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Italy’s Lombardy again in virus crisis as Brescia sees surge

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Italy’s Lombardy again in virus crisis as Brescia sees surge

ROME — Italy’s northern Lombardy region, where Europe’s coronavirus outbreak erupted last year, asked the national government Thursday for more vaccines to help stem a surge of new COVID-19 cases that are taxing the health system in the province of Brescia.

The province’s fast-growing caseload is contributing to another upswing in reported cases nationwide: Italy added another 19,886 confirmed infections Thursday, its highest daily number since early January. Authorities reported another 308 virus-related deaths, bringing the country’s official toll in the pandemic to just under 97,000.

Brescia, with a population of around 1.2 million, has seen its daily cases go from the mid-100s at the start of February to 901 on Wednesday and 973 Thursday, due to clusters of infections traced to the British variant. Doctors say the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the main public hospital went from an average of around 200 to 300 recently.

“We can’t talk about a third wave from our point of view, just because the second one never really ended,” said Dr. Cristiano Perani, head of emergency room at Brescia’s civic hospital. “The increase was gradual, but had an acceleration in the last few weeks.”

Lombardy’s governor, Attilio Fontana, said he told Italy’s health minister Thursday that the region needed an “immediate delivery (of vaccines) in the territory where the virus is growing.”

Already, Lombardy — Italy’s most populous region — has imposed new lockdown measures in Brescia and revamped its vaccine strategy to redirect the jabs it has on hand to the province and nearby towns in neighboring Bergamo. The aim of the strategy is to inoculate as many people as possible as quickly as possible in the hardest-hit areas.

Guido Bertolaso, who is in charge of the vaccine campaign, said the region was going to bypass the 30% reserves that the national government recommends keeping on hand for second doses, and starting Thursday would begin vaccinating residents ages 60-79, well earlier than scheduled. Lombardy only recently began vaccinating people aged over 80, after prioritizing health care workers and residents of nursing homes.

The aim of the strategy, Bertolaso said, is to create a “health cordon” in the area with blanket vaccinations. The approach is based on studies from Britain and Israel — and even on Lombardy’s own data — that show declines in infection rates as more people are vaccinated with only one dose.

“This is war,” Bertolaso said.

Brescia’s deputy mayor, Laura Castelletti, said residents were willing to accept new lockdown measures — which include closing all schools and day-care centers — as long as the vaccination schedule accelerated.

“We are ready to make sacrifices if the vaccination campaign goes forward 24/7,” she said.

Brescia and Bergamo were two of the Italian provinces hardest hit during the first wave of the pandemic, which began this time last year and quickly turned Lombardy into the epicenter of the outbreak in Europe.

Lombardy as a whole still accounts for nearly a third of Italy’s 96,974 confirmed COVID-19 dead, and a fifth of its 2.87 million confirmed infections. Italy has the world’s sixth-highest confirmed death toll, and the second in Europe after Britain.

Italy’s vaccine campaign, which has administered 3.92 million doses, has been slowed by delays in deliveries from the three pharmaceutical companies supplying the European Union: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the health ministry would redirect any vaccines to Lombardy, given previously established quotas which have already delivered the most doses there.

Italy’s virus czar, Domenico Arcuri, didn’t address Fontana’s request in a statement Thursday but boasted that inoculations showed “a comforting increase” this week, averaging around 100,000 a day nationally.

Nearly two months after Italy began its vaccination campaign on Dec. 27, the tiny Republic of San Marino administered its first doses Thursday. San Marino, a city state of about 33,800 people surrounded by Italy, had to buy Russian Sputnik V doses after delays in receiving allotted doses from Italy.

“This constitutes the most effective weapon we have to defeat this disease,” said Dr. Enrico Rossi, who was among the first inoculated. “It has been kind of a nightmare this year but we are hopeful that it will end.”

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‘Fairy doors’ open hearts in California neighborhood

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'Fairy doors' open hearts in California neighborhood

A California community has bonded over a profusion of tiny, colorful wooden doors that are popping up all over.

The so-called “fairy doors” in Alameda, an island community adjacent to Oakland, have been around for years but they’ve grown in number since the pandemic.

So many of the brightly colored, diminutive portals have turned up at the bottom of trees, fences and benches that an army of volunteers has created a Facebook group to celebrate and map the phenomenon — helping fairies and human fans alike find them during self-guided walking tours.

Fred Hogenboom and his daughter are credited with launching the fairy door movement in Alameda about seven years ago, only to watch it grow.

“It’s a great phenomenon that was embraced by the whole community,” Hogenboom told SFGate.com.

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Author reveals how his brother killed his mother in new memoir

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Author reveals how his brother killed his mother in new memoir

Most memoirs are a recounting of the author’s own life and experiences. “Everything is Fine” by Vince Granata (Atria Books), out April 27, is a memoir of an entire family — and a tragedy that forever changed its members. 

Granata was an only child for the first 4 ½ years of his life. On the day his mother and father returned home from the hospital, he remembers writing “welcome home mommy” in sidewalk chalk outside their Connecticut home. His parents had arrived home with not one but three siblings in tow — triplets Christopher, Timothy and Elizabeth. It was a joyful event. But the birth of his siblings put in motion a tragedy that would take years to unfold. 

On July 24, 2014, his brother Tim, 24, attacked and killed their mother in the family home. Claudia Dinan Granata was 58. Tim suffered from schizophrenia. “I won’t take the medication, the medication destroys me, takes my mind, takes me away from God,” he ranted to his mother on the morning of the attack. He had frequently threatened suicide. 

“Tim’s demons, electric in his ill mind, convinced him that the woman who had made him peanut butter sandwiches when he was a grass-stained child was the source of his constant pain,” Granata writes. “…After he killed her, he dialed 911, sitting on our front steps, clutching a white Bible.” 

This is a memoir about a horrifying crime, but it is also a book about mental illness, and the family’s ongoing attempts to get help for Tim in a system that is hopelessly flawed. Tim was hospitalized at the Yale New Haven Psychiatric Hospital in February 2014. In the weeks leading up to the murder, there were numerous signs that he needed to return, but he refused to go back. 

“Eventually, I had no choice but to look at loss and pain, at all the pieces of my family’s story that I didn’t think I could ever understand,” Vince writes. “It was this process, recognizing the pieces, struggling to put them in order, that almost destroyed me. It’s also what allowed me to live again.” 

Tim was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

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These colleges require students to get vaccinated if they want to live on campus

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These colleges require students to get vaccinated if they want to live on campus

As academic institutions look toward the post-COVID-19 future of education, some are implementing strict vaccine requirements ahead of the upcoming semester as others incentivize or urge students to pick up the inoculations.

Many colleges already require students to provide proof of certain vaccines, but those have been in use for years. The three FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines are all less than a year old.

But now that vaccines are open in many places to people age 16 and up, colleges are beginning to look into how that can benefit their reopening plans.

Colleges that will require proof of vaccination for students who want to live on campus include Oakland University in Michigan, Cornell University in upstate New York, Rutgers University in New Jersey, and Brown University in Rhode Island.

“Students have an option to come to Oakland University and not stay in residence halls,” Oakland President Dr. Ora Pescovitz told Fox 2 Detroit this week. “Only 20% of our students live on campus. The other 80% are commuter students.”

The school is offering religious and medical exemptions to students who provide proof to the dean of students.

But she said more than 1,000 people signed up for vaccines within the first six hours after the school announced the new requirement.

Northeastern University in Boston is going a step further and requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for all students before the fall 2021 semester as part of its plan to return to full-time, in-person learning.

Nova Southeastern University announced last week it would require vaccinations by Aug. 1 – then backtracked after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a statewide ban on “vaccine passports,” citing concerns about individual liberty and patient privacy.

“We will continue to follow all state and federal laws as they evolve,” Nova President George L. Hanbury II said in a statement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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