LODI, Italy — One infectious-disease doctor said coronavirus had hit “like a tsunami” at his hospital, where more than 100 out of 120 people admitted with the virus have also developed pneumonia.
Another hospital nearby is facing staff shortages as doctors have become patients.
Doctors, virologists and health-care officials on the front line of Italy’s battle against coronavirus, in more than a dozen interviews, described a health-care system stretched to its limits — a situation other countries may face as the virus spreads.
In an effort to cope, Italy is graduating nurses early and calling medical workers out of retirement. Hospitals in the hardest-hit regions are delaying nonessential surgeries and scrambling to add 50 percent more intensive-care beds.
“This is the worst scenario I’ve seen,” said Angelo Pan, the head of the infectious-disease unit at the hospital in Cremona, noting the prevalence of pneumonia complications. He said 35 patients in his hospital required intubation or mechanical ventilation to breathe.
Italy has been conducting extensive testing for coronavirus, including testing people who do not exhibit any symptoms of covid-19, the disease it causes. As of Tuesday evening, 2,263 people had tested positive. Of those, 1,263 were hospitalized, including 229 cases in intensive care. Seventy-nine people had died.
Experts say that although most covid-19 cases tend to be mild, the clusters in northern Italy are resulting in more severe cases because they are hitting an aging population with a high incidence of cancer and other underlying health issues — the demographic most vulnerable to the disease.
“The situation is quite bad in the epicenter of the outbreak,” said Giovanni Rezza, director of the infectious-disease department at the Italian National Institute of Health. “We have a very old population, they need hospital support and assistance, and it’s a very high burden for the hospitals in that area.”