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‘It’s all very dystopian’: Maryland resident stuck in Northern Italy describes coronavirus lockdown

Maryland native Kelsey Day speaks about life in Italy while the country is in lockdown over the spread of coronavirus.

From the little Italian town where she arrived to work as an au pair last month, Anne Arundel County resident Kelsey Day has watched on social media as her friends back home have continued to hang out and socialize, even as medical experts issue increasingly dire warnings about the threat of the novel coronavirus.

It all seems surreal, she said, given the extreme ways her own life has changed under Italy’s nationwide lockdown.

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“I’ve tried to tell my friends, it’s not a joke,” said the 22-year-old University of Maryland, Baltimore County student, who had taken the semester off to work and travel. “It’s all very dystopian."

Maryland native Kelsey Day took the semester off from University of Maryland, Baltimore County to work and travel abroad. Now she is in Italy as the country is in lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic.
Maryland native Kelsey Day took the semester off from University of Maryland, Baltimore County to work and travel abroad. Now she is in Italy as the country is in lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic.(Photo courtesy Kelsey Day)

As travel restrictions began to ratchet up in the face of the global pandemic, Day is one of many Americans caught overseas in countries ahead of the United States on the exposure timeline — where more drastic measures already have been instituted.

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“I’m feeling like she’s living a week ahead of us,” said her mother, Leslie Overmyer-Day, a government contractor in management consulting who is teleworking from the family’s Anne Arundel County home and trying not to get too anxious about her daughter’s predicament.

In Day’s village of Bezzecca, in the northern Italian state of Trentino, firefighters drive red trucks through the streets a few times a day, playing recorded warnings to stay indoors over loudspeakers, she said. Only one person per household can go to the grocery store at a time, and only once a week, she said. They can’t leave home for anything else. Violators are stopped and fined.

“We’ve gotten notices that the hospital can’t even help you if there is an emergency. If you have coronavirus, they are full,” Day said. “If you have some sort of trauma accident, they don’t know if they can accommodate you.”

Day and her parents bristle at the lack of assistance from the U.S. government, which they note has urged Americans to return stateside but offered no guidance on how to get there.

“I’m very disappointed in our government, that they don’t have some kind of plan together,” said Day’s father, Keller Day, who works in construction. “I realize they can’t send Air Force One to go get people, but I don’t think they have a game plan.”

Italy is perhaps the hardest-hit nation in the world, with more than 60,000 cases of the deadly respiratory illness. More than 6,000 people have died in the country.

More than 370,000 people have been infected worldwide, including more than 41,000 in the United States. More than 570 people have died in the United States.

Some American cities and states have issued stay-at-home orders — including in California, New York and Illinois. In Maryland, gatherings of more than 10 people have been banned, non-essential businesses have been shuttered and officials are urging people to minimize social interactions as much as possible.

In the midst of all this, many Americans abroad have sought assistance from the federal government, without much luck. Day says the government has been no help to her. The local consulate has told her she’s on her own.

The State Department said Thursday that Americans abroad should get home immediately “unless they are prepared to remain abroad for an indefinite period.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said the federal government is trying to help those in tough spots, standing up a “repatriation task force." But other officials say little is getting done.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat for Maryland, wrote a letter to Pompeo, also on Thursday, saying his office had received “hundreds of urgent inquiries” about constituents in countries across the globe who can’t get home.

“In most cases, the Department of State has provided no assistance, or clear guidance, to facilitate their safe travel back to the United States," Van Hollen wrote.

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He called on the State Department to facilitate emergency flights to repatriate American citizens from countries that have imposed travel restrictions and to provide assistance to others abroad in securing safe accommodations and access to medication.

Linda and Danny Ostiguy of Crownsville left for their two-week vacation to Roatan, an island in Honduras popular with snorkelers and scuba divers, on March 7. But because Honduras later ordered its borders closed, their flight home was canceled and rebooked for March 28.

But the promise of a flight isn’t bringing much comfort.

“I just want to get home,” Linda Ostiguy said. “I’ll be able to see my grandkids.”

On Friday the Air Force conducted two flights bringing home 89 people from the mainland in Honduras, according to The Washington Post. Linda Ostiguy said other Americans are in a similar situation on Roatan.

“I would hope that they would be trying to send planes here to pick us up,” she said. “That is what the Canadian government has done.”

Members of Congress said they have been working with the State Department and embassies to repatriate Marylanders stranded abroad.

“Our goal is to get them on a charter or commercial flight as quickly as possible,” said Matthew Verghese, spokesman for Rep. Anthony Brown, who represents the Ostiguys.

When Day first took off from the U.S., the coronavirus already existed and was spreading. Her dad was worried about it, but it still seemed like an isolated threat, she said.

She was starting an adventure for which she’d saved for years. So she went, spending a few days in London and a week in Bucharest, Romania, before arriving in Bezzecca on Feb. 29, with future plans to work at an olive farm in Greece and then head to Southeast Asia.

The coronavirus was already a concern in Italy, and in Bezzecca, but she was told things were settling down and getting better, she said. Schools already had re-opened after being shut.

A few days later, however, local authorities re-closed the schools, and “everything went downhill quickly,” she said.

She has now been stuck at home for the last few weeks with her hosts — a couple and their 1-year-old son, who sounds sick but hasn’t had a diagnosis. Another family member is going to the grocery store for them. They have some outdoor space, which is nice, but it’s tough to be quarantined with strangers.

Day has kept her parents up to speed on everything happening around her — which her mother said helped rouse her out of her own complacency about the outbreak in the U.S.

“What I was seeing and hearing and probably was even engaging in a little myself was, ‘It’s no big deal, it’s no big deal, it’s only affecting people who are somehow compromised or are elderly,’” Day-Overmyer said. “But as she was telling me what was happening there on the ground, I was like, ‘This is far worse than we thought it was.’”

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Her biggest concern now is that her daughter “stays healthy,” she said. She wishes the U.S. government would help get her out, but short of that, it might be best to just “hunker down,” she told her daughter.

“The only thing I can rely on is her good judgment, and making the right decisions at the right time,” Day’s father said. “Like I always tell her, keep your head on a swivel.”

Day recently bought a plane ticket home for late April out of Rome, after U.S. officials said Americans should secure commercial tickets. But airport closures threaten to make the ticket worthless, and she’s not sure of the logistics of traveling out of her mountainous village by bus or train if the lockdown isn’t lifted, she said.

“I have no way to get to Rome if they extend the quarantine,” she said. “I have no idea if the trains are even running.”

The Associated Press and Capital Gazette reporter Rachael Pacella contributed to this article.

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