Ciao from Italy - a perspective on COVID-19 near the (current) epicenter

Buongiorno mi amici. Long-time lurker, first-time poster. I’m an American living abroad in Italy and finally decided to make my first post to the Dope. I’ve very much enjoyed these boards; they’re informative and have allowed me to maintain some cultural connection to the States while living abroad. For that, thank you. That said, I’ve seen some recent posts by a very small minority of posters expressing skepticism about the threat posed by COVID-19. I’d like to address those. First, I’d like to describe what it’s like here. Second, I’d like to address some of the misguided skepticism about the public health risks of COVID-19.

When I moved to Italy, I never thought anything like this would happen. This is a beautiful country with wonderful people and I’ve spent a great deal of time exploring its history and culture, as well as its food, coffee, and wine! It’s truly been a blessing to have this opportunity. I live in the heart of an Italian city and have grown accustomed to the daily (and nightly!) buzz of my neighbors socializing in the piazza, sharing café, gelato, graffa, and stories about their days. I used to spend my evenings with them, mingling with the people and absorbing the culture.

Sadly, that has changed. It has been a ghost town here for two weeks. Everything except essentials are closed. We are effectively sheltering in place at home. I spend a half hour waiting in line to enter the supermarket as they’re limiting the number of people inside at any given time. Everyone is wearing surgical masks in public and keeping 1-2 meters of distance from each other, the latter of which represents a major cultural shift for people who are accustomed to regular conversation and interaction.

The foregoing, while drastic, is for good reason. Hospitals north of here have been completely overwhelmed by the sick and dying. Doctors who normally practice other specialties have been re-tasked as emergency docs and now must make tragic decisions about who lives and who dies, as there are not enough respirators and other medical essentials. This is a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Notwithstanding that, I’ve read recent posts on these boards that reflect shocking and callous stances. Posters who assert that “only” 1% - 4% of people will die from it and that the U.S. and global reactions to COVID-19 are overblown mass hysteria that will unnecessarily hamper our economy. They couldn’t be more wrong.

Consider this. Conservatively, COVID-19 kills 0.25% to 3% of people who contract it, maybe more. There are currently around 330 million people in the U.S. If only 1/3 of Americans contract COVID-19, (which is well established to have a high transmission rate) that’s potentially 3 million dead Americans, more than all other annual causes of death in the U.S. combined. It has the potential to kill more Americans than car crashes, cancer, firearms, heart disease, and ALL OTHER CAUSES OF DEATH YOU CAN IMAGINE.


Worse yet, if we fail to reduce the rate of infection (i.e., flatten the curve), that proportion will go up, as it has here in Italy, where hospitals are overwhelmed and, as a result, the sick cannot receive adequate treatment, to the point coroners are overwhelmed. They can’t move the dead bodies quickly enough. Let that sink in.

9/11, which was tragic, resulted in 2,996 American fatalities. We’re looking at something that is potentially 1,000 times more deadly. So take precautions. Listen to the experts. Slow this thing down. Doing so will protect you, your friends, your family, and your neighbors.

This is the existential threat of our generation.

Welcome to the Dope. Thanks for your post from the front lines, as it were. Keep safe.

Great first post - thank you for that.

Hope to see you around here more, and - stay healthy!


Worst case scenario I’ve heard for the US alone is 214 million infected, 4 million dead.

Hopefully it’ll be much lower than that.

Its scary how the developed world can barely take care of itself. With ebola the rich and educated parts of the world helped to keep the virus under control. Now the developed world can’t even take care of itself now. I fear how bad this will be in the developing world where people have more illnesses, worse nutrition, less stable societies and less health care.

Thanks all for the welcomes and well wishes. We were just discussing here this past week about how this virus may devastate Africa. There’s a gent from Ghana whom I normally see every morning; he works as a parking attendant. Needless to say, haven’t seen him for a couple weeks. I’m sure he works “paycheck to paycheck” and is struggling to survive right now. I fear worse for his family back home in the coming weeks.

Frankly, it renders trivial my frustrations about finding something new to watch on Netflix.

Ciao, Ulysses. What’s the mood in Italy with respect to continuing to obey/respect social distancing practices? I’m sure nobody is happy about the impact on Italy’s favorite pass time (after football) of la dolce vita. Jokes aside, are people generally calm and taking things in stride as best they can under the circumstances? Any signs of patience running out and rising tensions?

Everyone here has been impressively cooperative and reasonable. Prior to this crisis, my impression was that Italians are a very independent people who eschew many of the social norms to which I was accustomed, queuing in line among them. I’d gotten used to less personal space in public spaces and being assertive at the coffee bar to ensure my order was taken. I’d also seen traffic laws disregarded on a regular basis; the rare occasion in which the polizia or carabinieri enforced them resulted in fairly heated arguments that would get you arrested in the States; apparently, that was normal here.

Two weeks ago, all that changed. Once the government instituted an effective lockdown, it was like someone flipped a switch. The piazza was deserted, and all shops closed. People have only been out for essentials, but everyone keeps 1-2 meters of distance and there’s been no hoarding or other irrational behavior. I’ll concede that having bidets in our homes probably alleviates the need to hoard toilet paper… :slight_smile:

So far, I’ve seen no signs of resistance. Rather, they continue to take this very seriously here. In fact, many people here are clearly terrified. We’ve discussed different potential reasons. I suspect that there remains a cultural memory of prior pandemics. The black death purportedly entered Europe through Italy (either Sicily or Naples). Also, an early nickname for the Spanish Flu was the “Naples Soldier” (after a popular opera at the time, I believe). Perhaps even the plague of Justinian and the plague of Athens figure into it - significant portions of Italy were Greek colonies at the time.

The news here is reporting that the lockdown will be extended until early April but that it appears to be working and that infections and deaths are beginning to level off and will, god willing, decline. I hope they’re right.

Hi Ulysses, and welcome. Do you mind I’m nosy about some practical aspects of your day-to-day life at the moment? Things like, how often do you manage to/are you allowed to get outside and walk to the shops(or whatever)? Are you able to work from home (assuming you’re working)? Do you meet anyone at all at the moment? Or are you not (yet?) in the grips of (near) total lockdown?


Ciao Treppenwitz e grazie mille. I’m more than happy to share what it’s like here. I live in the heart of a mid-sized Italian city, so it’s surreal to hear the silence outside. I’m used to hearing hundreds of people outside my apartment on weekends. It’s dead quiet outside right now. Also, there are virtually no cars on the road. I look forward to a return to normal.

We’re able to go out for essentials, so supermarkets and pharmacies are open, with limited hours. The enoteca nearby (wine and cheese shop) is also periodically open, thankfully! I went to the supermarket yesterday and waited in line outside for a half hour. Everyone is wearing surgical masks and keeping their distance. I’d say I go out once every other day or so for groceries, etc. I’ve also spent some time on the balcony enjoying my neighbors’ singing. :slight_smile:

When we go out, we carry government-issued paperwork that states where we live and where we’re going; it also affirms we’re not infectious. The paperwork is essentially a declaration we sign before we go out. Falsifying it or travelling unnecessarily is subject to fine or arrest. I’ve been stopped by the carabinieri at a checkpoint with very little hassle. As long as you’re out for an authorized reason, all is well.

I’m very fortunate in that I can work from home, for the most part, without loss of income. Others here are not so fortunate. I’m very concerned for the restaurants, bars, and gelateria I frequent, most of which are family owned. I can only imagine what this is doing to them. Several places I frequent consist of mom and pop working in the kitchen and their adult children waiting tables. Imagine that – their entire family is now effectively furloughed with no source of income. I’m especially concerned about the Chinese family that owns and operates my one of my favorite restaurants nearby. Asian-owned businesses here have been especially impacted, sadly. Many closed 1-2 weeks before the formal shutdown due to a sudden loss of business. :frowning:

It’s pretty darn quiet here on the roads in suburban Florida, too. So quiet that while not completely deserted, you can distinctly hear each vehicle approach you from at least a city block away where they usually sort of blend in. Another thing contributing to the quiet is the lack of airplane traffic. In urban/suburban areas, even if there aren’t any cars there’s usually a background noise of jet engines that no one distinctly hears until it goes away. This was lacking today and replaced by birds singing.

I know that this is different and in most ways worse than 9/11, but they definitely have quiet from the air in common with each other.

I also think that I can smell the air better but that’s probably because it’s spring and the quietness and the birds are influencing my mind, but I wonder if the lack of car pollution has something to do with it as well.

I was pissed off the other night when there was no fresh cilantro for on my shrimp curry.

Stay well. Thank you for the glimpse.

There’s some Italian mayors tired of this shit.
Link to a Twitter-embedded video, subtitled in English, of various Italian mayors tired of this shit.

Ulysses, hang in there. The Dope is good for expat Americans to kinda keep connected. I lived in China for 20 years (including during SARS) and this board helped keep me on an even keel. Be safe.

Update: it wasn’t just me hallucinating. Looking back on it, now that the roads are much more heavily-trafficked, I am no longer hearing the birds and can only hear the individual cars coming when they are fairly close to me during decent hours. So in retrospect there was definitely a lot less road traffic in the early months of the pandemic.