MONZA, Italy (AP) — This Italian city north of Milan is best known for its Formula 1 racetrack. But in 2020, ambulances have been doing most of the racing in Monza.

Over two days that an Associated Press photographer traveled on night calls with an ambulance service, the Monza-Brianza province of some 875,000 added 1,859 new cases, second only to neighboring Milan in Italy’s virus epicenter of Lombardy.

Ambulance duty is essentially COVID-19 duty: 70% of all calls are for people with the virus. Many are quarantined at home after testing positive, and the ambulance calls go out as their condition deteriorates overnight, requiring hospitalization.

Paramedics wear protective gear to go into houses, and after each call out have to disinfect the ambulance, equipment and their clothes, all night long.

Some calls are false alarms: One man who had already recovered from COVID-19 called in a panic, convinced he had sickened again. The ambulance drove him to a center to be tested and he was negative.

“We are always active. Obviously in this moment we have more calls — listen, there is a call coming in right now,’’ said Cristina Valtorta, president of the White Cross section in the town of Biasonne.


Between calls, staff sleep in a room with three well-spaced cots.

The White Cross has just a handful of full-time employees, assisted by some 120 volunteers who take over night and weekend duty. The service was founded by a priest, Luigi Bignami. “Our motto is: Love your neighbor as yourself,” Valtorta said.

The situation in Monza has grown so critical this fall that the mayor made a desperate public plea for the army to help.

This week, 20 army doctors and nurses are set to arrive, allowing another 40 hospital beds to be set up at the main San Gerardo Hospital. Other hospitals in the region also have answered officials’ calls for help, receiving patient transfers, which has eased the pressure on the city’s two main hospitals that are now treating some 400 people — down from over 500 a week ago.


Colleen Barry contributed to this report from Milan.


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