Our special reporting on COVID-19 may focus on communities outside Philadelphia, as many of our student journalists are now located outside of the city. Instead, our reporters will cover how the coronavirus is impacting their own communities from across the country and around the world. We will return to hyperlocal coverage of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods as soon as possible.
Text by Lianna Golden, images from Veronica Chiaravalli.
The Chiaravalli family has lived in Milan, Lombardy for as long as they all can remember. But they haven’t seen their city for almost two months. Father Andrea and mother Cristina, along with their two teenage children, Veronica and Amedeo, have been in lockdown for nearly 50 days due to COVID-19.
Though Andrea and Cristina have been divorced for several years, they live in the same apartment complex, and the kids have been splitting their time between the two apartments during the pandemic.
Once the center of the global coronavirus spread, Lombardy remains on lockdown until at least May 3. Veronica said that although life has “become quite normal, we are all continuously hoping that this will all end soon.”
As of April 21, there were at least 180,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Italy, according to the Italian Department of Civil Protection. Lombardy is the Italian region hit hardest, with 66,971 confirmed cases and 12,367 deaths, as of April 21.
While the country’s health system faces changes and challenges, so do its residents.
The Chiaravalli parents admit they’re worried for the future and living through the pandemic has not been easy.
“When the virus first became a serious threat and we were all rushed in lockdown, I had trouble sleeping because of the worries and negative thoughts regarding this situation,” Andrea said.
Memories of the early days of the virus remain surreal, but Andrea and Cristina try to remain calm and maintain a sense of normalcy for their children.
“It was quite nerve-wracking, listening to the news and finding out about how fast the virus was spreading,” Andrea said. “Today, I decide to be hopeful because it’s the only thing which will keep us from giving up this battle.”
Remaining hopeful is easier some days more than others.
“It is quite scary to think about the situation we are in,” Cristina said. “I worry a lot about what is going to happen in the future and if we will ever arrive at a solution.”
Andrea moved into a separate space downstairs after he and Cristina divorced several years ago, and the entire family is still able to get together with ease. Currently, the parents spend most of their time trying to maintain their households while following increasingly strict social distancing guidelines.
“We go on everyday as best as we can and respect the rules,” Cristina said. “Still, it is quite stressful.”
Grocery shopping and planning used to be an afterthought, but now occupies a significant amount of Cristina and Andrea’s attention.
“It is still a little difficult to order food online from stores, and every time we put in an order, it gets delivered a while later,” Cristina said.
Meanwhile, the Chiaravalli children have adjusted to online school, though they are quick to point out that learning through a screen is not the same as a classroom.
Veronica used to play a lot of sports in school and being at home and in front of a screen so much has made her feel lazy.
“Although, we still get work done it is definitely less practical and unhealthy as we don’t move around or take our eyes off our screens so much,” Veronica said. “Still, I think that this approach is working efficiently.”
She accesses school using a website called Managebac she described as an online agenda where students can see their grades, homework, and assignments for each class. Teachers also have been using Bluejeans for video lectures.
“Every day teachers upload the codes for our classes and we are able to access them,” Veronica said. “We still haven’t done a proper test, though, and I don’t know if we will ever have any tests, especially because it would be very easy to cheat, and the teachers are probably aware of this.”
Though the transition was rocky, she has settled into something resembling a routine.
“I will admit that both students and teachers had a lot of trouble trying to organize meetings and classes at first,” Veronica said.
Andrea said he has been lucky to keep working by moving everything online.
“I used to go to my office everyday and interact with people directly,” he said. “Obviously, this isn’t possible anymore. However as most of my work was done on my laptop, I can do it just as well at home. We organize video conferences and calls using services like Zoom and it has all worked efficiently.”
It has been more difficult for Cristina to work from home because there has not been much work.
“As an architect, I go to building sites and meet with people,” she said. “I’m always outside for my job and not being able to do this has slowed down my work immensely.”
Though she has been able to design projects for clients, social distancing has meant construction has slowed to a halt across Lombardy.
“Until lockdown is over, there is no way that these projects can go on,” she said.
Of course, there is more to quarantine and lockdown than just staying on top of work and school. Veronica misses hanging out with her friends, but tries to keep in touch through FaceTime.
Although the social isolation has been tough for Veronica, she’s found some silver linings to keep her spirits up.
“I have found myself putting time into things I never really did,” she said. “For example, I have discovered I like gardening and I’m also getting better at cooking.”
Veronica has also been surprised how much she is learning about her family members, even enjoying spending more time with them.
“As my parents are separated, we never used to hang out all together,” she said. “However, because my parents are still friends and live next to each other, we always eat all together and hang out, which has been very nice.”
Andrea said that besides staying busy with his work, he has had extra time to spend cultivating his “passion for music.” His eating habits have also changed for the better.
“I used to skip lunch frequently, now I always eat with my family,” he said.
Besides eating all together, Cristina has also found her silver linings during this time.
“Before lockdown, we had a person who came to clean our house each day,” she said. “Obviously, we cannot do this anymore, so everyday I clean and take care of our house. I have also started gardening, which is something I never really cared for. And I’ve been learning and practicing English by using the Duolingo app.”
Despite staying busy with chores and new hobbies, Cristina does miss going outside and considers herself a very active person. She also misses those she is close to, whom she is looking forward to seeing again when quarantine restrictions are lifted.
“I really want to hug my loved ones, my significant other, and my parents, who have gone through a hard time during this lockdown,” she said. “I would also just want the reassurance that everything is going to be OK and that we are going to beat this virus.”
The number of coronavirus cases are still increasing daily, though public health experts have said infection rates in Italy have slowed. There’s no definite answer as to when schools and stores will reopen, or if life in general will ever return to normal, but members of the family are already imagining what they will do once social distancing restrictions have been relaxed.
Veronica’s just hoping she’ll get to spend some quality time with friends while she still has the chance.
“I don’t know if we are ever going to go back to school for this term,” she said. “But I know many friends who won’t be returning to school next year, and I want to spend time with them as much as possible before they go.”
Andrea is looking forward to getting out of town and finding a change of scenery as well as seeing his own significant other.
“I’m, of course, looking forward to seeing my significant other, but my other longing is to head down to the countryside where I have a summer house and play golf, a sport which I love,” he said.
Still, the specter of the virus is never far from their thoughts.
“It is heartbreaking to see that the number of deaths keep going up because nobody deserves to die due to this virus,” Veronica said. “We are all on the same boat now, we are all against the same enemy, which means that we all need to put together our strength and react to save our people.”
The Chiaravalli family has also lost loved ones, Andrea said.
He lost his uncle, Antonio, who lived in Sicily with his wife. She has tested positive for the virus but is doing well in recovery. Cristina also lost a family friend named Roberto who was very close to the children’s grandparents. His wife is healthy and “thankfully OK,” Veronica said.
After facing personal loss due to COVID-19, Andrea said he’d “hate to think that others are experiencing the same all over the world.”
He feels there is little use in thinking about mistakes governments may have made in the early days responding to COVID-19.
“I think that there have been many mistakes made with this situation,” he said. “However, it is a situation which nobody was expecting and because of this we can only stay hopeful and united.”
Andrea, Cristina, Veronica, and Amedeo are thankful to be healthy. Although it’s a very sad situation, they need to “stay together and close at heart,” Cristina said.
Cristina in particular has taken solace in small acts of optimism and unity. Over the past several weeks, singing traditional songs and the national anthem from balconies every night around 6 p.m. has become an informal Italian tradition.
“We do this because music brings happiness and in a time like this one we all need some hope,” Cristina said. “It makes me smile to see on the news videos of millions singing from their balconies because it means we are all in this together, and that we can never give up hope that one day this will all be a memory.”
Text by Lianna Golden, images from Veronica Chiaravalli.