Second only to China, where COVID-19 originated, Italy is the country most ravaged by the spread of the contagion.
The reasons for this are, well, complicated, to say the least. But the tragic effects are unavoidable.
Sunday saw the highest number of COVID-19 deaths in a single day in a single country. Not in China — in Italy. In one day, 368 deaths. Yesterday 349. Making the total deaths in Italy 2,138 since February 20th, when a 38-year-old man checked himself into a hospital and tested positive for the virus.
The northern Lombardy region of Italy has taken the brunt of the damage. And it's starting to show. Makeshift triage units have popped up. Tents full of tired doctors clad in full-body hazmat suits, including bright green sacks that cover their shoes and hoods and eye-gear.
Hospitals are inundated. As one Italian doctor put it, "The outbreak has put hospitals under a stress that has no precedents since the Second World War."
"War." They have repeatedly used this image when describing the spread of COVID-19 through Italy. And for good reason.
On Thursday, a group of health care specialists released guidelines for dealing with COVID-19 with what she called "catastrophe medicine."
"In a context of grave shortage of health resources," the guidelines say, intensive care should be given to "patients with the best chance of success" and those with the "best hope of life" should be prioritized. And that "in the interests of maximizing benefits for the largest number," limits could be put on intensive care units to reserve scarce resources to those who have, first, "greater likelihood of survival and secondly who have more potential years of life."
Yesterday, a hospital in Brescia, a city of 200,000 people in Northern Italy, ran out of ICU valves. The closed-system stop-cock-like levers that allow nurses to control the flow of blood or medication or, in some cases, even the contents of a feeding tube. Without ICU valves, hospitals become far more dangerous for everyone. They are part of the sterilization process. Attempting to run a safe medical facility without them would be as foolish as trying to drive a car without suspension springs: You can do it, but it'll be messy, and the car won't last for long.
Technology will save us, as usual. Stephen Hawking said that "Science can lift people out of poverty and cure disease. That, in turn, will reduce civil unrest." But the technologies that arise will be unexpected, as has always been the case.
As Elon Musk said, "If anyone thinks they'd rather be in a different part of history, they're probably not a very good student of history. Life sucked in the old days. People knew very little, and you were likely to die at a young age of some horrible disease."
Within hours, they designed and produced new valves.
Back to that Italian hospital I mentioned, the one in northern Lombardy region of Italy, that ran out of ICU valves. A local business rushed to the hospital with a 3D printer. Within hours, they designed and produced new valves.
So far, last we checked, "10 patients are accompanied in breathing by a machine that uses a 3D printed valve."
We are still fact-checking and investigating this story, we received the tip through Twitter, and we will update you as more details emerge. Since we discovered the story, it has been confirmed by La Stampa, a reputable Italian newspaper. Who just gave us an update on this story: The supplier of the ICU valves was upset with the hospital's decision to accept 3D-printed valves, and he refused to provide any sort of blueprint files.
The point I want to make is about the power of technology. Because this is also not a rebuke of any sort of healthcare apparatus. I'm not railing against the medical device industry. Or even the supplier of the valves. It's not their fault.
I recently discovered an article from a academic journal out of Johns Hopkins, the article was titled "Impact of Technology on the Emergence of Infectious Diseases"
It begins by noting:
"Technologic advances during this century have led to unparalleled improvements in comfort, productivity, and life span… The impact of technology on the practice of medicine is among the most salutary changes that has occurred during the twentieth century."
Who could have imagined that one of the breakthrough advances of the COVID-19 pandemic would be 3D printing?
In fact, an entire movement has emerged. It's called Project Open Air. As I mentioned, we're still vetting this ongoing story, but Project Open Air, by all accounts, is a legitimate organization that has been heralded by scientists and engineers and academics, including Scott Horton, director of the Libertarian Institute.
Five days ago, a 40-year-old Portugese scientist studying Neuroscience at Harvard named Joao Nascimento took to Twitter to spread the word about Project Open Air, which was then comprised of a small group of Harvard scientists.
"We are working on medical devices, such as open source ventilators, to have a fast and easy solution that can be reproduced and assembled locally worldwide. If you have any skills that you consider might help, join us @https://www.projectopenair.org/"
In 24 hours, the group had assembled 500 of the greatest specialists in the fields of engineering and medicine, from institutions like MIT, CalTech and Stanford. A week later, there are now 2,500.
Their medium? Slack. The application of the business world, a kind of mega-sized chatroom for entire companies or groups. We use it here at BlazeMedia and Mercury Radio Arts. Another technological innovation that has unexpectedly advanced medicine.
By the end of this chaos, after we've buried the dead, the coronavirus will likely have advanced technology by five years.
By the end of this chaos, after we've buried the dead, the coronavirus will likely have advanced technology by five years. In 2020, that's an awe-inspiring achievement.
In the words of John F. Kennedy,
"Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce."
Remember — as we trudge forward, as we spend the next days and weeks confined in our homes staring out at a motionless world — remember that we are nonetheless advancing. We are always advancing.