Italy's Coronavirus Deaths Top 13,000, But May Be Vastly Undercounted

A Wall Street Journal review of death trends in Italian cities and towns suggests the nation's overall coronavirus toll may be far worse.

Italy's Coronavirus Deaths Top 13,000, But May Be Vastly Undercounted
Massimo Paolone/LaPresse via AP

In Italy, the days begin with tributes and moments of silence for the fallen. The country's official coronavirus death count tops 13,000 people. That's the highest of any country in the world. 

The Wall Street Journal reports that the actual Italian toll may be substantially higher. That's because many people who are dying were never tested for the coronavirus and never made it to a hospital.

U.S. officials have pointed to Italy as a potential grim marker because its trajectory of infections appears to track with current American trend lines. 

Here's one example The Journal offers to explain why Italian coronavirus deaths may be undercounted. Take the town of Coccaglio, population 8,700. All of last year, it had 85 deaths. Last month alone, 56 people died. But only 12 deaths were confirmed to be a result of COVID-19, the respiratory illness triggered by the virus.

In March of 2019, the more populous city of Bergamo had a total of 125 deaths. Last month, The Journal reports, it had 553 deaths. But only 201 could officially be linked to the coronavirus.

As the pandemic has overwhelmed the country, Italy has had neither the time nor the resources for post-mortem tests, medical professionals told The Journal. 

In early March, the Italian government ordered residents throughout the country to shelter at home to curb the virus spread.

On Wednesday, Italy recorded 727 coronavirus deaths. That was the lowest count in a week. Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza says the rate of new infections is trending downward. 

He said "drastic measures" Italy is taking are "starting to yield results." He also said: It will be "a long battle."

For Newsy, I'm Peter Hecht.

Contains footage from CNN.