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Lockdown in Italy

When Kate Matney steps out of her attic apartment to the streets of Modena, Italy, she must carry a written declaration.

The document, called an “autocertificazione,” states that Matney, 33, is in transit from her home to either her work, the pharmacy, a grocery store, or a doctor’s office.

“Unless you have a real good reason, you’re asked to stay home,” Matney, a Phoenix High School graduate and former Talent resident, says during a video call from Italy. If the person can’t meet those criteria, she gets turned around, possibly with what she calls a “nice, salty ticket.”

It’s part of the country’s attempts to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Italy has the second-most cases in the world, according to the World Health Organization. As of Friday, 15,113 of the 132,536 worldwide confirmed cases were there.

Modena is located in the country’s northern region. It’s revered for its food production, Matney says, notably balsamic vinegar, prosciutto and Parmesan. She’s lived there since she was in her early 20s, originally traveling there to be with a man she would later marry. The pair separated four years ago but remain friends.

“I stayed because I felt a little bit more Italian after I had been here eight years,” Matney says. “I feel a little bit more Italian than American now.”

In that time, Matney has taught English to children, and has worked for Fiat and two tractor companies. Since January, she’s worked for Ital Gelato and Eat Better, businesses that export frozen food and desserts.

Matney had made plans to go to Expo West, a giant natural foods trade show in Anaheim, California, earlier this month, when rumblings about COVID-19 started. The expo has since been canceled.

“About halfway through February, we started getting word of this flu, and that it’s coming from Asia,” Matney says.

Soon after, news began circulating of the Italian government closing some borders. There was panic in the initial days for some, Matney says, with people flocking to markets and emptying shelves. Other residents ignored the guidelines completely.

“It’s literally two sides of this crazy coin,” she says.

This week, the country went into “complete quarantine,” according to the Associated Press. Italy tightened travel restrictions and banned public gatherings countrywide.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte recently issued a mandate that closed eateries and other businesses.

“Regardless of the type of activity carried out, the markets are closed, with the exception of activities aimed at selling only foodstuffs,” the mandate published on the Italian government’s website says. “Newsagents, tobacconists, pharmacies and parapharmacies remain open. In any case, the interpersonal safety distance of 1 meter must be guaranteed.”

“We’ve got military jeeps driving around parks, driving around public spaces, making sure that people aren’t loitering,” Matney says. “I tried to smoke a cigarette in the park and I got asked to, you know, vamoose.”

Matney says she is taking the restrictions seriously, abiding by health guidelines for good hand-washing and maintaining a distance of about a yard from others when in public or at work. Before the mandates went into effect, she’d met a friend for coffee and traded a handshake for a foot tap.

“When I was in school, it was 6 inches for the Holy Spirit,” Matney says. “Now, it’s a full yard to save your ass.”

She says she is making nutrition a daily priority.

“I know what I need to do to keep myself safe,” she says. “I know the types of people I should be listening to: doctors, police officers, the World Health Organization. Medical professionals, authority figures. These are people who have more information than me, and very likely have more information than your grandma.”

Matney has noticed the impacts of the restrictions on businesses, especially working for a company that exports food products.

“We’re seeing already that shipping containers are a little bit less available right now,” Matney says. “They’re getting a little bit harder to schedule. The times are starting to get a little longer, and we’re expecting that in the next month, when a month’s worth of not working catches up with Italian commerce and containers become scarce and we’re having trouble shipping things out because we can’t find containers to ship merchandise ... what are we going to do? And it’s nobody’s fault.”

A friend of Matney’s has an employee who had to be quarantined this week. All activities at the company, which has more than 70 employees, stopped. At the moment, Matney says she feels trapped and isolated. She misses her mother, a Salvation Army volunteer who lives in Vancouver, Washington.

“Message from Italy to America: I want my mom,” Matney says, chuckling. “I want my brothers.”

Matney is trying to remain optimistic. She applauds the efforts of doctors, nurses, paramedics and other medical professionals during the quarantine.

“They’re risking everything to be there for people who need them,” she says. “I don’t even think they’re looking at the clock anymore. It’s just, ‘Who needs me now?’”

Matney says she has seen some silver linings in the music community. She is a percussionist and singer, and she is part of an internet group chat with other Modena musicians. Lately, many have had to cancel performances because of the restrictions, but they’re trying to make up for that with an online jam session to raise money and support other musicians who don’t have stable employment.

“It’s not all bad,” Matney says. “I can’t help but be the eternal optimist. I know that we’re going to learn something so important from this.”

Reach web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanPfeil.

Former Talent resident Kate Matney holds a document, called an “autocertificazione,” which she must carry when she is in transit to or from her apartment in Modena, Italy.