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  • Daniele Proch

A Spectator to My Family's Struggle with Coronavirus in Italy

Updated: May 24, 2021

In Arco, a tiny town sitting in the northern part of Italy, my family cannot remember what good news feels like. In the past two months, Covid-19 shook our country so violently that my parents, Stefania and Gianni, and older brother, Davide, began wondering if there would ever be a way out of this pandemic.

For the entire month of March, the 6 p.m. press conference held daily by the Head of Civil Protection Angelo Borrelli sounded like a broken record. The number of Covid-19 cases rose, the list of overcrowded intensive care units thickened, and hospitals desperately called for more medical equipment and personnel.

Across the North, sick patients died unattended on hospital beds, their families unable to properly mourn them with a funeral. My mother’s 95-year-old uncle, Giorgio, was among those who silently passed away of coronavirus in a nursing home.

Over the past four years, I have been following my country’s events remotely. Initially from Durham, where last December I completed my undergraduate degree at Duke University, and now from Raleigh, where I live and play as a professional soccer player for North Carolina Football Club.

Since the interruption of our soccer season on March 12, I have been locked in my apartment, trying to come up with creative ways to keep fit and fill my time. Most importantly, I have been able to sit down and spend hours talking on the phone with my family, a rarity up until the pandemic shut our lives down.

Last week, we even got to celebrate my brother’s 28th birthday together! For the occasion, my mother made a coconut-and-Nutella cake, which we all enjoyed in our own unique way. They ate the cake, and I jealously watched them licking their lips through the camera of my phone.

Our “Zoom” calls usually take place around 3 p.m., or just past dinner time in Italy. We play cards, watch television shows, and, occasionally, venture into dangerous conversations about politics.

“I am curious to see what [Prime Minister Giuseppe] Conte’s plan will be for small businesses,” my father, Gianni, keeps repeating in a skeptical tone.

Fearing that North Carolina would soon face a similar, tragic experience, my family takes advantage of our video calls to educate me on the best practices against coronavirus. They regularly question me about the people I see and the places I visit. They get a little anxious every time I tell them that here, we are still allowed to roam freely almost anywhere. “Why aren’t they checking on people and cars on the streets?,” they ask.

Unlike Northern Italy, the North Carolinian government is not enforcing the stay-at-home order by patrolling the neighborhoods.

My family now considers it immoral and wrong for non-essential workers to leave the house for reasons beyond taking out the trash, picking up medicines from the pharmacy, and restocking on food. Their rigid observance of social distancing practices perfectly reflects in my mother’s disciplined approach to grocery shopping.

She first prints out the self-certification form, a document in which she states that she is traveling from point A, her house, to point B, the store. (Failing to bring this form along may result in hefty fines.) Then, she covers every inch of her skin with long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, even when the weather app tells her that it is going to be 80 degrees outside. Finally, she dons a white surgical mask around her head and slips her hands into a pair of disposable latex gloves.

To avoid rush hours, my mother always shops right after lunchtime.

“It’s when most elderly are resting up,” she explains.

Red tape glued to the ground marks the physical distance that customers must maintain at check-out. Here, the lines move slowly, as clerks are instructed to wait until a customer has bagged all items, paid, and left, before they can help the next person.

When my mother gets home, she does not walk straight into the apartment. Instead, she waits for my father to come to the doorstep, where, in exchange for the shopping bags, she receives a laundry basket in which she puts her potentially contaminated clothes. She then drops her shoes on the balcony, tosses the gloves, and heads toward the bathroom, where she washes her hands with soap and warm water while humming “Tanti Auguri a Te,” or the Italian version of “Happy Birthday to You.”

May 3 is set as the last day of forced quarantine, after which a partial reopening of the Italian economy will begin. Labeled as “Phase Two” by the government task force, the new measures will outline the practices to conduct business while guaranteeing safety for all workers. The Italian people expect Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to issue a decree by the end of April.

As private suppliers of clothing items for local hotels and restaurants, my parents saw their financial situation being strongly affected by the halt of the economy. My brother, who has years of experience as a pizza maker and bartender, will similarly suffer from the shrinking of small businesses in our region.

Despite all the uncertainties, I like to think that at Christmas, once the soccer season with North Carolina FC is over, I will fly home and see my family again. And, never mind if scientists project a second wave of Covid-19 in the winter. This time, my quarantine will be sweeter, as I will be able to share a slice of homemade Nutella cake with my people.

Original article here! (Pages 14-16).

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