Melissa Sensi

Moultrie native Melissa Sensi sits in Castel Sant'Angelo, a cafe in Rome. The cupola of St. Peter's Basilica is in the background. Sensi has been separated from her husband by the lockdown in Italy. He's self-quarantining in Rome after a possible coronavirus exposure, while she's locked down at their house in the countryside.

ITALY — Melissa Sensi is in the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown in Italy. To her, living in a silent city, it’s like she’s stepped into another world.

“I was born and grew up in Moultrie,” said Sensi. “And when I was 18, I met my husband who was studying at ABAC, we started dating, and got married in Moultrie in 1990. When my son was two years old in 1994, we moved to Italy because that’s where my husband is from. He’s from Rome.”

On March 10, Italy became the first democratic country since World War II to impose a nationwide lockdown, according to reporting in Bloomberg Businessweek. In just days, the outbreak spread from a northern crisis to a national one, now with more than 31,000 known infections and more than 2,500 deaths, second only to China.

“Right now, it’s very quiet because we’re not allowed to be on the streets except for buying groceries,” Sensi said. “You’re not allowed to go to the doctor, you’re supposed to call first if you have an issue. If you do go out to go buy groceries, they only allow a certain amount of people to go inside and you have to keep a certain distance from the other shoppers.

“You can see a lot of fear, even on the faces of the cashiers when you go to pay,” she said. “People are stocking up, it’s true, but they’re not hoarding. All the stores, they keep things stocked, but people don’t overbuy. They don’t overpurchase items like they do in the States.” 

Even out in the Italian countryside the virus has affected the lives of the citizens, some more than others.

“I’m one of the lucky ones that live on a big piece of land out in the countryside, which is completely closed in and we have a little forest area and vineyards and olive groves,” Sensi said. “So for me, I can do things outside the house, and I’m about 10 minutes from the city I live near and about an hour from Rome. I have friends who have small apartments who are going stir crazy, but they do have the option of walking their dogs. So they’re getting outside that way. I keep myself busy because I have all this space, but I know other people are very frustrated.” 

Some people allowed to leave their homes to buy food or medicine use the opportunity to wander the city, she said.

“I do hear that it’s incredibly quiet,” she said. “I live in an isolated area and normally during the day you hear tractors or in the distance you’d hear cars. But the weirdest thing is that there’s absolute silence. Overhead, you’d hear airplanes going to the main airport, but there’s nothing there. My husband is stuck in Rome because he couldn’t leave from work, and he says it’s very quiet. I myself have a lot of silence being in the country.”

But it’s not all silence and gloom in Italy. By now, you may have seen the videos of citizens singing from their balconies and windows, playing instruments, and even teaching aerobics from their rooftops.

“Yesterday it was organized that people were supposed to go onto their balconies with a flashlight or cell phone light at 9 p.m. because they wanted to see if the lights could be seen from space,” Sensi said. “My night sky is so clear, so we saw lots of satellites going by. We counted just about 10 going overhead. It’s very curious!”

Sensi said it’s tough being separated from her husband. 

“It’s very strange, because we’re so used to being all together. But as tough as it is, I know his parents have it harder. They’re so used to him visiting often, but he can’t even do that anymore. He can’t leave and even if he could, they’re elderly and he wouldn’t want to risk getting them sick.”

Sensi said her husband is isolating himself after coming into contact with people from northern Italy, where the worst of the country’s outbreak started.

“But now it’s been over a week that we’ve not seen him,” she said, “and I feel bad for his parents; they’re elderly so they can’t see him as often as they used to. It’s really strange. I don’t know when we’ll see him again. 

“You risk a fine if they catch you going out of your area, so he’s not allowed to come back this way. They also threaten jail time [if you’re out] without a valid reason, which requires an official paper or certificate that attests to the fact that you are buying food or medicine. It’s pretty stressful, but people aren’t going crazy, and I’m thankful for that.”

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