I don’t know if you know this about me, but I am not a doctor. I am also not a medical professional. I am certainly not an expert in viruses and diseases. But I have, just in the past six years, gotten over my exaggerated phobia of germs. So maybe that should count as something?
Seriously though, this is all just my opinion based on the things I’m reading and seeing in person here in Rome.
I live in Rome. I work in the tourism industry. So the latest coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak definitely affects me.
I’ve already had one group cancel a pilgrimage to Rome, a first in my 16 years of doing this, and I’ve had a number of my upcoming day pilgrimages contact me with concerns, some even changed their travel plans. I’ve had people scheduled for group pilgrimages this summer write to me with concerns as well.
So I’ve already lost thousands of dollars because of the virus. But I get it, this is scary and the media is only making it worse.
Why COVID-19 is scary
People on one side say not to worry more than usual because the flu is worse and kills more. People on the other side are stockpiling and cancelling travel. Then of course there’s the other other side that says this is a manufactured bio weapon that escaped the lab.
I agree that a bad flu outbreak is more common, and kills way more people, but it’s being reported that the percentage of death with COVID-19 is higher. Like many viruses, it’s especially harmful to the elderly and those with existing conditions, like high blood pressure, heart disease, or diabetes.
The thing with COVID-19 is that it’s new. We’ve had other coronaviruses, but this strain is new and different. It was completely unknown before December 2019. We still don’t know the exact incubation period. We still don’t know how long it can live on surfaces.
If you look at the FAQs on the CDC or WHO websites you’ll see lots of “it’s not yet known,” or “we don’t have enough evidence,” or “it’s a rapidly developing situation.”
No one likes the unknown. So even if, as predicted, this becomes just another seasonal illness, right now it’s an unknown.
Is the threat bigger in Italy? Of course not.
The scare with Italy right now is all the reports of cases. But what isn’t being reported is that Italy is being more cautious than other countries, and has from the very start.
Soon after the outbreak in Wuhan, Italy and Turkey became the only countries to screen every incoming international passenger. I flew during this time. I flew to America and there was no noticeable screening on my arrival. I flew to Rome and, as advertised, every single person had to go through a screening process. I have no idea how efficient the screening is, but they were certainly inspecting each person one by one.
As of this writing, 2,000+ cases in Italy and 52 deaths. 149 have already fully recovered. The first couple who had it in Rome is recovering, is the media covering that?
800 cases in a few weeks may sound scary, but keep in mind that Italy is testing anyone with symptoms from all over the quarantined regions.
Compare that to the US. According to the CDC’s website: “At this time, diagnostic testing for COVID-19 can be conducted only at CDC.”
And: “State and local health departments who have identified a person under investigation should immediately notify CDC’s Emergency Operations Center to report the PUI and determine whether testing for COVID-19 at CDC is indicated.”
That’s a lot different than testing everyone with symptoms. Keep in mind too that most cases are reported to be very mild, like a cold.
So it should not surprise anyone that Italy has more reported cases when Italy is doing more testing.
As of March 1st, Italy has tested 23,345 and the US only 472.
Soon enough, the virus will be everywhere, as most viruses are. It’s really only a matter of time.
I’d also like to add that Italy was the third country to ban all incoming flights from China, staying on top of things.
Personally, I would not travel to Wuhan, but I’m also not booking a flight for my family to return to the US either. To be honest, I bet Venice is absolutely glorious right now, other than not being able to go to Mass.
What I’m seeing in Rome
There was still an hour wait to get into Saint Peter’s Basilica this morning. There’s still a line at the Colosseum. Pedestrian streets are still as crowded as one would expect in the off season. But I think this will start to change.
The Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archeology has closed access to all catacombs. This is understandable considering there’s little ventilation in a tight and humid space.
As of this writing the Scavi below Saint Peter’s Basilica is still open. And a little birdie has informed me of lots of cancellations, so if you are in Rome and want to go on the Scavi Tour, now’s a good chance to make the request.
In Milan, Venice, and Bologna, all public Masses have been cancelled. This has not happened in Rome.
The hotels I use, the guides I use, and the news reports are all indicating there are lots of cancellations for next month and beyond.
If you are not afraid of the virus, I bet March will be an amazing time to visit Rome.
Grocery stores are staying stocked for the most part. Hand sanitizer is getting harder to find.
I see a lot of locals wearing masks. Rome gets tons of Asian tourists, so it’s not uncommon to see them wearing masks throughout the year. But it is unusual to see so many Romans wearing masks. Yesterday I counted over 30 people wearing masks in a three block walk. To be fair, it was lunch time on a busy street near the Vatican after a Papal Audience, so there were thousands of people leaving Saint Peter’s Square.
What my family is doing in Rome
We’ve added some extra prayers for those suffering with the virus.
We take our shoes off as soon as we come home. This is probably a good idea for everyone year round.
We wash our hands.
We are not going crazy stocking up on supplies, but we are buying a little more than usual. Some extra wine, of course.
We are still going out and exploring. I’m still going to daily Mass all over Rome. I spent a few hours over several days in the Sistine Chapel last week.
The kids are still doing their regular activities.
I’m still riding the Metro and bus.
My fear is not the virus, it’s the panic of the people.
The media is going to keep people afraid, that’s what sells ads.
Tourism is going to suffer.
People who avoid travel are going to suffer for other reasons.
I’m just going to continue enjoying my favorite time of year in Rome with my family.
You should do whatever is best for you.