CORONAVIRUS: DAY-DREAMING

As of yesterday the number of cases of COVID-19 in Italy reached 105,792 with 12,428 deaths. Here in Lombardy there are 43,208 cases, and 7,199 deaths. As bleak as those numbers are there has been one encouraging sign in the last few days. Yesterday we saw the lowest amount of new cases in the last 13 days. Although the number of deaths continues to hover between 700 to almost 1,000 a day, the rate of infection has slowed down. On March 21 there was a daily increase of 6,557 new cases. Yesterday, March 31, there were 4,053 new cases. The experts tell us the reduction in new cases is a sign of two things: first, the lockdown measures are working and second, it signals we are close to a decline in the number of deaths. In other words, we are finally at the much anticipated peak. Sadly, here everyone knows someone who is sick, or worse, someone who has died. It is a relief that we are finally seeing a little light at the end of the tunnel.

As we enter into week five of the lockdown, I find myself day-dreaming of places I’d like to visit once we are able to travel again. One of the places I’d like to return to is the town of Stresa on Lake Maggiore. Stresa is a beautiful resort town which is bustling with vacationers from all over Europe in the spring and summer months. Just a week before the virus outbreak, my family and I visited Stresa for the first time. The town mostly shuts down in winter and given that tourism had, by February, slowed significantly,it was virtually empty when we visited. Aside from being a quaint town with glorious lake views and grand hotels, there are three little islands a short boat ride from town worth exploring. These islands, bought by the powerful Borromeo family in the 1600s, were originally just clumps of rocks which were transformed into livable places. The most famous island, Isola Bella, named after Isabella Borromeo, is where the Borromeos have their summer palace along with a magnificent garden. Unfortunately, the day we visited, Isola Bella was closed but we were still able to take a short boat ride to Isola dei Pescatori (Island of the Fishermen).

isola dei pescatori and Stresa, lake maggiore

We were blessed with sunshine and clear skies.
Isola dei Pescatori is a small collection of houses, restaurants and fishing boats.
The highlight of my son’s day was skipping rocks on the water.
The island’s little empty alleyways are a photographer’s dream.
The pedestrian streets of Stresa are generally empty in winter.

While this lockdown continues, I’m looking forward to returning to Stresa and I’ll continue to day-dream and plan future trips to explore “Il bel paese.”

CORONAVIRUS: LOSSES IN LOMBARDY, PART 2

This week brought horrific losses here in Lombardy. Yesterday, there were 627 deaths in Italy, the highest number yet. Sadly, this brings the number of deaths in Italy to 4,032, making Italy the country with the most deaths attributed to Coronavirus.

Of the 47,021 cases of Coronavirus, 22,264 of them have occurred here in Lombardy. To date, the hardest hit provinces with the most deaths are Bergamo (5,154), Brescia (4,648), and Milan (3,804). This week there have been so many deaths in the town of Bergamo that the Italian army has been called in to transport coffins (see the videos below). Morgues are full, cemeteries are at the brink, and because of the stringent measures in place prohibiting gatherings, the dead do not get the funeral they deserve. Mourning families who weren’t allowed to be at the bedside of their loved one, not allowed to comfort and reassure them as they suffered through their last moments, are left doubly heartbroken.

The Italian army transporting coffins.
Coffins lined up in a cemetery in Bergamo.

Last night the Protezione Civile, who hold a daily press conference announcing the dreaded COVI-19 numbers of the day, announced that the “peak” they anticipated would happen by Sunday, March 22, is nowhere in sight. They don’t know, they can’t predict when it will come.

The mood here in Lombardy has shifted from laughing at funny quarantine videos and singing on balconies, to that of shock, disbelief and grieving. As I write this, a friend is in the hospital, gasping for air, fighting COVID-19 alone. He is my age with a wife and two young children. Another friend, mother of 7, and her teenage son have the symptoms of the virus, fever and cough. Not a good sign, but I’m hopeful they’ll only have a mild case.

As the death toll climbs the government is cracking down on its citizens, handing out fat fines to those who are out for no good reason. Until recently, here in Lombardia, lone joggers and dog walkers have been going out (as I did) citing a health necessity. Now, it seems even those activities are discouraged. I haven’t walked my dog in almost a week. I’m thankful I have a yard where my dog can chase a ball and get some exercise and where, on a clear day, we can enjoy the precious afternoon sunshine. I know most in the Milan metro area do not have the luxury of a small yard. Most are quarantined in small, cramped apartments, their only escape is a balcony or a view out a window.

Today, I went through photos, reliving happier times. I found some beautiful photos of Bergamo (see below) taken by my son, a blossoming photographer and videographer. Bergamo is a short 40 minute drive from here and we often go there to enjoy the views from the Citta Alta, the old medieval heart of the city that sits on a hill, walls in tact, with stunning views of the valley on one side and the Alps on the other. I know one day we’ll return to take a passeggiata and eat brasato at our favorite restaurant. Until then, I pray for the city, that their citizens would heal, and that all the losses in Lombardy, and the rest of the country, would come to an end.

CORONAVIRUS: BRACING FOR THE PEAK

As of 6 p.m. last night, there are 27,980 cases of Coronavirus and 2,153 deaths in Italy. We had our second day of losing over 300 people in a 24 hour period. Yesterday there were 349 deaths, one of which was a relative of a dear friend.

POSITIVI = POSITIVE, GUARITI = RECOVERED, DECEDUTI = DECEASED, CASI TOTALI = TOTAL CASES

Over the past week I’ve grown increasingly concerned that so many people in the U.S. and other places dismiss the gravity of this virus. They simply don’t get it and won’t listen to us here in Lombardia, the Wuhan of Europe. The young selfishly disregard the danger because they think they’re not at risk, never stopping to think they could be asymptomatic and carry death itself to their grandparents or other vulnerable person. Then there are the skeptics who think the media has exaggerated the danger, so they go about their business, ignoring the call to stay in their homes. They can’t be bothered to be inconvenienced temporarily in order to protect and save those weakest in society. They’re the experts, knowing everything and scoffing at those who disagree with them. The sceptics are giants in their own minds.

I’m no expert, but I do know basic math and the numbers don’t lie. The numbers are terrifying. The mortality rate ranges from 5-9 percent depending on location here in Italy. The median age of those who die is 64 (see the graph below). The experts say we might reach the peak this coming Sunday, March 22. By the end the week, Italy might have reached 30-40,000 cases and hundreds of more deaths. In Rho, the next town over from us, an enormous indoor fair grounds is being converted into a make-shift hospital. We’re bracing for what’s to come. All we can do is listen to the authorities, help the elderly, do our part and pray. Thankfully, in the last few days the U.S. is finally taking some action, but is it enough? I fear not.

CORONAVIRUS: LOSSES IN LOMBARDY

Last night, as all of Italia received the news of the latest COVID-19 numbers, you could almost hear a collective, national sigh of grief. 368 people died in a single day, the highest number of deaths in one day so far. The new death toll is 1,809 nationally, 1,218 of those deaths are here in Lombardy. As we approach the peak of the virus this week, we’re bracing ourselves for the worst.

This morning, as I read the local news and as I skimmed through the headlines, I read story after story of the suffering in Bergamo, a town 40 minutes north of here. Of all the provinces of Lombardy, Bergamo has suffered the worst losses. One article in particular brought me to tears. The author describes the situation in Bergamo with chilling detail: a burial takes place every half hour, everyone has either lost someone or knows someone who has died, a whole generation is being wiped out. He goes onto to say that, in Bergamo, no one is singing or clapping from their balconies. He ends his article with these words:

“Perhaps this massive loss of life has not been understood nationally and internationally because we are a reserved people, we don’t like the limelight. Yet we would like to shout out to all the world: stay at home, protect yourself. This storm named Coronavirus is taking a generation away from our society, a wealth of wisdom and love: there is no time to waste. Who can and has understood holds loved ones as if under a display case, venerates them as a relic. Protect them against any contact with the outside world, because outside this invisible glass it would be the end for them. No, even if we wanted to, we could not sing and applaud on our balconies: our hearts are swollen with pain.”

Pray for Bergamo, pray for Lombardy, pray for Italy. May this come to an end soon.

CORONAVIRUS: LOCKDOWN IN LOMBARDY

Today the numbers here in Lombardy are depressing: 9,820 cases, 890 deaths. That’s a 9 percent mortality rate. For a week more than 100 people have died every day just in our region. What’s even more depressing is that we’re being told that we have not reached the peak of the virus yet.

One ray of sunshine amidst the darkness is the way in which Italians are handling this crisis. As a newcomer to this country, I have been so impressed with the Italian people under lockdown. Their ability to find humor and joy during this chaos is amazing. Here are just a of my favorite memes that have brought a smile to my face.

This is what Milan looks like during lockdown.

Amuchina is the Italian brand of hand sanitizer that became scarce weeks ago.

“Barbie, Taking a Walk in Milan. Mask not included.”

Yes, the situation is bad, but the Italian people have shown incredible solidarity and strength in this crisis. Just last night people all over Italy went to their windows and balconies at 6 pm and sang or played an instrument. Some sang the national anthem, some sang a traditional song, and some played their instruments. These little acts are bringing joy and unity to a country under lockdown.





Keep the people of Italy in your prayers. Forza Italia!

CORONAVIRUS: LIVING THE LOCKDOWN LIFE IN LOMBARDY

As of last night, March 11, 2020, Giuseppe Conte ordered even more restrictions on the citizens of Italy. Those restrictions include closing down restaurants and bars, which were already operating under strict guidelines, and closing everything else with the exception of medical offices, post offices, banks, grocery stores, and pharmacies. Interestingly, tobacco/newstands are also still allowed to operate.

A sign on swing sets in my neighborhood park stating the park is closed.

Conte appealed to the civic duty of Italians. In order to protect the most vulnerable, he called on citizens to respect the ordinance and stay at home as much as possible. Every evening the Dipartimento della Protezione Civile reports the day’s numbers. Yesterday’s numbers are staggering: 12,462 cases in the whole country, with 827 deaths. Here in Lombardy there are 7,280 cases and 617 deaths. Just since my last post the number of cases have increased by 3,290 and deaths have increased by 210. Most of those deaths have occurred here in Lombardy.

This piazza is usually full of life; both young and old gather here but today it’s eerily silent.

The local news is full of stories about tragedy; fairly young people (40s and 50s) in ICU, the lack of hospital beds and ventilators, and the new sad norm of the elderly dying alone because their loved ones are not allowed to be at their side for fear of infection. Those same families are then told they can’t have proper funerals to honor their dead.

A line of people waiting to enter the grocery store. Stores are open but they only allow a small amount of people in a time.

When there is so much bad news and the only sound outside is that of the occasional ambulance, it’s tempting to panic and live in fear. Here are some things I’ve been doing to help my mental health:

  1. Pray – I’m a Christian and prayer is a huge source of comfort. I can go to my heavenly Father and tell him all that concerns me and pray for others. He listens and is sovereign over all. I trust that I belong to him in body and soul, both in life and in death.
  2. Read the Psalms – At such a time as this the Psalms are like a healing balm. Lately, Psalms 23, 46, 91, and 121 are favorites.
  3. Gardening – I’ve planted fresh flowers that were for sale at the grocery store and put them on my window sill so I have something pretty to look at.
  4. Studying Italian – I have more time to dedicate to my studies. It’s great that my tutor is available via Skype.
  5. Walking and bike riding – We’re not prohibited from taking a walk or biking so long as we don’t do it in groups and stay a meter away from others. Yesterday was a beautiful day so I went on a hour long bike ride.
  6. Trying new recipes – I got an air fryer a few weeks ago and it’s been fun to try new things. My favorite so far are bacon-wrapped mushrooms. Yum!
  7. Turning off the TV and listening to Motown – Motown makes everything better.
The view from my window.

As I think about what the next few weeks holds for us here in Lombardy, I remember the wise words of Elizabeth Elliot, “When you don’t know what to do next, just do the next thing.” Meals needs to be prepared, the floor must be mopped, and laundry awaits.

CORONAVIRUS: DAY 3 OF LOCKDOWN IN ITALY

Sunday morning I woke to the news that all of Lombardia and most of northern Italy was on lockdown. The “red zone” which was previously limited to 11 towns where the outbreak was concentrated, was expanded to include Lombardia and other provinces here in the north. As of yesterday morning, the ENTIRE country has been placed on lockdown. The number of cases has risen to 9,172 and sadly the number of deaths has risen to 463.

What does that mean for us who live in Italy? It means we are not allowed (unless authorized) to leave Lombardia or Italy. Saturday and Sunday morning as the news spread of the lockdown many people made a mad dash to the train stations and highways fleeing before they could get stopped. It also means we are strongly encouraged to stay at home unless we have to go to work, buy groceries, go to the doctor or have to perform a necessary task. Any gatherings, both public and private are prohibited. Schools, churches, museums, gyms, cinemas and the like are all closed. We are required to stay one meter away from each other in public. The elderly are advised not to go out at all. Violation of the new ordinance is punishable by three months prison time and/or a fat fee.

People leaving Milan by train
An empty Piazza Duomo.

It is surreal to say the least. I have to admit that for a country known for its disorganization, Italy’s response and actions taken to contain this virus has been impressive. From the moment there was evidence of community spread, they have taken swift and drastic action. There is an appeal to civic duty to obey these restrictions for the good of those who are the most vulnerable. In general, Italians seem compliant. Sadly, as the numbers show, the drastic measures taken by the government have not stopped the virus but it has bought the health system time to treat those who are affected most and hopefully slow the spread. I find myself thinking about those who are pregnant, about to give birth, and those who, in the middle of this chaos, have a serious health emergency such as a heart attack or stroke. This virus will have ripple effects that will be felt by many.

Yesterday I went to the Posta (post office) to pay a bill. They only allowed one person at a time into the office and those of us who had to wait outside had to stand one meter apart. Judging distance is a little difficult but I did my best. The thought crossed my mind that maybe I need to carry a measuring tape with me! I also went to the grocery store to pick up a few things. There were much less people shopping than usual and many were wearing gloves and masks and again, people tried to stay away from each other. Driving home there were few cars on the road, less people walking and biking. Today, the first thing I noticed is the lack of noise. Mornings are full of sounds of a bustling neighborhood, cars and buses driving by and my neighbors leaving their homes and heading off to work and school. Now, there is an eerie silence in the air.

I’m praying this virus will meet its end soon and I pray those who are sick and suffering will recover quickly.