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By Jeff Pack
Staff Writer 

An Italian's message to Americans? Stay home

 

Last updated 4/3/2020 at 4am

Mirella "Mimi" Prestifilippo and her boyfriend, Ivan di Gaetano, are shown in photos before and after the coronavirus hit Italy. Since new laws were put into place, they spend most of their time at home and di Gaetano only goes out to get the necessities.

Now that Gov. Gavin Newsom has released a voluntary lockdown order for all Californians to combat the spread of the coronavirus, the next step beyond that is a mandatory lockdown.

That's certainly something nobody wants.

No more freedom of movement, no more walks around the block and no more visiting friends and family. If people are to travel outside their home, it will likely be restricted to one person at a time, provided that person is not sick or vulnerable to illness.

Along the way, people will encounter police officers at nearly every corner, watching, asking the purpose for which they are out and about, and streets nearly deserted everywhere they look.

That's exactly what Mirella "Mimi" Prestifilippo is experiencing every day, and has been, for the last two weeks in Syracuse, Sicily, in Italy.

Her advice? Take the illness and the warnings seriously.

"We didn't take it seriously at all because what they were saying is that it only affects elderly people," Prestifilippo said. "So it was kind of being like discriminating, if you're over 70 years old, you might get it, but if you're younger, you're safe. Go out and enjoy, have fun and whatever.

"Nobody took it seriously until we had the first case, he was 40 years old and he died, and that's when the message arrived to the whole population. Then our president had come out with new laws saying you can't go out, only for supermarkets, the pharmacy or doctor appointment," she said.

Prestifilippo spent six years living in America with her father, Alex, the owner and operator of Gourmet Italia, Spuntino's and other businesses in Temecula.

Though she hadn't spoken English in the last six months, she was clear about what happened next.

"Still, nobody at the beginning took it seriously because the message that they sent us is it only affects elderly people with health issues like diabetes, people that had cancer and weaker immune systems," Prestifilippo said. "The problem is the virus has 14 days of incubation, it stays in your system for 14 days and then you get the symptoms. In all those 14 days, people were out, we didn't know because nobody was taking it seriously. And now we have the highest number of confirmed cases in the world."

As of Thursday, March 19, 3,405 people in Italy had died of the coronavirus. With 41,035 people confirmed to have the virus, experts said that the number could double by the end of the month. At that point, they would surpass China's official tally of 80,928.

According to The Associated Press, China, Europe and the U.S. are "all racing to produce a coronavirus vaccine, and the efforts are tinged with nationalistic competition."

Adding to her situation is the fact that Prestifilippo is expecting a child and she is at even more risk because she can't take medicines and can't leave her apartment during her pregnancy. The day before this phone call with the writer, her doctor did a checkup with her at her apartment.

The situation has taken a toll on her. She said her mood was not positive.

"It's not positive because I'm pregnant, and my son will be born in a historical situation," she said. "Nobody will ever forget. He will study it in books in school one day. Whenever I give birth to him, nobody can come to the hospital because it's going to be in a month, and in a month nobody will be free to go out, for sure.

"But the message that we're trying as Italians to give is we're more united, we're discovering ourselves more, we're staying home and we talk to our friends more," she said. "We spend time video chatting with people that we miss. I hope we'll be less selfish. I hope we will be less material. I hope it will be better."

Prestifilippo said she's had time to reflect on what's really important.

"Nowadays everybody spends time only on their phone looking at Facebook," she said. "Nobody really cares about relationships anymore. What it's happening right now with us not being able to see those people, not being able to go out and socialize, is that we miss them. I miss my friend. I really miss the routine of seeing her, and I really miss it."

She said she knows Italy will be damaged by the virus and the effect it has had on its people.

"What this virus is going to do is unfortunate. It's going to cause us a lot of crisis because Italy lives off tourism," Prestifilippo said. "We have the best museums. Italy is a piece of art. So, of course, we will not come out as strong. But I hope that people will be better. I hope that people learn the lesson to be less selfish, to spend more time with the family, to dedicate themselves to helping others, to be a better person."

People have had to slow down, and in some cases, stop altogether.

"My boyfriend is in beer production; he produces a craft beer," Prestifilippo said. "His business has stopped. We were supposed to open a hotel in Sicily. The construction stopped. I'm remodeling my house, and the construction stopped. The world has stopped."

She said in some small ways, Italy is beginning to get the message.

"I believe in the past week people are not as doubtful (about the seriousness of the situation)," Prestifilippo said. "There are a few people, obviously it's a big population, so not everybody is the same. Now I think it's the highest number of people that are taking it seriously and knowing and spreading the word that if you stay home, we'll get through it. The more you stay home, the faster we'll get through it."

She said it is true that each evening, Italians head out to the balcony, put on the same Italian song and sing together. Each night around 9 p.m. they do something else together while apart.

"We all turn off our cell phones and our TVs and our lights," Prestifilippo said. "We light a candle and we pray. And that's something that all of Italy has been doing together at the same time. That's just a way to feel close to each other."

Even that gesture doesn't bring her peace.

"Fortunately I'm here, I'm home with my boyfriend, but my mom, for example, she's home by herself," Prestifilippo said. "She's living this bad dream and that bad nightmare by herself. She works in the health system as a radiology technician. One night she got a phone call and had to go to work. She gets up at 2 o'clock in the morning, and there were three cases of coronavirus. The next day, she's in bed with a fever. My heart drops. And fortunately, she did the test and it was negative, but she had a fever today.

"All these doctors, unfortunately, are getting it," she said. "That's why it's spreading so rapidly. And people go home and give it to your son, your daughter, your husband or whatever. And then the husband goes to work in the office ... and that's why the message is to stay home."

And most people are. They do their best to normalize the situation.

"Everything that we did outside, we do inside of our house," Prestifilippo said. "We've been cooking, we've been eating a lot and we've been working out because we need to. We've definitely been spending more time thinking about what's really important in life."

Prestifilippo said the hashtag throughout the country is "stay home," albeit in Italian, and has some suggestions for the people at her other home in America.

"They are taking it as a vacation and it's not a vacation because nobody wants to be locked in their house the whole summer," she said. "If they don't stay home now, they're probably gonna go through that.

"Be healthy, wash your hands, avoid lasting contact with people," she said. "But definitely be positive because we can get through it. We're intelligent people. We can definitely get through it."

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at [email protected]

 

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