A Chilmark woman who was visiting Italy, left that country for France, and then returned to Italy Saturday to retrieve luggage she left behind is now trapped in that country at least until Thursday, as the country has gone into complete lockdown because of novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.
Helen Neumann told The Times she is staying in Italy with a friend, Alesandra Mannoni, who grew up in Chilmark, while she awaits a flight that she hopes will take off Thursday. She’s been in Europe since Jan. 15.
“I can tell you that the Italians have been very naughty,” Neumann wrote. She wrote that when the government shut down Lombardy, a province in the northern part of Italy, “everybody dashed for the last trains out.”
As of Tuesday, Italy has 16 million people on quarantine, according to published reports. The country has been particularly hard-hit, with 9,172 cases of coronavirus as of Tuesday, and 463 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.
“A lot of people considered the closure of the schools as a vacation, and went skiing,” Neumann wrote. “Then when the whole country went red [Tuesday], people are trapped out of their homes.”
Neumann wrote that anyone who is away from home is supposed to report to a local health agency or face a €5,000 fine, or about $5,676 in U.S. dollars. Her friend’s house is in Selci, which is the Rieti region, about an hour from Rome. It’s not one of the hot spots in Italy. But with people fleeing Lombardy, they’ve put more people at risk. “Unfortunately the actions of the Lombardy government [Monday] will ultimately cause an explosion of cases in Italy, as the Italians went mad to escape,” she wrote.
No one is sick or showing symptoms where Neumann is located. She went back to Italy because Rome and the region around it were relatively safe at the time. It was meant to be a quick stop to retrieve her luggage before returning to the Vineyard.
“I’m feeling stupid, but I can’t beat myself up,” she said. “I’m anxious, but not afraid. I’m not worried about getting sick. I’m worried about getting home.”
Neumann said she’s doubtful her Alitalia flight will take off, but she’s been told by Delta that they’ll get her out of there. She’s hoping she can get to the airport on Thursday.
The mood in Italy is somber, Neumann reports. “Meanwhile, with the whole country on lockdown, only one person at a time is allowed to leave the house, only for grocery or pharmacy. No groups, no bars, no parties. My girlfriend is not allowed to drive me to the airport. So we are praying that the train is still running, as people who are commuting to work will still have to get there. All the essential personnel. All nonessentials are staying home. Economy is about to tank. No tourism even within the country, The mood here is very somber and yet laissez faire.”
If she’s able to return to the Island, Neumann said, she will self-quarantine. She’s already reached out to the health agent in Chilmark through a friend.
For now, she is trying to look on the bright side. “God willing I’ll get home Thursday night and will be self-quarantined for two weeks,” she wrote. “Looking on the bright side and considering this a staycation, as I have accumulated chores to do around my house that I have been meaning to get to for years!”