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What went wrong: AP examines how COVID-19 swept Italy’s Lombardy region

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A scathing letter sent in early April by doctors in Italy’s Lombardy region provided the first tangible inkling that something had gone terribly wrong in its fight against the coronavirus.

It also provided Rome chief correspondent Nicole Winfield an idea: explain how the virus overwhelmed a medical system long considered one of Europe’s best turned Lombardy into the region’s COVID-19 epicenter.

Over the next three weeks,Winfield methodically collected details,conducted interviews,pored through government reports and briefings to craft the first explanatory account of the missteps and failures that allowed the virus to become so pervasive in Lombardy,which accounts for roughly half of Italy’s 27,000 deaths.

The story developed as Winfield and AP’s staff in Italy dealt with the deluge of virus news. Undeterred, she smartly used it to her advantage. Interviews for a “Lives Lost” profile of a beloved Italian doctor killed by the coronavirus provided insight into how the medical community felt abandoned. Colleen Barry’s reporting on the virus’s toll in Bergamo and a nursing home outbreak in Nembro provided key details. Winfield mined interviews,feeds to AP’s “The Latest,” video scripts,briefing transcripts and more for material.

She took details that had been reported piecemeal on the wire and used them in fresh ways,transforming the barrage of information into pieces of the puzzle. “Every interview,every briefing can be used in a variety of ways if you just listen hard enough,” Winfield said of her process. After completing a draft, Winfield and editor Brian Friedman tweaked and bolstered and improved until it was ready.

Winfield’s story was a clear-eyed explanation of months of outbreak developments, showing how family doctors became the front-line defense and the toll that exacted on their ranks. It demonstrated how the failure to enact an early lockdown let the virus run rampant in Italy’s industrial center while politicians and business interests were pushing for work to continue. A section on nursing home deaths explained how a decision to keep elderly patients with other medical issues out of hospitals “amounted to a death warrant.”

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Coffins are lined up on the floor of the San Giuseppe church in Seriate, near Bergamo, in the Lombardy region of northern Italy, waiting to be taken to a crematory, March 26, 2020. Lombardy has been the epicenter of COVID-19 in Italy, Europe’s hardest-hit country. – AP Photo / Antonio Calanni

Within hours of its movement,Winfield’s piece received the the week’s most engagement of any story on the AP News mobile app. It was picked up by a wide variety of outlets,from The Times of Israel to The New Zealand Herald. One Italian reader tweeted it was “the best article I have read about what was happening in Italy.”

For crafting a thorough,compelling and heartbreaking account of how COVID-19 got a pervasive,deadly grip on Lombardy, Winfield wins AP’s Best of the Week honors.

For AP’s complete coverage of the coronavirus:

AP’s hub for comprehensive all-formats coverage of the virus outbreak.

Understanding the Outbreak: stories explaining the new coronavirus.

One Good Thing: daily stories of hope and humanity amid the crisis.

Ground Game: Inside the Outbreak: AP’s podcast series.

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