Report from Italy: Nursing homes in the frontline of COVID-19

By Francesco D’Amico (CPEC), 22nd March

In Italy, so far, most of the COVID-19 contagion is spreading in some provinces of the Lombardy region, notably Lodi, Bergamo, Brescia and partly Milan. The epidemic started in the Lodi province, which was initially included in a “red area”, where population was isolated in order to reduce the contagion.

The contagion has spread quickly throughout the North of Italy, including Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna and Veneto regions and, although at a slower pace, throughout the rest of the peninsula. At the moment the number of cases in North Italy count for more than the 70% of the contagion.

References from media:

  • Interview with Federico Trebbi, social care worker from Bergamo, ANSA news agency, 20/03/2020

Main messages: Within the province of Bergamo, people who show-up to an A&E are not let in, unless in critical condition (when is too late to act), even for people as young as 45 years old. Older people (e.g. aged 87 plus) who present COVID-19 -like symptoms, with comorbidities (e.g. Alzheimer’s) or even without particular additional illnesses  are looked after (out of necessity) within care homes. Older people with a diagnosis of interstitial bilateral pneumonia are therefore extremely likely to die of coronavirus, as care homes are not appropriate places for receiving this type of health treatment.

Whilst death is an expected occurrence within care homes, the dramatic effect of this COVID-19 is resulting in many older people dying at the same time, within the space of days/weeks. Additionally, social care workers face the risk of being infected themselves. The social care worker being interviewed mentions to having had a fever of 39C within the previous week and to be left in tears and afraid to die. Social workers do not have enough Personal Protection Equipment available to prevent being infected (e.g. masks and other level of eye, facial, and body protection). This lack of protective tools puts at risks the health and the life of social workers and, as one of the consequences, the social care support itself.

  • News article on a series of deaths within the care home of Mombretto (Milan province), Il Giorno newspaper, 19/03/2020

Main messages: Within the last weeks 44 out of 150 (almost a third) of the persons admitted within the a care home in Mombretto have died due to causes associated to COVID-19. Numbers have been confirmed only recently, as a number of hearses has been seen coming in and out the care home. In the case of COVID-19, relatives of the patients are not allowed to visit their loved ones, due to the risk of spreading the contagion to themselves and to others. One of the persons interviewed in the article mentions being only able to wave at her mother from the window.

  • News article on the lack of face and body protections (masks and protective suits) for social care workers could lead to a high level of infections and deaths within care homes, online newspaper, 18/03/2020

Main messages: Up to 300,000 residents living in 7,000 care homes in Italy are at risk, with 1 out of 3 residents currently living in the one of the area at high risk of COVID-19 infection in northern Italy. Examples of infections and death have been occurred in the care homes in the towns of Medicina (Bologna province), Barbariga and Quinzano (Brescia), Merlara (Padova) and Comeana (Prato). Lack of protective masks and suits creates a risk for care home staff, residents and their relatives visiting.

Suggested citation: D’Amico F (2020) Report from Italy: Nursing homes in the frontline of COVID-19. Article in, International Long-Term Care Policy Network, CPEC-LSE. Available at

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  1. Pingback: Covid-19 outbreaks in residential and nursing homes: lessons learnt from Spain, Italy and the UK and some resources – Resources to support community and institutional Long-Term Care responses to COVID-19

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