Personal accounts: How coronavirus affected local travelers in Italy

  • John Knox of Geneva, a sophomore at Marquette University, is pictured in Venice, Italy, while studying abroad at Gonzaga University in Florence, Italy. Gonzaga closed its Florence campus and is sending students home to finish classes online.

    John Knox of Geneva, a sophomore at Marquette University, is pictured in Venice, Italy, while studying abroad at Gonzaga University in Florence, Italy. Gonzaga closed its Florence campus and is sending students home to finish classes online. Photo courtesy of John Knox

  • Daily Herald staff writer Elena Ferrarin, left, recently traveled to her native Italy amid concerns of a coronavirus outbreak there. She's pictured last year with her father Lorenzo in front of Victor Emmanuel II National Monument in Rome.

    Daily Herald staff writer Elena Ferrarin, left, recently traveled to her native Italy amid concerns of a coronavirus outbreak there. She's pictured last year with her father Lorenzo in front of Victor Emmanuel II National Monument in Rome. Photo courtesy of Elena Ferrarin

 
Daily Herald report
Updated 2/28/2020 6:37 AM

The coronavirus disease caused changes from small to major for Daily Herald staffers and their family members visiting Italy, where there have been 300 cases and 12 deaths in the north. Here are two travelers' stories.

Study abroad interrupted

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Jeff Knox, senior director of visual journalism:

For a young man of 20 years, my son John, a sophomore at Marquette University, has already seen much of the world, but the chance to study mechanical engineering in Florence, Italy, through a program with Gonzaga University was the opportunity of a lifetime.

From early January until Wednesday, life was great -- engineering classes Monday through Thursday at the Gonzaga University campus in Florence then a long weekend to travel.

As parents, we were excited for all the experiences he would have. We were also excited by our plans to travel to Florence and visit him in the first week of March.

That all changed with a letter from Gonzaga University Provost and Senior Vice President Deena González on Wednesday.

"Effective immediately, all academic courses will be suspended."

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Faced with uncertainty about how far or how quickly the novel coronavirus will spread in Italy, Gonzaga concluded it was time to pull the plug on classes in Florence.

Gonzaga has been helpful in covering the cost of John's flight home, and his eight weeks abroad were packed with visits to France, Spain, Hungary and Switzerland and memories to last a lifetime.

My wife and I were not so lucky for our trip. Our flight insurance would cover a whole host of things that can go wrong, but a virus spreading around the world is not one of them.

John will be home soon and will finish his classes online in the comfort of his home in Geneva. Illinois, not Switzerland.

Thermal imaging in Rome

Elena Ferrarin, senior staff writer:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

I traveled through three European airports on a recent weeklong trip to Italy, my home country, and saw lots of travelers wearing face masks. Did I think about getting one? Not really. Catching coronavirus seemed (and still seems, for better or worse) like a remote possibility.

My overnight layover in London was unremarkable, but as soon as I set foot in the airport in Rome on Feb. 17, I was greeted by medical personnel and law enforcement, all wearing face masks, who had me stop and stand still for two seconds. Come to find out, they'd been doing thermal imaging on arriving passengers since early February. It happened fast, with no queue, and anyone without a fever (me included) was waived through without delay. I didn't see anyone pulled aside.

During my stay with my parents in Rome, headlines about the spread of coronavirus intensified each day, including the quarantine of several towns in the north of Italy. I don't know anyone in those towns, although I have relatives in those regions. At that point, their main worry was whether to go through with a planned trip in May to Japan.

I left Rome on Sunday and was surprised not to have to go through any additional controls during an overnight layover in Madrid. I landed at O'Hare Airport on Monday afternoon and, besides a few cautionary signs for travelers who had been to Wuhan, China, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Although I did find out that U.S. Customs and Border Protection dogs can sniff an apple out of a backpack. (Not mine. Really.)

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