American locked down in Italy: COVID-19 is ‘not a joke’


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The day Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued a stay-at-home order in Michigan, Jonny Vitale had already been under a much stricter lockdown in Sicily for three weeks.

The Grand Rapids-area native now wonders if his home in West Michigan will suffer the same consequences Italy has from the coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19 has taken a deadly toll on Italy, claiming hundreds of lives each day of late. Saturday nearly 800 deaths were reported in a 24-hour period. Monday reports indicated more than 600 new deaths were added to the toll. Data compiled by Johns Hopkins University shows that more than 6,800 people have died in the country since the outbreak began.

Italy remains in a strict lockdown state, with police patrols approaching those who are seen in the streets. Checkpoints are used to help limit the number of times people leave their homes.

“It’s like a desert. There is nobody on the streets,” Vitale said in a streaming video interview just after midnight local time early Tuesday in Italy. “Very rarely do you see cars in (normally) high traffic areas.”

Vitale lives with his wife in Italy and talks with his family in West Michigan daily. He also sees the headlines coming out in the United States and follows them closely.

“It just seems like there’s been a two-week delay in the United States with what’s going on here in Italy,” Vitale said. “I just feel like we’ve been two weeks ahead.”

The infrastructure for medical care is stronger in the United States, Vitale said, but he fears the response among Americans might mean the spread is worse.

“I think Italians were very quick to go into quarantine. I think it was easier for them,” Vitale said. “I think a lot of the reaction that I’ve seen in the United States is people taking it somewhat less serious … It needs to be taken more seriously before it gets completely out of hand.”

Vitsle’s message to Americans is simple when it comes to the Coronavirus:

Take it seriously.

“It’s not a joke. You could be a carrier. You don’t know who you could infect. You don’t know if you’re sick. It’s very scary. Just stay at home,” Vitale said. “It’s tragic here and I would hate to see it become severely tragic in the United States as well.”

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