When Sarah Komadina left for Padua, Italy on Jan. 8, society was mostly unaware of a highly communicable virus from Wuhan, China. The coronavirus, now categorized as a pandemic, fundamentally changed realities around the world.
Komadina, a longtime Flagstaff resident and former Diablo Burger employee, has directly observed Italy’s social and political reactions to COVID-19. During a telephone interview, she said her current role as an au pair — or someone who helps with housework and childcare abroad — demonstrates the difference in lifestyles between the United States and Italy.
Around the U.S., grocery stores are lined with empty shelves and filled with increased demands, both of which have developed over the last few weeks. Toilet paper is an especially rare commodity, even for suppliers around Flagstaff. Contrastingly, Komadina said availability is less of a problem in Italy, specifically because people shop more sparingly and considerately.
“The average American consumer is used to buying and using in excess, especially compared to Italians,” Komadina said. “When most Europeans go to the grocery store, they buy food for the next day or two. … They’re just more moderate in their consumption.”
Despite Italy’s potential advantages, Komadina also said the country’s distinct lifestyle generates dangers. For example, Padua’s small households and high density make social distancing difficult, along with any self-quarantining. The frequency of Italians’ grocery shopping also facilitates daily interactions, Komadina explained, which causes further challenges in mitigating spread.
Since COVID-19’s original outbreak in January, various countries have witnessed different levels and degrees of infection. In response, numerous governments applied methods of distancing, quarantining and prevention — or a lack thereof. Italy, in particular, has implemented dramatic measures to slow the spread of this pandemic.
According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) daily situation report from Wednesday, Italy has 69,176 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the second highest figure in the world behind China. These statistics also document 6,820 deaths in Italy since the virus’s outbreak, comprising more casualties than the rest of Europe combined. More than half of the confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide are in Europe.
Over the last few weeks, governmental policies and societal practices surrounding COVID-19 have changed dramatically in Italy. Komadina said local schools closed at the end of February, indicating a significant preventive measure, and the final week of Venice’s annual Carnivale was also canceled.
“The government started to suggest people stay home and go out less,” Komadina said. “Italians kind of went about their lives as usual, but minus movie theaters and densely populated places.”
For a while, most services remained open and operational, Komadina explained, including bars, restaurants and coffee shops. However, when Venice and Padua received a red zone designation — along with large portions of northern Italy — almost all businesses were forced to close. Pharmacies, supermarkets and hospitals are some of the only establishments left running, she added, until the lockdown ends.
As an au pair, Komadina said she originally planned to stay in Italy for three months, returning to Arizona on April 7. However, given Italy’s quarantine and the U.S.’s travel ban, she will remain abroad for longer.
“I don’t have a clear idea of when I will be able to go home,” Komadina said. “Since I have to buy a new plane ticket anyways, it might just be better to stay here and wait it out.”
Furthermore, Komadina said international travel threatens the safety and security of herself, loved ones and strangers. By moving across the world and commuting through crowded airports, Komadina risks exposing herself to the illness, infecting her parents or spreading it between other travelers.
Although Italy is highly infected, it could provide more reliability than continuing to move around.
“I’d be going from one quarantine situation to the next, and that’s just not good for anyone,” Komadina said.
As more local and national measures are implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Komadina said she is hopeful the U.S. will learn from Italy’s mistakes and benefit from its successes. Listening to doctors and practicing sanitation techniques is critical, she added, particularly in protecting those with greater susceptibility.
“I really, genuinely believe that you need to wash your hands, practice social distancing and go out as little as possible,” Komadina said. “From what I’ve experienced here, try to stay safely away from other people.”
Part of COVID-19’s danger stems from its widespread symptoms and unpredictable effects. Although Komadina would most likely be fine if she tested positive for COVID-19, she said the ability to infect and impair other people serves as constant motivation for staying safe. Even if the virus is imperceptible for some, it is devastating for others. In order to support and embrace each other, Komadina concluded, all people must be considered.
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