sick maskTwo years ago, I moved to Florence, Italy, from Cleveland, Ohio. Never did I think I would be mandated by the Italian government to stay at home due to a pandemic, but today, I find myself inside my 800 sq.ft apartment with my boyfriend of 5 years and our dog trying to keep ourselves safe and keep our spirits up. With my family, friends, and work-family all in the US, I want to share my experience living in a country with the 2nd highest cases of COVID-19. Hopefully, I can give you the advice to help yourself, your loved ones, as well as those you do not know, to stay well and safe. 

Rewinding a bit. I remember flying to Milan, February 12, amid the outbreak in China. I was not feeling scared or worried because the news reports said COVID-19 only affects elderly people or those with compromised immune systems. I think, “ok, I am healthy and in my 20’s I’m good,” so I am safe…Fast Forward, a week later on February 21, authorities report the first 3 cases of COVID-19 in northern Italy, which quickly spread. Before the country-wide lockdown issued on March 11, I remember the streets were starting to get quiet due to all the international students being sent home and no one greeted each other in public with a tight hug and kiss on each cheek. My American friends who all work in hospitality or with international clients were telling me that they are out of work going from months booked to zero reservations. Freelancer workers were losing jobs, my friend’s restaurant had to close and lay off employees. Italy was hurting. 

Italy street coronavirus

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Now that we have been in lockdown for a week, not seeing any family and the only in-person conversation we have outside of the house is with the owner of a small independent food shop for groceries maybe once a week, the severity of this virus is clear. We decided to stop going to big grocery chains due to the long lines waiting sometimes 2-hours. Police are also regularly patrolling, pulling over cars and people at random making sure you have the proper paperwork that allows you to be outside for work or an emergency or for necessity (food or the pharmacy). Even with all this in place, Italy has over 41,000 confirmed cases and in a single day, we have lost over 600 lives to the coronavirus, adding up to more fatalities to COVID-19 than China. The country is suffering, but the community is strong.

We Need Our Community

Italians are patriots for their culture and history, in this challenging time, there is still a strong sense of community. Many businesses are offering delivery, volunteers are shopping for the elderly and disabled, pharmacists are making their own hand sanitizer, and groceries can be ordered and delivered online with no extra fees. The government is providing assistance, giving money to compensate freelance workers at home. Internet providers are giving free Wi-Fi during the lockdown, and cellphone companies are waiving fees for customers. Most importantly, locals are respecting government regulations and staying at home unless to get necessities from the grocery store or pharmacy or have a documented work-related matter. 

The true warriors of this pandemic are the doctors, nurses, and other medical staff who are on the forefront, seeing the devastating effects of this invisible enemy. Italy has a universal healthcare system and was rated 4th in the world, according to the 2018 Bloomberg Health Care Efficiency ranking analyzing life expectancy and cost. But this top-ranked system is overwhelmed and short-staffed. 20 – 30% of health care professionals are infected, making the treatment of patients in intensive care even more challenging as doctors are making difficult decisions on who to treat first. Dermatologists, eye doctors, and pathologists are being trained on how to assist a patient with a ventilator. Large spaces regularly used for fairs like fashion week are being converted into emergency coronavirus care units. But they remain hopeful and continue to stand in solidarity. 

iorestoacasa statue

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A nationwide campaign, #iorestoacasa, “I stay home,” is flooding social media. Handmade signs are hung throughout the country on balconies, windows, and doors reading “andrà tutto bene” (everything will be fine). All of these little reminders to keep spirits high and let others know they are not alone. Italy is standing tall and staying at home.

I hope that everyone back at home in the United States learns something from this. Many lessons are clearly illuminated by the growing number of casualties and the short time it took for this virus to spread in Italy. Please America, if you could take anything from this, it is that the coronavirus IS serious. You have a responsibility to your neighbor, not just to yourself. Staying home saves lives. 

  • Please, please, please do not feed fear. Feeding fear creates chaos (and apparently reduces the world toilet paper supply). Buy what you need, avoid the big supermarket chains, and shop online. Find a local CSA (community supported agriculture) that delivers produce boxes; do not be afraid to buy FRESH food!
  • Stay home. This is the most essential thing that will save so many lives if everyone just follows along. 
  • Stay healthy, physically & mentally. Take vitamins, get lots of sleep, workout at-home, meditate, and take this time to treat yourself, find a new hobby, learn about yourself, you now have the time.
  • If you leave the house for any reason, let it be only for an emergency. Stay a minimum of 6 feet away from anyone outside and bring hand sanitizer (with at least 70% alcohol concentration). Do not touch your face. When you get home, wash your hands immediately for at least 20 seconds with antibacterial soap. 
  • If you order groceries or anything online, have the carrier leave the boxes/food/etc., outside your door. Wear gloves to collect it and wash all fresh produce, throwing away the packaging. 

**NOTE: I am not a doctor, scientist, virologist, I am simply an expat from the United States living in Florence, Italy. I am someone whose whole family and friends are now experiencing shades of what Italy has and is currently battling. This is my opinion, my point of view. I want to share this with all of you in the hope that it will help the USA to take this situation seriously and inspire everyone to be calm and to stay home.