Unsourced ‘Intensivist’ Thread Spreads on Twitter as COVID-19 Hits Italy

In March 2020, as more nations grappled with a novel coronavirus pandemic, social media users continued to promote unsourced chain-letter “messages” online as people searched for reliable and credible information.

One of the latest instances of the trend was a Twitter thread purportedly from British anesthesiologist Jason Van Schoor, who posted a series of claims he attributed to a “a well respected friend and intensivist/A&E consultant who is currently in northern Italy.”

One of the major claims in his thread — “Lumbardy is the most developed region in Italy” does track with previous reports on the disease’s spread through the country, where it has killed 827 people. The BBC described Lumbardy as part of “the rich northern part of the country that powers the economy.”

But Van Schoor also claimed, second-hand, that hospitals are “overwhelmed by Covid-19, they are running 200% capacity.” That remark paints an even more dire picture than on-the-ground reporting:

Finding more acute care beds is a “race against time,” Lombardy’s top health official, Giulio Gallera, said in a phone interview. “As of now the region’s health-care system is holding up well, but if the increase in the number of infected people in need of intensive care doesn’t slow down we could have issues.”

More than 80% of the region’s 1,123 acute-care beds are dedicated to coronavirus, after many other patients have been moved elsewhere and 223 extra places have been opened to cope with the emergency. About half of those are occupied, Gallera said.

It should be noted here that Van Schoor’s account is not a translation of another post that has been disseminated widely online, by Daniele Macchini, a doctor at the Humanitas Gavazzeni hospital in Bergamo. Macchini’s March 6 2020 post has been read and shared by thousands across social media platforms, and it was also republished by a local news outlet, L’Eco Di Bergamo.

One key difference between the posts is that Macchini’s does not contain a list claiming “this is the pattern” for COVID-19 cases:

  1. A few positive cases, first mild measures, people are told to avoid ED but still hang out in groups, everyone says not to panick
  2. Some moderate resp failures and a few severe ones that need tube, but regular access to ED is significantly reduced so everything looks great
  3. Tons of patients with moderate resp failure, that overtime deteriorate to saturate ICUs first, then NIVs, then CPAP hoods, then even O2.
  4. Staff gets sick so it gets difficult to cover for shifts, mortality spikes also from all other causes that can’t be treated properly.

A translation of Bergamo’s post also fails to provide any matches with this passage from Van Schoor’s thread:

Everything about how to treat them is online but the only things that will make a difference are: do not be afraid of massively strict measures to keep people safe, if governments won’t do this at least keep your family safe, your loved ones with history of cancer or diabetes or any transplant will not be tubed if they need it even if they are young. By safe I mean YOU do not attend them and YOU decide who does and YOU teach them how to.

We were able to verify that there is an anesthesiologist with that name practicing in England, and the account appears to be who it claims. However, without further details we were unable to know how much of the information he included in this thread was legitimate.

We asked Van Schoor if he could provide more information, but he has not yet responded.