First-hand account from Italy regarding coronavirus paints bleak picture

A young wife and mother is one of the slightly over 60 million people who live in Italy who have been placed under strict quarantine.

Katherine Pezone, who goes by Caterina, lives in Pozzuoli, a town in the city of Naples. She and her husband, an American seaman, have had their newly-wedded bliss interrupted by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

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As of March 8 the entire country of Italy had been placed under strict quarantine amid a growing number of confirmed cases of the virus, over 10,000, which had so far killed 631 people. The death toll on March 10 alone was said to be 168 people.

Pezone is a friend of Robin Cote, a Cote First Nation woman now living and working in the fashion industry in Los Angeles.

“I first met Robin when she was stationed in Naples,” Pezone said. “We had some friends in common! We found ourselves socializing at the same clubs. She is an amazing, sweet, strong and determined woman and I am glad I've crossed paths with her in my life.

“I am very proud of her and who she became, and of the way she represents the Indigenous Americans. She is very humble. Although she is now living in Los Angeles and I am not able to tell her in person, I wish to thank her for her military service.”

Prior to settling in Los Angeles to pursue her dream in the fashion industry, Cote had spent eight years in military service.

Through Cote, Pezone connected with the Kamsack Times on the morning of March 10. Because of a time difference, Italy is seven hours ahead of Saskatchewan, so it was early afternoon in Pozzuoli.

“Our city it's on lockdown,” she said. “It's worse than it seems. The virus is everywhere and so many people are dying. They can’t even get the funeral they deserve because even funerals are banned during the lockdown.

“The only thing you hear on TV is about the coronavirus twenty-four/seven. We have created groups in which we have chats. We share thoughts, recipes, songs and video chats. Since we can’t see each other we just use the technology.

“Some elderly people are really alone. We have volunteers that deliver groceries and medications to them. Some stores started the delivery service themselves and even corner stores are evolving.”

Pezone’s life today is in stark contrast to her life just two short months ago, when she and husband, Daries, were married on January 9. The couple’s happy day was almost postponed due to an unexpected deployment, which was fortunately cancelled.

“That morning I woke up to the greatest news ever so I ran in flip flops and pajamas to the court house city hall to tell them we wouldn't be deployed anymore, and we could still get married,” she had posted on her Facebook page. “Thank you Jesus we can keep daddy home.”

The young family, the couple have a three-year-old daughter, settled into a routine of family, friends and work.

“Pozzuoli is a town that’s full of history,” Pezone said. “There are ruins in every corner. Puteolans (Pozzuoli citizens) are wonderful people. We have a great Mayor, and the city works good.

“My city is ‘magical.’ We have a small port, and ferries take you to Capri, Procida and Ischia, all of which are islands of Naples. I think everyone should see them at the least once in a lifetime. I live an hour away from the Amalfi coast driving south, and two-and-a-half hours from Rome, driving north.

“There are about 80,000 residents in Pozzuoli,” she continued. “It's a very old town. We almost know everyone. Almost all elderly people have a nickname or a family nickname. If an elder person asks who you are or who your parents are we actually answer with our family nickname, and they quickly understand!  One example, if someone asks me who I am or who I am related to I just say ‘I am Cate, the Jewlier daughter,’ and they will be naming all my relatives back to the 1800s, long before I was born.

“My parents and grandparents are from Pozzuoli, and also my great-grand and great-great-grandparents were born and buried here. My dad was a Jewlier. It went from father to son since 1802. So we been here for a while.”

The following is Pezone’s account of the coronavirus timeline which she has written to the Kamsack Times.

“Our first case was in north, in the Lombardy region (where Milan is). This is our patient ‘one’ (because patient ‘zero’ was a German citizen who came to Italy and spread the virus around as well). Based on what the news said, even though our government smartly had shut down all the flight arrivals from China, sadly he had had a layover somewhere in Europe, before entering Italy again.

“He didn't know he got sick until he began to feel ill. He is a business man, a manager so you know he meets a lot of people. And that's how it started. They put him in ICU, and news from today said he just got out of ICU and is breathing on his own but still didn't fight the virus all the way.

“Sooner than you know they had 70, then 90 cases, until it become a hot bed and ‘red zone.’  Now there are more than 10,000 cases and counting, with approximately 500 deaths and the majority of the cases belong to the Lombardy region as of right now.

“No one knew it would get so spread. No one could think it would get so spread. The coronavirus showed up to my city a while after. A resident had contact with someone who apparently carried the virus without symptoms. Most of the cases of viruses in my city are linked to ‘contacts with the red zone residents.’

“Italian health care is free,” she continued. “We don't pay any insurance. The health department has asked people not to go to the ER (Emergency Room) if you have any coronavirus symptoms. You have to call your family doctor or a toll free number (different number in each region) in which they will screen you, and make a sort of triage. They will give you instructions on what to do in case you have the symptoms.

“The Government is worried for the collapse of out Health Department because of this issue. We have great doctors and I guarantee you that they do the best to take care of you and assist you.

“We are placed into strict restrictions. The kids are out of schools. Most of mothers are out of work. We are basically all quarantined. If you visit a store the doors must be opened. We have to keep a meter of distance between each other, and only few persons are allowed into stores. Some stores and some pharmacies only allow one person per time.

“Our prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, is doing a great job. I am thanking God every single day for him and I am wishing all the best for him and his team. As of right now I am typing out this to you and I am beginning to cry.

“Today my best friend Nicoleta asked me, "How you're feeling as an Italian about this?" and I swear all I wanted to do was bust out crying but I couldn't let my daughter see me like this.”

Pezone explained all of the measures the Italian Government has implemented, including financial aids for the residents to help get them through the crisis. But everyone is strictly forbidden to move around the country without a valid reason, and will be jailed or fined if caught doing otherwise. They will be issued with a criminal record.

“I have to be honest, I never thought this could happen to my country,” she said. “My heart is broken. We Italians are very attached to our country and to our roots. We have a strong deep culture. My heart is broken. When my daughter sleeps, I let my self go and just cry. I don’t know if we will get back up. There’s a lot of panic in Italy. I mean we will beat the virus but I don’t know if our economy will get back up. This is my country and it hurts. La Bella Italia...”

Before closing she shared a heart-breaking story of a 49-year-old Italian woman who had fallen ill for a week and was deceased in her home. The family desperately implored for help, first for an ambulance to transport the woman to hospital, with no success. Then, after her death, to have the body removed and be given a proper burial. In frustration, 24 hours after she passed, having received no responses to his pleas for help, the woman’s brother posted a YouTube video with his sister lying deceased in the background, which subsequently went viral. Finally a funeral home arrived and removed the body, placing it in a zinc casket. She tested positive for COVID-19 as did her family members who remain in quarantine.

An update on March 15 reported that Italy now has 24,747 cases and 1,809 deaths, and the virus is showing no signs of slowing down. Italy remains the second most heavily affected country after China, where the illness first emerged.