CISABROAD BLOG · March 11, 2020 · 4 Min Read
What is Italy like during coronavirus? A Site Director’s Perspective

This week seems to be more difficult than the week before. I live in a very small town and the majority of the population here is over 60 years old.

Since yesterday, it looks like a ghost town, especially after 6 PM. No one is around – very few cars – and there’s a creepy silence all around. Ninety percent of stores, restaurants, cafés are closed. Supermarkets and pharmacies are still open, but there’s a long line to get in. They allow 20-30 people at a time to avoid crowds inside. There are no big supermarkets in the historic center of Castel Gandolfo, and my father and I are contacting our oldest neighbors and relatives via phone (or with a sort of window-to-window communication) and ordering groceries online for them.

I’ve had a bad cold since Sunday and I’ve not seen almost anyone since then. I am staying home and I only take my dog out around my house early in the morning and in the late afternoon. I will have to self isolate for the next 10-14 days. I still have the cold and some cough – the doctor recommended self-isolation. I’m OK, I am pretty sure it’s just a cold but he asked me to monitor my temperature four times a day and let him know if It goes above 37.5 C.


My Nonna is 84, her neighbors, Mimi, Maria, and Amelia, are 91, 89, and 85. Our aunt Bruna is 79 and her husband Gigi is 87. They’ve never used a smartphone or a computer to buy anything. The digital divide is huge, and it took us some time yesterday to gain their trust and order groceries for them. We placed the order yesterday around 1 PM, and hopefully they will deliver by 6 PM today. There’s no lack of food, but it takes a lot of time to go get it at the supermarket or to get it delivered.


Romina sending rose to her grandmother, ItalyNonna is worried about the current situation, but for some reason, she worries much less than us. She was born in 1935 and she was 10 when World War II ended. That’s probably why she is staying stronger than everyone in the family and she is the one who is comforting us. She may think that coronavirus is less scary than the war, and that we will overcome it as long as we stay at home and wash hands multiple times a day. She is optimistic and we should learn from her.

I saw my Nonna from her window on International Women’s Day and gave her a white rose using an old school system.

My father is the only one who goes to her house once a day to make sure she takes her medication (11 different pills a day!). He has to wear a mask and latex gloves, and he stays at Nonna’s place just for a few minutes. No hugs, no kisses, no hand shakes.

My mum turned 60 on March 9th and we decided to cancel the party that we planned for her. We initially invited 38 guests (including seniors and children) and we ended up celebrating her birthday among 4 people and 2 dogs. As a birthday gift, we booked a trip to Cuba but we had to cancel it as well. In the end, it wasn’t too bad since no one was in the mood to celebrate or go on vacation.

Sebastiano left yesterday morning and returned to Brussels. A few hours later, RyanAir and other airlines cancelled almost all flights to and from Belgium until April 9th. The border with Austria is currently closed to Italians, and we expect that other nearby countries will do the same very soon. We do not know when we will be able to meet again and this is scary.


Our government is doing a good job so far despite the emergency. The health care system is on its last legs in Lombardia (Northern Italy) and they started to transfer many ICU patients to other regions. So far, in my region, Lazio, we have 116 cases. Here’s a reliable map where you can see how it’s spreading all over Italy, especially in our program locations (Toscana, Campania, Umbria and Lazio).

It was a wise decision to suspend all Italy programs, and I’m glad students got to return home before the lockdown. CIS Abroad did a great job (compared to other Italy programs) and I’d like to thank you for being so supportive and helpful during this difficult situation. Great teamwork! I believe students (and parents) will appreciate it more now that the situation here in Italy got worse.


I’m in touch with the rest of the team every day, multiple times a day. William is in Rome, but all his family members and most of his friends are in Northern Italy (Veneto and Piedmont) and as you can imagine he is very concerned but myself, Chiara, and I are doing our best to support him. On a side note, Anna is also from Veneto and her family lives there. Alessandro and I talk to Anna everyday and do our best to support each other.

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