Opinion | Letter from a Michigan native on lockdown in Italy

Jason Arkles is a sculptor, teacher and author who grew up in Jackson, Michigan, and now lives and teaches in Florence and around the world. You can learn more about Jason and see some of his work at jasonarkles.com

Things are alright here for most people - and very bad for about 30,000 Italians and their families. You all have already heard everything I'm going to tell you: Yes, the virus is much worse than the flu, killing on an order of magnitude more than the flu does. But overwhelming the health system is the real danger. Even if the mortality rate is low, the number of people needing intensive care (most of whom go on to survive, IF they get that care) has overwhelmed the system. 

Doctors are having to choose who gets treatment and who doesn't. Some people are dying at home. And it is going to get worse. The lockdown measures we ALL are enduring in Italy aren't because we are afraid to die from the disease. It's because we don't want to overwhelm the system so that, if my friend's grandmother needs hospitalization, she isn't booted off the list because there is someone younger who has a better chance of survival.

I have never felt more proud of Italy than I do right now. Everyone is taking this seriously. As for me, I now live just outside of Florence in a farmhouse. I have a large garden, the neighbors upstairs have chickens and work in agriculture, so I am fine and don't have to leave the house for groceries. I haven't left the property in a week. People ARE allowed to work, it's just public places of business like restaurants, shops, etc., that are shut. When I go, I'll need to take a little form I have printed out and signed, a sort of declaration of a need to travel. Just my  name and address, and the stated reason I am out of my house, where I am traveling from and where I am going. This is to ensure I am just not out taking in the sights (though what a temptation - an empty Florence!). Anyone caught out without a solid reason -- walking the dog, or going to the grocery store -- may face criminal charges. Because we are taking it seriously.

I don't know how the United States will handle this. I saw Trump's little show where he basically told us that Big Business like Walmart and Google will safeguard the nation, instead of the government, which is the only real job that government has. Friends, in all seriousness, prepare. The United States will look as bad as Italy  in about two weeks, but how the situation is handled will unfortunately be vastly different.Take care of each other - and fortunately, that's the easy part! Just stay inside and don't risk being an asymptomatic carrier. Now is the time to think about others. Self-isolation is an act of charity and love for people you don't even know - lounging around the house was never more heroic.

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Nancy Johnston
Tue, 03/17/2020 - 9:24am

Yeah, just use whatever chance you get to bash Trump. Does the government have little grocery stores set up everywhere? Oh, no, that'd be the Walmarts and the online stores. And keeping our truckers running is going to get us through this, NOT government.

Tue, 03/17/2020 - 3:18pm

Exactly. Well said. I said the other day that government’s job is to remove hurdles, not to provide running shoes. The mayor of Detroit was whining the other day that the feds haven’t provided enough test kits. He has a department of health, let them get the kits and run the tests. If the Feds have to do everything, why do we need whiny mayors who do nothing.

mary lou schepke
Wed, 03/18/2020 - 8:46am

Well said Nancy. Pres. Trump can't force people to follow common sense in this situation. He is doing what he can to help us. The average person is doing what they can to help anyone in their area that they can! Thank you, Mr. President for putting Fed. help within reach of those who will need it down the road !!!

John Ehrig
Tue, 03/17/2020 - 3:29pm

Good to hear you're well, Jason! Heck, I don't think I've seen you since drama club in High School. Stay healthy and stay safe.

Wed, 03/18/2020 - 7:14am

Lets bookmark this page and revisit it April 28th.