Coping with the Coronavirus

We are so grateful to all of you who have thought of us and reached out to ask how we are doing. In short, we are fine. It’s not been an easy journey but we have all we need (groceries, medicine, activities for the kids, access to technology) and we are healthy so that is MUCH to be thankful for.

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Photo of an eerily quiet Bologna during Coronavirus by Gabrio Maglieri

The General Situation in Italy

At the time of my last post on my page only 5 had died in Italy. Just three weeks later, more than 1,800 have died and there are nearly 25,000 confirmed cases nationwide. Recently the amount of deaths has been jumping by 20-25% daily. It is suspected that things here will peak in the next couple days but by the end of April it’s expected that more than 90,000 will be infected in our small nation. Anticipating this, officials have been transparent and taken drastic action. Schools and universities have been shut down for 3 weeks already and the whole nation has been on lockdown for a week now. Most businesses are closed or the few that are allowed to be open have restricted hours. Travel is prohibited except in approved cases. The streets are empty in a nation where people thrive on social interaction and depend on tourism as a major economic lifeline. People are losing jobs and predicting devastating losses as the economy suffers. Yet most Italians are rallying together vowing to heed directives in place in order to save lives and initiatives are growing to raise morale in face of the difficulty.

What Life Looks Like for Us in Lockdown

Basically we are only allowed to go out of our homes if it is for a legitimate work reason, for medical necessity or to buy groceries. Even then, we have to take a self certified form stating our reason for being out and be ready to present it to police who are checking periodically and will issue fines and jail time to offenders. If we go out for those legitimate reasons we must go alone and be careful to keep a distance of at least a meter between us and others who are out. At the grocery store each shopper must wait in line outside the store, maintaining safe distances from others,  until it is his or her time since only a certain amount of people can be in the store together at the same time.

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In line in front of the entrance of our local supermarket.

At home our kids have enjoyed extra time to play but are missing school, their friends and extracurricular activities. As a first grader, Arianna hasn’t been given tons of homework yet, but most parents have been tasked with managing inefficient blasts of messages from teachers sending assignments for each of their children. Our churches are trying to use technology to stream services online but many are not well equipped or informed to do so. However, Italians use group messaging apps very well and they have been extra active as many use them as support groups these days. Those like us in apartment buildings don’t have a yard to escape to for green space but we try to get sun and fresh air from the safety of our terrace. We are working to create a “new normal” for life confined to the walls of our small home and make the most of this extra quality time together.

Is the USA next?

Some estimate that the US is about 10 days behind where Italy is now. Not only have we watched the hardship here, but the other nation we love where so many of our family and friends live, is at risk. So while things are different here, there are key aspects that apply in both corners of the world which we’d like to point out. In addition to the rate of infection and importance of self distancing measures, the capacity of the American health system to handle the wave of patients needing care is questionable. The Italian health system is crippled and they have more beds per capita than the US does for its citizens. There are roughly 100,000 ICU beds available when 200,000 to 2.9 million people will need them due to COVID-19.

You can find countless articles expounding on all of this, including those we’ve linked, so we won’t go into those topics further except as they relate to a short list of things we have learned over the past few weeks since the coronavirus outbreak hit Italy. It seemed important to share them now that it is turning your world upside down too.

5 Things We’ve Learned So Far

1. In order to save lives, we must choose to love others more than ourselves – to prioritize the collective community over my individual desires and rights.

The most practical way to do this is to practice extensive social distancing. Science and experience in other countries worldwide clearly teach us that it is the best way to reduce the spread of the virus and the number of people who die from it. However, actually applying that to our individual lives requires a significant paradigm shift in our mentality. Instead of operating based on our previous set of priorities and preferences, we must be ready to give them up for the greater good. We must intentionally choose to make drastic changes in our lifestyle in order to adapt to this new paradigm. At that point you realize that very little is worth risking lives.

2. Living through the coronavirus pandemic is a lot like dealing with culture shock.

When you move to a foreign country, all of the sudden everything that was “normal,” routine and known in your life is different. Moving into this new culture infected by the coronavirus is similar. You’re constantly having to process new information and foreign realities that have invaded your everyday. So be aware of that when you feel overwhelmed with a stream of data and opinions about COVID19, struggle to figure out how to get your work done from home, take on homeschooling your kids, begin missing extracurricular activities, and find new ways to connect with community virtually rather than face to face. It’s normal to feel extra stressed, drained and tired as your mind, body and soul process this shocking new reality. There may be grief too as you let go of things that you had control of before or had liked to do that are no longer possible. Recognize those emotions for what they are and give yourself and others around you much grace as you process them. Realize there are also gems to discover about yourself and others along the way. You don’t want to miss them in the midst of the challenges.

3. The simple things become more precious than before, including the ability to die with loved ones by our side.

We all have lots of things, lists of things, that we value and strive for day to day. But in times like these many of those have to be put down and while that’s hard, it reminds us of the things that matter most. Being healthy, having enough food and water, having a home to retreat into, having access to medical care, and even being able to connect with others through technology become things we appreciate more than ever.

Living in Italy, we seen devastating and heartbreaking things happening due to the coronavirus where even those simple things are lost. The region just north of us was hardest hit and more than half of the cases are there, which have overwhelmed the healthcare systems. Hospitals there are in a triage situation that’s being compared to war times because the amount of critical patients outnumber the amount of resources available. In some cases doctors are having to make impossible calls about which patients will get access to life saving care such as intubation and ventilator support. While the doctors and nurses are working tirelessly, they just can’t keep up with the rising number of cases. We have friends who just had to send their father to the hospital knowing that it’s likely he has COVID-19 and that from here out they will have little access to information about how he is doing. One doctor has reported loaning his personal cell phone to patients so that they can say goodbye to family members because otherwise they die in total isolation from loved ones. Can you imagine? These realities are why we are so serious about social distancing and holding the priority of serving the other more dear than ever before.

For those wondering, it’s true that those most at risk are the elderly and the fact that Italy has the second largest elderly population in the world (almost a quarter of the population are 65+)  is a primary reason that the daily fatality rate is the highest in the world. However, others are not immune and even if the younger population can recover from the virus they can carry it to those who may not. We are all vulnerable to lose the most basic but precious things and we are all responsible to do our part to prevent that.

4. Globalization has potential to ruin us or make us better.

What a small world we live in where a virus that begins in a small town on one side of the world spreads from country to country across the globe infecting millions. And yet I’ve seen how acts of kindness can be a force to uplift people across nations, collaboration can unite and encourage, and hope infuses new life. The church is perfectly positioned in these times to  have a global impact in the way it, in the way we, respond: by acting in ways that honor decisions made by our government, by loving our neighbors as ourselves, and by trusting God and resting in His sovereignty rather than panicking and reacting.

5. Circumstances change in an instant but God is always trustworthy and faithful.

We know that God is worthy of our trust, but truly understanding and deeply believing it on a heart level is something else. Life can be hard. In fact, it usually is and that comes as no surprise to God who created this world for more. He weeps with us at the suffering and pain ravaging our broken world. Still, no matter the circumstances we find ourselves in today or in the future, He is the same trustworthy God and He is in the business of redeeming the broken for our good and His glory. That we can count on. We may not understand His ways or timing, but we can rest in who He is and His divine, unfailing love for us. We can choose to turn to Him, again and again, stepping toward him in faith until His face anchors us despite whatever circumstantial storm swirls around us.

In doing so, we lift up the God of hope this world needs. We respond to this crisis by pointing to the only one who offers an eternal cure. As Mark Oden writes: “The story of the Bible is the story of a God who entered a world infected with this virus. He lived among sick people, not wearing a chemical protective suit but breathing the same air as we do, eating the same food as we do. He died in isolation, excluded from his people, seemingly far from his Father on a cross—all that he might provide this sick world with an antidote to the virus, that he might heal us and give us eternal life.”

Surely we have just scratched the surface of all that we have to learn through this ongoing pandemic and have just had a glimpse of all that God has to show us in and around us. But it’s a start and He goes before us with each step of faith we have yet to take.