41 Italian health care workers have died from COVID-19: 'It's as if a storm hit us'

Italian health care workers load a patient in an ambulance.
(Image credit: Emanuele Cremaschi/Getty Images)

In Italy, more than 5,000 health care workers — doctors, nurses, technicians, and paramedics — have become infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus since it first emerged in the country in February, with 41 dying.

Most were infected while working in the northern regions of Italy, the areas hit hardest by the coronavirus when it first started spreading. In those early days, health care workers did not have enough protective equipment. "It's as if a storm hit us," Roberto Stellini, a doctor in Brescia, told The Guardian. "The problem is that when this storm hit us we were unprepared, perhaps ignoring what might have been the consequences. Some of the dead were doctors who died at the beginning of the emergency, when we knew nothing about this storm. I knew some of them. Now we are more prepared and we continue to fight."

As of Thursday night, there are 80,500 confirmed coronavirus cases in Italy. Doctors say their mental health is suffering, and they are struggling with their working conditions. A doctor in Lombardy named Anna told The Guardian she is "working in a context I never imagined as a doctor. But when you see COVID-19 patients, above all when you see how they die, in complete solitude, then you forget about your own fatigue. Each doctor also has a personal situation of their own. For example, I have not seen my children for five weeks."

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A study recently published in the Lancet showed that in Hubei, China, where the COVID-19 outbreak began, 70 percent of health workers are experiencing extreme stress, 50 percent reported feeling depressed, 44 percent have anxiety, and 34 percent have insomnia. Psychologists believe Italian health care workers will likely face the same issues at the same levels.

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