In times of COVID-19: Former Williams Lake woman witnesses pandemic’s impact on Italy firsthand

Jacquie Catalano lives in Turin, Italy

For a former Williams Lake resident the COVID-19 death toll in Italy, where she has been living and working the last three years, has been surreal to witness.

“It is a dire situation and difficult in all aspects of life,” said Jacquie Catalano from her home in Turin.

“Italy is a very social, family-oriented country where the majority of time is spent going out with friends and family. It’s very troubling to see this very beautiful country be taken down by something so out of our control.”

In all of Italy there have been 128,948 cases that have been tested, 15,887 deaths and 21,815 recovered, she told the Tribune Sunday. In the region she is living there have been 1,168 deaths.

“We have seen a decrease in deaths and cases since March 27, which is when we had the highest amount of deaths — 919 — compared to yesterday with 515 deaths,” she said. “This is hopeful, but also a very important point where people need to continue staying at home, so as not to bring the numbers back up.”

Thinking back to the beginning of February, she remembered having a hard time believing the pandemic was real until later.

“Isolation for the whole country did not begin until March 11.”

Read more: Trudeau rejects mandatory stay-at-home order for now; COVID deaths up

Catalano and her fiancé Francesco Gerini, who is originally fromTurin, have been staying home since then, and while it has been difficult, she said it is the least they can do for Italy and the world.

“Luckily for us, we don’t have any family or friends who have come down with the virus, but we are still in the midst of it and even though numbers are ‘plateauing’ at the moment, we are not taking any risks,” she said, adding the farthest they have gone from home is one kilometre away to buy two masks that cost 16 euros each.

They’d heard the masks had come in and ventured out, finding it ‘strange’ how quiet it was for such a ‘normally lively and social’ culture.

On a regular day in Italy, most people will go out for lunch, then after work, they go for an aperitivo — a glass of wine and cheese or meat, then they might go to their family’s home for dinner which can last three to four hours.

“So having to be at home, away from friends and family is a difficult situation.

“Not to mention, we kiss two times on the cheek every time we see one another so it is definitely a strong pause or halt to what Italian culture and life is normally as other countries are I am sure finding as well.”

To enforce social distancing, police have been patrolling regularly around the community and giving out fines to anyone outside without a specific purpose.

“I also think just the news alone, with all the lives lost, has been keeping many people inside as well. We are allowed to go for a ‘walk only 200 metres away from our homes and allowed to go out to get groceries or to the pharmacy.”

Catalano left Williams Lake in 2013 after she finished a Bachelor of Education from Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops for work at an international school in Shanghai where she stayed four years. She moved to Turin for a teaching job at another international school, but last year decided to switch jobs for a little while and is now working for an animation studio producing cartoons for kids.

Since March 11 she has been working from home, helping with the production side of the animation studio she works for, translating scripts and helping to co-ordinate the design team.

“I recently got put onto ‘cassa inegrazione’ which is where the government pays 80 per cent of my pay for the nine weeks of isolation. I will also be working two days a week where I will get paid normally.”

While their balcony has become their main outdoors area, she has also used her creativity to help ease her isolation.

“I am actually a passionate teacher and I have two little children in the next apartment to me. I have been finding so much joy in creating lesson plans that can keep them entertained while keeping the two-metre distance, of course.”

She has also taken up ukulele lessons and, ‘of course,’ because she lives in Italy, she has also been enjoying taking time to cook some delicious food.

Catalano’s sister Carly and her husband Sam and two-year-old daughter live in Stroud, England, her brother Cameron and his wife Teresa live in Vancouver, while her younger brother Evan and her parents Janet and Rocco live in Williams Lake.

“We have started having a family aperitivo every Saturday night (our time) and afternoon (Canada time) just to all connect and see how each other is doing.”

Canadians, especially Williams Lakers, are lucky because most people have space to go out and enjoy nature without being close to other people, she said.

“I think it’s just so important for people to take this so seriously. So many people are asymptomatic when they have it and that is so dangerous, so everyone should be behaving as if they have it.”

Read more: B.C. closes all provincial parks for COVID-19 protection

If you know someone who might like to share an experience of living away from the Cariboo-Chilcotin during the COVID-19 pandemic, please e-mail

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The River Po is just across the street from their apartment and runs through the middle of the city. This picture was taken before the quarantine, as all the walking paths along the river have been closed now. (Photo submitted)

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