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An Italian view of the coronavirus

By Staff | Mar 20, 2020

MESSINA, SICILY – Hannah Curby has lived as a missionary in Messina, Italy for five years, and is currently witnessing the effects of COVID-19 first-hand.

She has been vocal on social media, trying to encourage her American family and friends, including those from her supporting church in Shenandoah Junction, Fellowship Bible Church, to adopt social distancing practices.

“Here in the south where I am, the numbers are still relatively low,” Curby said in a phone interview on Tuesday, “and we’re hoping that the lockdown will be enough, soon enough, to keep it from getting out of control here.”

According to Curby, northern Italy was hit harder with the virus.

“The north was quarantined before we were, but a lot of people fled south before the quarantine was official. We’ve had 31,000 people declare themselves to have come into Sicily from the north and go into self-isolation,” Curby said. “But we don’t know how many didn’t report themselves, so there’s still a lot of concern that things could continue to grow a lot here regionally.”

Curby's neighbor has "adopted" Curby, after the two started meeting every morning on their respective balconies to chat. Curby now knows her as "Nonna," the Italian word for "grandma." "Donna" misses her grandchildren and cooking for them, but is glad her granddaughter is finally learning to cook. Courtesy photo

A few days ago, Curby said she would not have believed things could have made such a turn.

“A lot can change in two weeks. Things continue to spiral out of control, or rather grow exponentially,” Curby said, mentioning two weeks ago, she and a doctor friend believed the warnings were exaggerated.

“Now, she’s working her tail off and I (and the rest of the country) are sitting at home, holding our breath to see if this last-ditch desperate sacrifice of an already struggling economy will work to slow things down,” Curby said.

Curby’s co-worker’s father has been hospitalized with the disease.

“He had a cough and a high fever for a week, but the hospital was full and only accepting patients with respiratory issues. On Sunday, they agreed that he had the conditions to be hospitalized and admitted him with double pneumonia. Now, they are reporting others ill, including his wife, but she seems to be recovering better,” Curby said.

A national initiative to paint banners with rainbows that say "Andra' tutto bene," or, "Everything's going to be okay," and hanging them from balconies has become popular in Sicily. Courtesy photo

She went on to say that experiences in Italy are showing that the virus is spreading person to person and that people can have mild or no symptoms yet still test positive.

“It’s dangerous, because it means those people have been spreading it to others without realizing they had it,” Curby said. Add in the long incubation period of two to 14 days and the concern grows.

“You have to think of yourself as a potential killer, which is not pleasant,” Curby said. “None of us wants to think we could be carrying death to others, but it’s completely possible to feel perfectly healthy and yet pass this along.”

While Italy is locked-down, residents only go outside for necessities, such as food, medicine and appointments that can’t be postponed.

“Supermarkets are still open although for reduced hours. Only a limited number of people are allowed in at one time so lines have been long outside,” she said. “We are allowed to go out to practice ‘individual outdoor sports,’ as long as we stay at least one meter from others.”

Deserted beach in Messina, Sicily. Courtesy photo

Curby said the shutdown is scheduled to continue through April 3.

“Look at this as an opportunity to use your freedom to be self-controlled, to not give the government a reason to exert more power,” Curby said. “Instead of looking at this as negative, let’s embrace this opportunity to show love. And if you end up in a forced quarantine, it’s not that bad. It’s forced us to stop and notice the beauty in the world and our fellow humans and to be grateful for the things and people we used to take for granted.”

Customers wait in line to enter a Sicilian supermarket on March 11. Courtesy photo