The town of Guardia Sanframondi in Italy, located 4 miles east...

The town of Guardia Sanframondi in Italy, located 4 miles east of the city of Naples. Credit: Google Maps

GUARDIA SANFRAMONDI, Italy — It’s been nearly a month since we learned of the first reported cases of the coronavirus. Word started spreading quickly of the potentially fatal virus, which began its journey from Wuhan, China. There was only so much to do to contain the deadly COVID-19; and it began to make its way through the world, with hundreds of cases reported in South Korea, Italy, Japan and Iran.

I am an American who lives in this small town of 5,000 residents in southern Italy. I am normally a fairly anxious person, and then Guardia Sanframondi officials reported the town's first cases.

The virus had already hit Italy with a bang — with 1,694 reported cases. Still, these were in the northern part of the country and those areas were under quarantine. What were the odds that the virus would make its way to our little town that virtually no one in America and much of Italy had probably even heard of?

News already had broken on Feb. 27 that a young man here had been taken ill, but until the results were confirmed residents were encouraged not to panic. That is until Feb. 28, when the results came back positive.

Who was it? What had he or she done to be exposed? Would it spread?

Mayor Floriano Panza said that schools would be closed and released an advisory urging all businesses to remain closed until March 7. People were cautioned not to be out in public in groups larger than five and to keep at least two feet distance from each other.   

That advisory, however, was largely disregarded. Men were seen gathering around bars in large groups. The restaurants stayed open, even advertising that they also would offer delivery. Our weekly Sunday market was canceled. Still, groups gathered in the streets, no doubt to discuss the virus that made our sleepy town suddenly famous because of the media attention in Italy.

The point of the advisory was to try to prevent the virus from spreading. The news had even reported a 24-hour timeline of everywhere this young man had been before he tested positive for coronavirus. 

Is this wise behavior? Perhaps not. But our community rallied behind the young man who became ill, showing support on social media about how proud they were to be “Guardiolo” and maintaining their usual activities.

Not even a potentially deadly virus could keep Italians off the street for their weekly gossip and aperitivo.

There was a meme recently circulating on Facebook portraying a picture of zombies with the caption, “What people think is going on in Italy,” accompanied by another photo of women sitting outside in a piazza drinking wine, captioned, “What is actually going on in Italy.”

I can’t speak for all of Italy, but here in Guardia Sanframondi, this is accurate. This casual attitude threatens to trigger more cases. While I applaud the life-must-go-on attitude by many residents, fear of a spreading virus must be taken more seriously. For the safety of my community, I hope this laid-back attitude does not lead to more cases.  

Caroline Chirichella is a former New Yorker now living and working in Italy as a chef and freelance writer.