Living in Italy as an American During COVID-19

By Carmiya Baskin

It’s springtime in Florence, Italy. Rays of sunlight peek out from behind the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, the Arno River sways peacefully in the light breeze, and the typically bustling Piazza Signoria is void of human activity. This year, the atmosphere is charged not with the serenity that comes before the inevitable flocking of summer crowds but with the anxiety about a highly contagious virus that is rapidly traversing borders.

In the safety of her apartment, Danielle Cohen, a UCSB alum who moved to Florence in January to begin her new job, reveals how her life has changed since the virus took hold. She has just finished recording an episode of “Quarantine in the Kitchen,” a series she invented in which she documents what she is cooking that day and posts it on her Instagram story to keep both herself and her followers entertained — and sane.

“I feel more safe in my apartment here than back home in the States,” Cohen says, gesturing to her surroundings that fill the screen on Zoom. As of three weeks ago, private hospitals in Italy have begun offering free medical care to people who have contracted COVID-19. Cohen notes that returning to California would pose a greater risk as, throughout the whole nation, testing kits and proper treatment are scarce and safety measures are not being enforced. 

While rules for quarantining have been announced in the U.S., there are no centralized regulations. As Cohen states, “it’s all happening state by state, city by city, beach by beach.” She feels that the U.S. should initiate a full lockdown immediately and learn from Italy’s initial mistakes; at first, people in Italy were not taking the quarantine seriously, much like many folks in the U.S. aren’t now.


Further, Cohen claims that social distancing does not work. “It’s frustrating to watch the U.S. follow in Italy’s footsteps because we didn’t know what was going on a few weeks ago. Now, America has a country to look to for guidance — which Italy didn’t have — and it’s not encouraging a countrywide shutdown.” Although she admits she is lonely in her apartment at times, she feels that staying inside and away from people is the best way to protect herself and those around her.

“Italy’s numbers are finally going down and it’s because we’ve been on lockdown for a month,” Cohen declares. According to the World Health Organization, coronavirus, aka COVID-19, is an infectious disease that causes respiratory illness with symptoms such as a cough and a fever. Coronavirus spreads mainly through contact with an infected person when they cough or sneeze or when a person touches a surface or object that has the virus on it, then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth.

“Italian people care about their communities and appreciate the safety measures that are in place,” Cohen says. Venturing outside one’s home in Italy is strictly prohibited and accompanied by a hefty fine of €3,000 if one gets caught. When asked what tactics she uses to cope with mental health issues (as fresh air is no longer an option), she describes her daily routine which involves dancing along to online Zumba videos, piecing together puzzles featuring Italian art, and video chatting with friends and family from home.

She has two white boards on the fridge in which she writes her daily to-do list on one and her overall goals on another. She adds, “allowing yourself to have bad days is important. It’s asking too much of yourself to assume that everyday is going to be productive. The first week was really hard — I went from working a full-time job and having housemates to not having any of that.”

Despite the hardships, Cohen notes that there are positive aspects to this pandemic that is quickly making its way around the world. “We’re letting our world heal and we’re letting ourselves grow.” As everyone is staying inside, the air pollution has decreased, the amount of fish in the Venice canals has increased, and wildlife has begun to thrive again. While it’s unrealistic to remain in quarantine forever, Cohen reminds people that they must be more aware of their footprint. This is especially important as the Environmental Protection Agency has suspended the enforcement of environmental rules due to the coronavirus outbreak.

She encourages people to take this time to learn a new hobby, rekindle old skills, and connect with loved ones. She says, “I’ve never been alone or inside for this long in my life… it’s kind of freeing. Going home would’ve been the easy way out but this [situation] is a new challenge for me and I’m learning a lot about myself.”

Cohen sums it up by saying, “I hope the rest of the world starts listening so this quarantine can end soon.”

Citations

Cohen, Danielle. Personal interview. 2 April 2020.

Kraft, Ariana. “EPA Suspends Enforcement of Environmental Laws in Response to COVID-19.” WNCT, 30 Mar. 2020.

Parodi, Emilio. “Special Report: ‘All Is Well’. In Italy, Triage and Lies for Virus Patients.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 16 Mar. 2020.

“Here Are Italy’s New Quarantine Rules on Jogging, Walking and Taking Kids Outside.” Thelocal.it, 1 Apr. 2020.

“Q&A On Coronaviruses (COVID-19).” World Health Organization, World Health Organization.

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