Italy's 'Patient No. 1' joins relay race as sign of hope

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Mattia Maestri waits for the start of a 180-kilometer relay race, in Codogno, Italy, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020. Italys coronavirus Patient No. 1, whose case confirmed one of the worlds deadliest outbreaks was underway, is taking part in a 180-kilometer relay race as a sign of hope for COVID victims after he himself recovered from weeks in intensive care. Mattia Maestri, a 38-year-old Unilever manager, was suited up Saturday for the start of the two-day race between Italys first two virus hotspots. It began in Codogno, where Maestri tested positive Feb. 21, and was ending Sunday in VoEuganeo, where Italys first official COVID death was recorded the same day. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

CODOGNO – Italy’s coronavirus “Patient No. 1,” whose case confirmed one of the world’s deadliest outbreaks was underway, is taking part in a 180-kilometer (112-mile) relay race as a sign of hope after he himself recovered from weeks in intensive care.

Mattia Maestri, a 38-year-old Unilever manager, was suited up Saturday for the start of the two-day race between Italy’s first two virus hot spots. It began in Codogno, south of Milan, where Maestri tested positive Feb. 21, and was ending Sunday in Vo’Euganeo, where Italy’s first official COVID-19 death was recorded the same day.

Wearing a dark face mask, Maestri said the race was a “beautiful initiative” uniting the two virus-ravaged towns and the hard-hit swath of territory between them. He said he was thrilled to even be alive to participate.

“I feel very lucky,” he said at the starting line.

Maestri had first gone to the hospital in his hometown of Codogno with flu-like symptoms Feb. 18, but was sent home. He returned the next day after deteriorating and the doctor on duty, Dr. Annalisa Malara, decided to test him for the new coronavirus even though doing so went beyond the protocol for testing set by the Health Ministry at the time: Maestri hadn't traveled to China or been in contact with a known positive case.

Maestri’s positive result Feb. 21 was the first confirmed case of domestic transmission in Italy, evidence that the virus was circulating silently among the local population. Within days, Italy would become the epicenter of the outbreak in Europe, where it still has the second-highest number of COVID-19 deaths after Britain.

The Italian government immediately quarantined Codogno and 10 nearby towns and imposed a lockdown in Vo’Euganeo, where on the same day as Maestri’s positive result authorities confirmed the first death of someone who tested positive post-mortem, Adriano Trevisan.

“United first by the suffering and pain, Codogno and Vo', the first two communities hit, are united today in hope," said Patrizia Baffi, a Lombardy region councilor who was on hand for the start of Saturday's race.