Update from Italy: Friday, March 6

Photo by Feliphe Schiarolli on Unsplash

We’re on Day 2 of the school closures. They’re set to be closed until March 15. Jason and I have been talking about what this means, and how, given the 14-day estimated incubation period for the Covid-19 virus … the math does not quite add up. Even if all the kids go back to school on Monday, March 16, that provides an isolation period of just 11 days. I would not be surprised if they extend it by the amount of time required to create a 14-day soft isolation for communities. The worry is not that children will become ill – they have not been getting sick, and it’s not a severe illness for healthy kids. The kids are carriers, and who helps in Italy with kids? Nonni, y’all. Grandparents. Over 65.

That being said, the evidence abounds that many of the people taking care of the kids during the closure are the nonni. At least everyone is in isolated nonni clusters with their own nipotini. Not so lucky was a wealthy young mother yesterday on our piazza, on her own with three children in tow, aged approximately 4 months, three years, and six years. They got out the front door and went about twenty feet when the baby began squawking, the toddler soon followed suit and threw down, and the six year old looked on. The mom held the baby and tried to shush it. The toddler was now screaming. The mother was overwhelmed. The scene was quite desperate and slowly shuffled back toward the front door. The mom might have called their nanny, because a woman emerged dressed in a light-blue housecoat such as worn by JLo in Maid in Manhattan, her hair efficiently arranged, and the cluster of vocal complaint and palpable frustration disappeared behind the massive portone of the palazzo.

When did they move in, I asked Jason. That building was in foreclosure last year. We had often looked at it sighingly. It is a magnificent palazzo.

I don’t know, Jason said, a few months ago. They look new. As we turned to survey the playground, discrete small groups of nonni and nipotini and mothers with small children were all fighting their tiny battles, and it wasn’t even yet 10 AM. Tellingly, we saw no fathers with kids. There is no mandatory quarantine yet, but there is an exhortation to limit social activity in a set of government guidelines in a handy chart that has been in wide circulation on social media an elsewhere.

And so I expect the closures of all centers of instruction to be extended past March 15 (I have no confirmation or knowledge of this, btw; just my guessing on the ground). They will have to if they wish to properly contain it. Even in Wuhan, which is just now coming out of the worst of their experience of the epidemic, is gradually reopening everything in stages, assumedly to monitor and manage outbreak pockets.

I am keeping an eye on the news out of Seattle, which is surreal. I know the city well, having lived there for six years, on the Eastside for two of those. Kirkland is a small hamlet full of money and nice restaurants. I’m not surprised that the outbreak was in a care home. It does seem to be disseminating rapidly in King County, and if the confirmed cases are low, it is because tests are perhaps less available than is needed. I hope this changes soon. Side note, I was keeping up on the January 20 case confirmed in Seattle in a Wuhan native, and the Snohomish high school student in Mill Creek who recently tested positive. January 20 was six weeks ago, and viral genome sequencing indicated that the high school student carried a 28th- or 30th-generation version of the virus that the Wuhan native had confirmed weeks earlier. It seems a bit like blockchain, and I love science, and the fact that a virus might be decoded and the host history captured in the genome is incredible, like browser history in Chrome. In any case, it sounds like Covid-19 has been quietly on the ground in Seattle for weeks, and given its virulence in China, is making fast tracks everywhere in the US.

I will post a cultural commentary about this soon, on the urging of a friend, after my comments in an earlier post, laying out for my readers why and how it appears that different countries have varying responses based on their cultural values consensus.

As for today, I am more grateful than ever for the earnestness, openness, and honesty in the response of the Italian government and Italian people. I do not feel that information or facts are being rampantly politicized or withheld in an attempt to control, somehow, the messaging situation of a contagious epidemic. My stress is my own, and my community shares it with me, but it feels like a gift to not feel overtly manipulated by elected officials and sensationalist media.

Everyone, be safe, and be prudent, and for heaven’s sake, think of your community and the most vulnerable among you: older people and those who are immuno-compromised (with a history of cancer and chemo, chronic respiratory, cardiac). We are not in this alone. We all live on the earth together, whatever anyone says about the safety of their particular family and their ability to keep their family safe.

Pro tip: If you give a child a Chupa Chupa (lollipop/sucker) in exchange for a few moments’ peace, do not unwrap it for them, and therefore inadvertently deprive yourself of extra seconds of sanity. Let them work to unwrap it so you can finish your task at hand.