Update from Italy: Sunday, March 8

Photo by Helinton Fantin on Unsplash

Another busy news weekend in Italy on the frontlines of Covid-19. At 3:30 Sunday morning, the Italian government enacted an updated decree in further attempts to manage the spread of the virus. The Red Zone, or area subject to the highest level of quarantine, isolation, and monitoring now includes the provinces of Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Reggio Emilia, Rimini, Pesaro e Urbino, Alessandria, Asti, Novara, Verbano Cusio Ossola, Vercelli, Padova, Treviso, and Venezia, along with the entire region of Lombardy. Notable here is the new addition of provinces in the region of Emilia-Romagna which, prior to today, has not been on any list for quarantine or stricter monitoring measures. The decree describes the measures to be enforced in the Red Zones, as well as measures to be taken throughout the country, by every region, province, and comune.

(Americans, take note: in Italy, a region is roughly approximate to a U.S. state, and a province is like a county. But Italy doesn’t put 88 counties in a state like some states in the U.S. do. Regions are usually comprised of 6-8 provinces. Also, for your geographic reference, Italy is about the size of California, and the Italian population is right at 60 million – compare to California at 40 million).

The new decree covers about 16 million Italians, so as of today a little over a quarter of the population finds itself in a red zone. [My quick translation follows of the main points of the decree.] Schools will be closed until March 15, and school trips are suspended until April 3. Cinemas, the theater, museums, and cultural institutes are all closed, along with pubs and bars, nightclubs, bingo halls (I did not even know they had that here) and off-track betting parlors, and dance schools. Restaurants, bars, gyms, and pools may remain open, but they must manage the density of participants and ensure that ample open space of at least one meter exists between individuals. Everyone is urged to limit as much as possible their circulation in public spaces. No one who is accompanying a patient is permitted to wait in ER waiting rooms. People who are in active medical quarantine will not be allowed to leave their homes. No religious activity of any kind in church spaces (although plenty of nervous Italians may well be praying from home). Medical conferences are on hold (because all staff are needed), and the incarcerated must complete any visitations remotely. Buses and public transport must be subject to extraordinary disinfection. If you’re arriving to Italy from a country at high risk, you need to tell the local health authorities. That’s pretty much it. It’s a lot.

The region of Tuscany followed up with a further decree to clarify the national decree. Notably, the Roman Catholic dioceses of Firenze, Prato, Grosseto, and Massa Marittima – the provinces closest to the region of Emilia-Romagna – have suspended all liturgical services as well as celebrations such as weddings and funerals. This says a lot about the atmosphere in northern Tuscany right now. Also, the comune of Florence has closed all museums, following the national decree. I helped our church, St. James Episcopal of Florence, conduct its first-ever live stream of a Sunday service today, and 13 people attended, so that turned out to be a good dry run for what’s coming.

Given our location in Tuscany, we might be waiting for the other shoe to drop. Our mayor is in quarantine now, and Zingaretti, the leader of the PD (the Partita Democratica, or center-left), has tested positive for Covid-19 this weekend.

Jason revealed to me this morning a hidey-hole in our storage closet where he has been quietly stockpiling dry goods like beans and TetraPak juice and milk. He is always on point, safety first. The man could be an EMT in a parallel life, so I cast no aspersions. His main concern is we might be under a mandatory quarantine at home and will run out of food. I feel the odds of that happening in Italy are next to nil. My main concern for us right now is that we will need to travel, for whatever reason, before May or June, and won’t be able to get out; or alternatively, that we will be required to travel before May or June, through germ-infested airports and airplanes, arriving in an uncertain healthcare situation in the U.S. I am not worried about our family’s personal level of risk, but rather do not wish for us to become carriers, which is the higher risk for anyone younger and in decent health during this time. This should be at the front of everyone’s mind – everyone who is not older or more vulnerable to disease. I typically come into contact every day with a fair number of people who are neither youthful nor extraordinarily healthy, and I do not want to contract the virus, barely take notice (D.V.), then pass it along to someone who cannot outrun it.