By Chris Frost
Milan-- As the world uses social distancing and quarantine measures to stop the coronavirus, the Alley family use their faith in God, plenty of prayers, and extreme caution to stay safe where the virus runs rampant in Italy.
Italy has been overwhelmed by the virus and is second to China, where the virus originated, in confirmed cases. The mortality rate in the country sits at 9.2 percent at press time and the country is under lockdown.
Chandra Alley and her family arrived in Italy on Aug. 31, 2018, as her husband got transferred.
At first, Chandra wondered how the virus differed from the flu, but she soon realized this virus is the real deal.
"A lot of people are afraid," she said. "It's not something you need to be afraid of. The people here who are passing away are 80 plus years old, and hopefully, they've had long and beautiful lives. I'm not saying that people aren't catching it, because they are. You can see that in the statistics."
The virus escalated, and people started to pass away.
"Around week two, my husband told me that they are starting to run out of room at the hospital," she said. "It's not the death rate they are afraid of; it's all the people who are sick they won't be able to take care of, and it started to become more real."
Shortly after that, Chandra fell and split her knee open. That required a trip to the hospital.
She hoped to avoid going to the hospital, but the cut was way too deep.
"I told my husband what I did, and he said, wait, you cut your knee on tile that had metal around it," she said. "You're going to need a tetanus shot."
She was a bit skeptical about how many people at the hospital received treatment in the hallways because the Coronavirus was overwhelming the hospital.
"Then, I got to see it for myself," she said. "We walked up to the entrance, and a security guard had us go around to the back. We had a lady meet us, not in full hazmat gear, but she had a lot of outer clothing on, with a mask and gloves. She took our temperature, and she asked us if we had a cough in the last few days. We didn't have a cough, and our temperatures were fine."
As she entered the hospital, Chandra could see a stretched out tent that reminded her of something she would see in a movie.
"I'm not sure what they used that for," she said. "Maybe they used the tent to process people while they were taking their temperature. It was a long tent."
She didn't have to go into the tent, and while they admitted her, through a window, Chandra could see people in full medical gear tending to patients in the hallway.
"There were between eight and 12 patients," she said. "They were all elderly, and I made an assumption they were all coronavirus patients because they were glassed off."
On the backs of their uniform gear, the hospital workers wrote, "you can't see it, but I am smiling inside."
"It was cheering to me," she said. "You've got to keep some light and hope inside. Especially in their position, where a good percentage of the people they are caring for could pass away."
On the way to the emergency room, she saw beds full of people with masks lined up.
"Sometimes, they were in a wheelchair waiting, and they did not look well," she said. "They had masks on."
When Chandra and her husband got back from the hospital, the duo used a decontamination protocol to keep her children safe.
"A friend of mine was watching the kids, and we asked her if she could watch them for a few more minutes so we can de-robe, take a shower, and wash everything," she said. "I would guess that's what the medical personnel do when they are at the hospital."
One of the first things the Italian government did was quarantine schools, which had a profound effect on her because she has school-age children.
Chandra is now an online homeschooling mom, and she still has two small children who do not attend school that needs care.
Her children's school does a great job adapting their online platform for distance learning, she said, which she called amazing.
"It seems like, in America, from talking to family, a lot of people are on spring break, and they are taking an extended spring break, so they can figure everything out," she said. "They're going to do two weeks of spring break, and then jump into their distance learning. Here (in Italy), they go to school almost until the end of June, so there is a week to give you an actual spring break. Then, we started hearing murmurs that they would cancel school."
She worked with her kids and found things to do with them on Monday after they closed school, and they had the entire online education platform up and running by Tuesday.
"It was incredible," she said. "They give assignments, and then two weeks in, they started doing online meetings for my kids with the teacher and a few other students so that they could have the social interaction, they miss, very much with their peers and teacher."
Chandra also attends class to learn to speak Italian.
"They hop on, and its where the teacher and all the people meet," she said. "They're all on learning, and then they all get off and then, they are on to another class. For me, its a lot of emailing and saying I am struggling here and there."
Some days feel long when she homeschools her kids, Chandra said, and she wishes they could balance the days out better.
"There are days when it feels like a normal day, and then there are others where I feel like I am working with my daughter for a long time," Chandra said. "My daughter is exhausted at the end of the day, and I am tired too. It's a different form of learning. The social interaction at school revitalizes the kids and gets them ready to talk about the next thing."
The kids have a small backyard or garden, as they call it in Italy, so they do get to go outside.
"We are so blessed, and our kids have the opportunity to go outside," she said. "They changed the laws again, so I had to call and verify that there was no recreational activity outside."
That made Chandra wonder if that included her backyard, where they wouldn't interact with other kids. After checking it out, she discovered that it is okay.
"We are blessed that we are still about to sit in our backyard," she said. "There are millions in Milan who don't have that, at all. I can't imagine not letting my kids go outside, but a lot of people face that. In my little town, there is a law written that you can't take your dog on a walk for two hours."
People take advantage of the rules because they are going stir crazy.
"I get it," she said. "You can't exercise very far from your home. The rule here says that only one person can go to the grocery store. They want to keep the virus contained. It's not that children don't get it at all, but I was listening to a podcast from a gentleman who went to UCLA Medical School and has his Ph.D. from Harvard who said younger people, up to my age, may have symptoms, or something that resembles a cold."
That is dangerous, she said, if that person comes in contact with someone in a higher risk category.
"I think that is one of the reasons why they shut down the schools," she said. "Kids don't have a good awareness of sanitation and keeping their distance. We've been fortunate that we've been able to go out for a little bit. Others are not that fortunate."
Chandra said she and her family still feels captive inside her home. Her husband has to work from home, and her kids are at home while school is closed.
"I don't have a car," she said. "My husband has the car during the day, and I get around via walking during nice weather. Sometimes I walk 1.5 miles to the grocery store to do the shopping. the kids would play at the park, but now that is not an option."
During the initial government clampdown, while people still went to work, and the kids could go to school, they tried to limit items at the grocery store.
"The shelves were bare, at first, then everything started to calm down," she said. "Our local market has done a fantastic job of keeping things on the shelf. There was never any craziness."
Chandra has a friend who lives in Calif, and at her local Costco, the cops had to break up a fight between 20 people.
"At my market, people are kind, polite and not manic," she said. "Even at the beginning, people weren't mad and said we've been doing this longer."
One item that ran out was bottled water, which was a big thing.
"Italians drink bottled water, mainly," Chandra said. "I'm not exactly sure why because the water is healthy and safe."
The government did send out an edict telling residents not to go to the store every day. Chandra thought that was common sense.
"That's something that, culturally, Italians do shop every day or every other day," she said. "One reason is the food is remarkably fresh here, but it goes bad quickly. It's not treated with preservatives and pesticides. The food goes bad here faster than it does in America."
This story will continue on April 3.
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