Coronavirus Diaries: Day 6 of Isolation in Milan

A mask held between two hands that says "Coronavirus Diaries"
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Coronavirus Diaries is a series of dispatches exploring how the coronavirus is affecting people’s lives. For the latest public health information, please refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. For Slate’s coronavirus coverage, click here.

MILAN—It’s Day 6 of isolation, and I wake up to the sound of my phone buzzing. I stretch my arm out to my nightstand, type in my code, and read the message, from a dear friend of mine: “My kid’s been up since 6 a.m. We did a puzzle, had breakfast, watched 3 episodes of Peppa Pig and played Spider Man. At this point I’m just hoping to get COVID19.”

We are among those in the “yellow zone,” meaning “those who live too close to the red zone,” near Lodi, where on Feb. 21 the first Italian breeding ground of COVID-19 was found. A second was found in Veneto, and in a few days, hundreds of people had been infected. So: schools, museums, movie theaters, pools, everything is closed. Everyone who can is working remotely. We are allowed to go outside, but asked to avoid contact with too many people.

It’s 9 a.m. Like I’ve done for the past six days, I turn on the news before drinking my coffee. The number of infected people has increased, but an expert is about to explain why we still shouldn’t worry too much. My oldest daughter shouts to me that she wants pancakes for breakfast. She’s ecstatic to be home from school, so much so that the other evening as she was falling asleep, she let out a little “hooray for the coronavirus.” But it’s still a weekday, and I have two articles to deliver, so I tell her, “No, honey, with the coronavirus going around, pancakes aren’t good for you.” The coronavirus may be why we’re all here, but it’s also an excuse for anything. Everyone should understand that forced, prolonged exposure to the people you love can, in some cases, create monsters.

My husband and I divide the day in half. I work in the morning while he takes care of our girls, and then he gets his turn in the afternoon. There’s basically nothing left to eat because we avoided the supermarkets when they were assaulted by people panicking. They looted all the pasta (except for the penne lisce, which we discovered Italians apparently hate), along with the frozen and canned foods. I could have ordered on Amazon Prime, but in the meantime I got an email explaining that deliveries were delayed due to COVID-19, so I was discouraged. At any rate, it means we’ll have to go to the store without a mask, as we are part of the group that didn’t stock up in advance. Even if we wanted to wear one—which we don’t—masks are basically impossible to find. All of the pharmacies are out, and people online are selling them at insane prices. I am curious as to where all those masks went, though, because over the past few days, when I have gone out, I haven’t seen many people wearing them. (Here’s a video of what the streets are like right now—not deserted, but emptier.)

A man stares at an empty canned goods aisle in the grocery store, with just a few choices left.
Not a lot of choices. Cristina Parisotto

The day is spent with Peppa Pig on loop, emails, new rituals of washing our hands (now while singing “Happy Birthday”), and a break to bake cookies. Between episodes, I try to catch newscasts, which are now as addictive as Netflix. One reason why I like the TV news is that I’m trying to avoid social networks. Yesterday, I risked a confrontation with a Facebook “friend” who posted an article on why we should close the borders on immigrants—right in the middle of the days when other countries are closing their borders on us. If it’s not this kind of thing, it’s irritation from how everyone I know has become an expert in virology and public health, or the frustration that comes from those who believe “coronavirus is a joke, it’s just like the flu,” or, on the other hand, those in the panicked “we’re all gonna die” camp. I have the feeling there are many more people who are simply respecting the rules to limit the infection, but they’re not the ones posting.

At least once a day I get a message from a friend that says: “I’ve got a cough. Should I call the doctor?” I got a little scared when I had a headache and shivers the other night, so I secretly locked myself in the bathroom to take my temperature. My youngest found the thermometer, and, as a divine punishment, I spent the next hour taking the temperature of all of her dolls. No coronavirus.

A week after the news of the first Italian breeding ground, we wonder when the schools will reopen, when we’ll return to the office, when we’ll see our bars and restaurants go back to normal. COVID-19 has canceled our plans for carnevale. Tonight, though, my oldest is planning on playing Christmas. Yes, Christmas. She’s drawing decorations and she’s wrapping old toys for her sister. Actually, in a certain way, it does feel like the holidays: We’re all at home, we cook a lot, and we are staying up late. Like Christmas, with a small side of anxiety. But I think we’re getting through it all right.