Sara Aragno told CNN on Wednesday that 63 out of 150 residents at Borromea Residence, a care home in the Mediglia municipality, had died since early March.
The first of the 63 deaths at the home happened on March 3, in the earlier stages of Italy’s battle with a coronavirus outbreak that has now killed more than 13,000 people in the country.
It is not known how many of these 63 residents had been infected with the coronavirus, because only 36 residents have been tested. All 36 tested positive but not all have died. No postmortem tests have, or will be, carried out, Aragno said. However, doctors might find out more from their clinical records.
Mediglia, a village of 12,000 people in the northern Lombardy region, is geographically very close to the original coronavirus cluster reported in the country.
“I signed an ordinance on February 23 forbidding all non-medical staff to enter in the care house,” the Mayor of Mediglia, Paolo Bianchi, told CNN Wednesday. “I receive every day updated death tolls, and I noticed they were growing and growing.”
It is feared that the actual number of deaths from the coronavirus pandemic in Italy might be much higher than the official number, because not everyone who dies outside of hospital is tested for the virus.
“It is plausible that deaths are underestimated,” Silvio Brusaferro, head of the national health institute, said in a news conference on Tuesday. “We report deaths that are signaled with a positive swab. Many other deaths are not tested with a swab.”
The care home said it had made phone contact with relatives seeking information on their loved ones. “We understand their anguish,” the spokesperson said. “We have taken all the necessary measures: we have divided those with symptoms on a floor and those without in another floor and we check the temperature of our staff three times a day.”
However, that is not always enough to protect the elderly. “The elderly are the most exposed to fatal events, over 80% of the deaths are over 70, hospices without a doubt can represent a reality that favors the epidemic spread,” said Franco Locatelli, head of the Superior Health Council, in a news conference.
According to a statement from the Italian Society of Gerontology and Geriatrics on March 30, Italy’s 7,000 care homes are “neither equipped nor have trained personnel” and they can become “biological bombs of contagion.” The society made the statement while announcing it had started a blood survey to evaluate the effectiveness of diagnostic criteria in nursing homes.
Livia Borghese reported from Rome and Sharon Braithwaite from London. CNN’s Sarah Dean also contributed to this report.