What was supposed to be a short trip to the United States has turned into an extended stay for former Gold Medal swimmer and current evangelist Peppo Biscarini. He and his wife were back in Chattanooga for the birth of his son’s first child. But after the U.S. government shut down the borders and banned all travel out of the country, the Biscarinis were stuck in Chattanooga.
While he came to Chattanooga three weeks ago, before the country had a serious COVID-19 problem, Mr. Biscarini wanted to get tested for the virus. However, he was unable to and he said no one at the Airport seemed particularly concerned about him possibly spreading the virus.
“I thought for sure the Airport was going to crack down, but they did not ask anything. It was really bizarre,” he said. “We actually wanted to test, because shoot, if we have anything we don’t want to jeopardize the new baby coming. So we even asked how to get a test, and we couldn’t find any information anywhere. So we said we didn’t have any symptoms and let’s move on.”
“Right now I’m basically stuck. I was supposed to fly back in three days and then they cancelled my flight and they won’t resume them until April 17,” said Mr. Biscarini, who has also been an actor and a model. “I was supposed to go to California for my daughter’s graduation too. So we’re just anchored down. But we do have a granddaughter that was just born, so that’s great and has been distracting us.”
Mr. Biscarini described what happened in his native country, where the response by many were eerily similar to how those in the United States have reacted to the news of the pandemic. Many seemed to underestimate how serious the virus is, he said.
“At first, the problem was that people didn’t take it seriously and they thought 'Oh it’s just like influenza and it will go by us and we won’t even feel it,' so they did not take many precautions,” said Mr. Biscarini.
“Then what happened was that our prime minister was about to propose a new mandate to lock down the northern part of Italy. But unfortunately his right-hand (man) leaked the information. So a lot of people that came from the south but work up north, all of a sudden they took off through planes, trains, and cars. They just migrated. And then all of a sudden, people that have it are going to spread it all over the place.”
Mr. Biscarini then detailed why Italy has struggled as the pandemic has worsened in the country. Because of how COVID-19 affects the lungs, respirators are needed to treat patients.
“The biggest problem that we have in Italy is that our health system is not the greatest. Up north it’s okay, but in the south it is a mess,” said Biscarini. “So in all of Italy, we have about 10,000 artificial respirators, and when I started reading more about the disease and how it affects people, I realized it was going to be a problem.”
Because of this shortage of respirators, doctors in Italy are having to make difficult decisions. He said that is the thing that differentiates COVID-19 from being “just the flu.”
“Even though influenza kills more people, this one is highly infectious and once you get into the acute phase, you will need a respirator. Especially if you are 70 and up,” said Mr. Biscarini. “I was talking to some physician friends and they were saying they only had five ventilators in the hospital, and we get 20 people coming in, well which five are really serious cases? So we have to decide which ones can die. So of course they take the younger one and let the older one go, but that’s a rough decision to make.”
Mr. Biscarini’s medical friends have a foreboding message for the United States. While the numbers for infections seem to be high, Mr. Biscarini says that those numbers could look like peanuts compared to the “true” number of infected people in the United States.
“The statistics are probably off, because the numbers in Italy are almost 10 to one compared to the United States,” said Mr. Biscarini. “Right now we have about 64,000 infections and 6,077 deaths in Italy, versus 684 who have died here in the U.S. with 53,000 infected. Those numbers are indicative but not the truth of who are infected but asymptomatic. So in talking to doctors, most-likely, we may have 20 to 30 times as many people who are infected.”
Mr. Biscarini ended the conversation on a somewhat optimistic note, citing the fighting spirit of the human race. He also focused on the declining number of new cases in Italy and China, saying that this is something that will eventually go away.
“This too will pass. We as human beings are resilient. My main suggestion is to not lose hope. Because some people are going to be stuck at home and be depressed. So just stay grounded and have faith, because in times of trial and tribulation, that’s when your true colors come out. I noticed that many people of faith have a resilience.”