Italian med student: ‘Take this seriously’
Alessia Pascarella, a 21-yearold medical student living in northern Italy, has some advice for Americans who may be chafing under the increasing restrictions and lifestyle changes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Don’t make the same mistakes as we did,” she said. “We had people going around carelessly up until now, and it’s not good because cases are just going up like crazy.”
Pascarella is the older sister of Sara Pascarella, who came to Abbotsford in 2017 as an exchange student and stayed with the Flink family. Sara and Alessia live with their mother in Pinerolo near Turin, a city of 800,0000 people just outside the worst cluster of COVID-19 cases in Italy. Alessia did an interview via Skype with the Tribune Phonograph
on Saturday, detailing life in the epicenter of one of the world’s worst outbreaks.
Since the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in Rome on Jan. 31, Italy has seen an exponential increase in the deadly disease. As of this week, the nation of 60 million people has more than 31,500 confirmed cases of the virus, and over 2,500 have died so far.
“We’re still far from the peak of potential people being affected,” Alessia said.
Last week, Italy became the first country to declare a nationwide quarantine of its citizens in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus and alleviate pressure on the country’s health care system.
For the foreseeable future, citizens are only allowed to leave their homes for three reasons: work, emergencies, or an appointment considered necessary that cannot be postponed.
Pascarella said, at first, she expected people to make up excuses on the “auto-certification” forms they are required to fill out in order to go outside.
“I thought, they’re just going to declare what they want and do what they please, but I’m gladly surprised that people are actually checking on these autocertifi cations,” she said.
However, she has heard about a man who was fined for going over to his girlfriend’s place to make up with her after an argument. This did not meet the definition of an “emergency.”
The university where Alessia attends school has been closed since Feb. 21, and the hospital where she trains has been converted into a COVID-19 treatment center, with all of the available wards repurposed for virus patients.
“I know our health system is quite good compared to others, but there is no system good enough to take care of this many patients at one time,” she said.
As an example of how dire the situation is, Alessia relayed the story of a 60-year-old man who died of the coronavirus after he was sent home by doctors because they did not have enough beds available at the hospital.
“They couldn’t take him in, and they had to choose between him and another guy who was 30, and they chose based on life expectancy and likelihood of recovery,” she said.
Alessia said her medical professors have said this is similar to what doctors and nurses have to do during a time of war when casualties are high and resources are limited.
“It’s sad to see that they have to make these choices,” she said.
Alessia said she worries about her grandparents and father, who live in Naples in southern Italy, where the hospital system is not as reliable.
The strain of coronavirus spreading across the planet has been shown to have an incubation period of two weeks, she said, so Italian officials are hoping that a shutdown for at least that amount of time will allow the number of new cases to plateau.
Still, Alessia believes the quarantine restrictions are likely to be extended beyond April 3, when the current decree is supposed to expire. She said this may have all been prevented if people had taken the threat more seriously right away.
“At first, we all underestimated the situation so we kept going out,” she said. “Some people are still doing it, not realizing the situation.”
Life under lockdown
Many Americans may wonder, what is life like under a nationwide quarantine?
Alessia said many of life’s daily activities, like education and socializing, have gone online. Instead of attending lectures in person, she and her classmates learn from a professor web-casting from his home. And, instead of going out to bars and restaurants at night, she said friends get together for group video chats — complete with wine and food.
Italians have also created some inspiring videos of people singing songs, such as the national anthem, from their balconies while under lockdown.
When it comes to getting food and other essentials from the store, Alessia said only one person from each family is allowed to go, and they have to stand in a line outside, one meter (three feet) apart before entering.
Being cooped up in a twobedroom apartment with her mother and two sisters can create some tension, Alessia says.
“We’re trying to respect each other’s space, because it’s not easy being locked inside the house the entire day,” she said. “So, sometimes, you could get into arguments.”
Italy has experienced some of the same phenomena as the United States, such as a run on hand sanitizer and mass cancellations of sporting events. She said Italians are just as upset about their soccer tournaments being cancelled as Americans are about the NBA and NCAA halting their games.
At the same time, Alessia said Italians have come together to do what they can to fight the outbreak. A private fundraiser organized by Italian celebrities collected 4 million Euros for the construction of new medical facilities in Milan, and online influencers have spread the hashtag #IoRestoACasa (“I stay at home.”) Alessia said she’s hopeful that Italy will come out of this crisis more united than ever, and more thankful for freedoms they take for granted.
“All the sacrifices we’re making now will pay off eventually,” she said. “The sooner, the better. The more we respect these rules, the more we are attentive to it, the sooner we’ll come back to having our normal lives.”
However, at this point, Alessia is concerned that the United States may be headed in the same direction Italy was before the nationwide lockdown. As a former exchange student who spent time in Kansas, she still keeps in contact with friends and former teachers.
Based on the comments she’s heard from Americans in her social network, she’s wondering about much coronavirus can be contained in a large country where travel between states is common.
“I’m worried that if a large part of your country doesn’t take these seriously, it could be potentially worse there,” she said. “It’s really important not to scare people but to make sure they are aware of their risks and make these small — and actually big sacrifices also — now to go back to the way things were sooner.”
Alessia urges Americans to respect the restrictions that have already been put in place and to practice crucial sanitary practices, like washing your hands and keeping your distance from others.
“It’s important to learn something from our situation,” she said. “If we can spare you even just a few cases, that’s good.”