Covid-19: the European epicenter

Italy | March 2020

“We Take the Dead From Morning Till Night”

At the moment when the coronavirus was ripping through northern Italy, working on assignment for The New York Times, I gained exclusive access to the Red Cross workers who were going door to door around Bergamo, the hardest hit part of Italy’s hardest hit region, to check on those who were infected and take the worst of them to the hospital.

It was a devastatingly intimate view of the way the coronavirus was tearing apart family after family in the close-knit region. Working cautiously in goggles, gloves and respirator and clothed in a hazmat suit, I traveled with the workers in the ambulance, and entered the bedrooms, living rooms and kitchens of families ravaged by the virus.

The simple surroundings I encountered belied the significance of what Bergamo had become: at that time, ground zero for the coronavirus in all the world.

When the children said good-bye to mothers, fathers and grandparents who were hoisted onto dollies and taken away, no one could know if it was for the last time. The work did not end at the front door, however.

I entered overwhelmed intensive care units and overcrowded hospital corridors lined with Covid-19 patients.

In the most tragic cases the families allowed me to follow them to cemeteries for the pared down yet poignant ceremonies that only the closest relatives could attend.