Update from Italy: Day 13 of the Florentine Quarantine

The herd won’t quit what the herd don’t know.
Photo by Jorge Tung on Unsplash

I’ll cover the news today in order of ascending filter.

Inner news.

I had a dream last night that Jason and I worked and worked on a gourmet Thanksgiving dinner for two days. My last task was to bring him the platter of turkey, cranberries, potatoes, and carrots, and place it on a table in a room where he was having a meeting with some VIPs. I was afraid I would drop it on the path between the buildings. But it seemed ok, I was going to make it, until right before I reached his building, I leaned down to pick up our woven straw footstool and the plate flipped in slo-mo, landing on its face. Jason came out and was furious; I was aghast. I sobbed. A worst-case scenario. There was nothing I could do to hide the disaster or salvage it. He went to the grocery store and got a rotisserie chicken, but didn’t talk to me for days after. They had the fancy dinner without me. Some other stuff happened in the dream I might remember later. Opera singers were involved, a ticket window, a stage manager, and useless words that failed to bring me comfort.

Personal news.

My left eyebrow is still twitching. I tweezed a really long hair out of it this morning. Turbo brow outlier might have been an inch long. I also think I have an ingrown nose hair, so that’s awesome and not at all throbbing in my right nostril. On the other hand, the mix of monotony plus anxiety spurred me to use up all my Bioré strips (TM) and Crest (TM) teeth whitening strips from the U.S. I might be isolated, but my pores are empty and tight and my teeth are sparkling. Even a minor lavoretto (project) like this feels like a worthwhile win.

Apartment news.

I might have overdone the at-home workouts yesterday because now my quads and hamstrings are killing me. But my lower back feels a bit better. You know, all the sitting during a quarantine is not great for ergodynamics. I miss my buzzing, busy daily life in Florence, running up and down Via Cavour, across San Marco, toward the viale. I miss my little bike and our quick jaunts. I miss abundant fresh air and changing light throughout the day, not as seen through our few windows, but as witnessed al fresco, combined with the fresh air for the full effect. I’ve reclaimed our spare bedroom as a sun room of sorts, because the morning light in here on the west side of the building is fantastic. Tall casement windows with a view of the rooftop garden swings shutters wide to let in all the warm yellow sunlight possible until about eleven in the morning. I am now writing from this sunspot, which I might name The Terrace.

Global news.

Italy had its worst loss yesterday: 793 people died. This is horrible and sad and we are not at all in control of what has happened here. All we can do is control ourselves and our movements now. Jason and I think the numbers will continue to climb. There are many cases, and thousands of people in ICU, or who cannot be accommodated in ICU because the ICUs are full. Two weeks ago, Italians were not taking any of this very seriously at all. Quarantine, ok, but why? We are still going to the park and outside and shopping in the open air and at Carrefour. People only started staying home when it became the decree. But from Wednesday evening (March 4) to Monday evening (March 9), people were running around and self-limiting in a very limited way.

Play dates were happening galore amongst children and adults; people gathered for drinks or to gab. Non-stop dinner parties that seemed to miss the danse macabre memo. Some people took vacations. Some people drove or took trains south. Some people went skiing. People were still moving around a lot, all the time. No one thought this was going to impact them, until it did. Italy attributes its current numbers of deaths and new cases to the unclear guidance two weekends ago, in that five-day window when everyone thought it might be a forced holiday. Sound familiar? America, UK, Oz: please look around. You’re two weeks behind Italy, and you’re acting as Italy did. If you don’t stop, drop, and lock, I fear that the numbers of new cases and the corresponding waves of fatalities will wash up on all your shores.

Tuscany’s numbers are set to rise as testing increases. The region will test everyone in hospitals first, and then move down a list. Heads up, UK, Oregon, other places whence I’ve recently received eyewitness reports of refusal to implement a public policy to test broadly for Covid-19: it is always worth it to test. Unless, like the albino banana, you feel that a grand experiment in herd immunity is warranted, and don’t mind sacrificing a few million citizens and your entire healthcare system to find out of your non-science-based strategy was a good one. Hint: it’s not!

The news came out overnight that in the north Lombardy is going deeper into lockdown. They are just trying to contain it. No one will be allowed outside for a walk, or a bike ride, or to run. In an unprecedented move, Italy has decided to shutter all non-essential production, keeping factory workers home to reduce exposure. These are wartime measures. We are at war, but a very different kind of war than any of us have seen before.

Spain has tipped. France is looking iffy.

And I have some grim news: it’s not going to last two weeks, or even two months. I think the school year is a wash, and maybe next fall too. Until everyone, and I mean everyone, has an understanding of what is happening and their role in management and containment when faced with a limitless virus for which there is no vaccination or pharmaceutical treatment, the pandemic will own the globe for months to come.

A plea from the Florentine quarantine.

So, America, and the UK, and elsewhere, if you feel like you are already self-quarantining but you are still going outside, remember what yesterday looked and felt like, and tighten up. Buying crafts at Michael’s to enjoy yourself at home is not tightening up. This is going to be a war for months and months and months, with an invisible adversary. And that adversary is strong, clever, and fast. All we have right now are NPIs – non-pharmaceutical interventions. This means stay home. All the way home. No walks, no bike rides, no going outside. The human equivalent of Snowden’s famous air gap needs to be created and maintained. And again, one meter is not sufficient. The analysis from China shows something more like 5 meters is necessary, if you want to risk it. I am still baffled by our well-wishers who check in with me to say they are worried about us. Viruses travel without passports, the defiant little stowaways. They’re going to spread to billions of people, even in a best-case scenario (20-70%), and 10-20% of those infected will need to be hospitalized, a portion of those in ICU. When I see the news from the U.S., I am far, far more worried for my friends. Please stay home. Please shut your door and stay there. Please.