transmission was confirmed.
“There was a sense of bewilderment, I would call it,” said Dr. Luca Rossetto, one of the practitioners in Vo. “Even myself, with an old specialization in preventative hygiene, should have the right mindset. But there was an absolute disorientation.”
Rossetto reviewed his recent cases and realized he had seen seven people in the previous days with…