Iseo, Italy As daily operations in Southern Ohio remain far from the ordinary, one Scioto County native has found herself navigating these unprecedented times in one of the places where COVID-19 first gained traction before spreading worldwide.
In November, Cylia Queen accepted a job in Iseo, Italy, located in Lombardia in Northern Italy, and quickly found herself living in an area hit hardest by the Coronavirus.
“This past year has been a transitional period for me. I decided to leave grad school and then later lost my job. I had been unemployed for several months and, apart from some freelance work, I didn’t have many commitments that would keep me from going. I’ve lived in Italy before and speak the language, so the only real thing standing in my way was making sure that I could financially afford it.,” said Queen.
Queen said that when she first embarked on her journey, Coronavirus was still relatively under the radar.
“When I first heard about the Coronavirus arriving in Italy, there were very few cases. My trip was five days away and I had my plans already in place. I contacted friends and the director of the language assistantship and asked if I should postpone or cancel my trip, but they all assured me that the media was making the outbreak out to be worse than what it was. They anticipated that things would be back to normal within a week or two. Even the family that was supposed to host me assured me that everything was fine and that I still had a place to stay,” said Queen. “With numerous friends and family encouraging me to go still and to not cancel solely based on the fact that the worst-case scenario could happen, I went.”
According to Queen, one week after she arrived in Italy, she noticed things around her changing in preparation for the Coronavirus. Queen said the schools had already closed there, but the plans were originally that they would only remain closed for a week.
“When I asked the family if they thought the virus would make it to the northern part of Lombardy, I remember one of the kids saying, ‘this town is so small, it will never make it here,’” said Queen.
Queen said that the first week of school cancellations turned into two weeks, but she was still being assured that the situation was temporary because the virus was being contained.
“A day or two later, the town saw its first case. Hundreds of cases started popping up all over Lombardy, which caused regional politicians to enforce lockdown. At first, we could still take walks. With the rapid increase of daily cases, however, a 20-30-minute walk turned into not going 200 meters beyond your own house without what was considered an essential reason to do so. The main street, which was usually full of townspeople became empty. Bars, restaurants and local businesses closed their doors due to government restrictions. At first, it was only hairdressers and schools. Restaurants and bars could stay open until 6 p.m. if they adapted their seating arrangements to keep at least a meter of distance between their customers. People could still go to supermarkets, but they had to practice social distancing,” said Queen.
Queen stated that the restrictions expanded after the second week as they entered a full lockdown. “The entire country became under lockdown and bars, restaurants and other non-essential businesses were all closed,” said Queen.
Queen said that if you want to go to a supermarket in Italy today, you have to go alone and most of the time, are asked to be one of only three shoppers at a time.
“People look at each other with suspicion, afraid that if they get too close, you might affect them or the other way around,” said Queen.
Queen said Hospitals have been overcrowded, especially in Northern Italy.
“They had to clear out clinics and smaller hospitals just to make room for all the patients in critical condition. Italy is an elderly country and so many people have lost their lives,” said Queen. “Several students that I’ve been working with online have lost their grandparents in the last few weeks due to the virus. Many people suspect they even had the virus before they discovered the outbreak in Southern Lombardy. Many believe it’s been here since December or January. It still doesn’t, however, take away the fear and anxiety that you might have contracted it or passed it on to someone else.”
Queen said for the first few weeks she feared she might have contracted the virus somehow, with any cough or sneeze an indicator that she, or the members of the family she had been staying with, had the virus.
As the Coronavirus made its way from Italy to the United States, Queen said family and friends began to reach out to her with questions on what to expect.
“I mostly told them about what the Italian government was suggesting their citizens to do,” Queen said. “Wash your hands regularly, use hand sanitizer, disinfect the house regularly, practice social distancing and stay home are just to name a few.”
Queen said having lived in Italy previously and being able to communicate with her host family properly has helped her to get by as things gradually resume some sort of normalcy.
“Knowing the language also helps. I communicate without any issues with my host family and they’ve been very accommodating since the beginning. Creating some normalcy in my day also helps, I work about 12 hours as a language assistant for a middle school in Iseo teaching English lessons online. I also do freelance work as a linguist and, if that doesn’t keep me busy enough, I exercise and work on my music,” said Queen. Queen said she never leaves home without her recording equipment or my ukulele. “I would be lying if I said the situation doesn’t bother me at all. There are days when tensions can be high, maybe the kids aren’t doing their homework like they should, or everyone would like some alone time, but everyone is pretty calm considering the circumstances.”
Queen stated that in Italy, they have been in quarantine for over 40 days, with the Italian government extending the order for an additional 20 days just last week.
“This means starting May 4; we should begin to see certain restrictions be lifted. Some businesses will be able to reopen, although I am not sure which ones at this point. We might even be able to take 20-30-minute walks and even travel a little bit. Schools most likely will remain closed until September, so kids will keep doing online classes until the end of this school year. The government has already stated that all students will pass their grade level, no matter how bad their grade reports or end of the year exams will be,” said Queen. Queen stated that she would be interested to see how the upcoming weeks unfold.
“I was hoping to see friends and travel some while I was here, but I’m not sure if that will happen now. If it happens that way, that is fine by me. I’m in a beautiful town surrounded by one of Europe’s largest lakes, Lake Iseo, and the mountains. This definitely won’t be my last trip to Italy,” said Queen. “My love for Italy is stronger than anything the Coronavirus can throw at me!”
Reach: Ivy Potter© 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved