As the much-needed Spring rain falls over Italy, the COVID-19 state of emergency is coming to an end. We can definitely see a season of change in Rome, and it’s more than a meteorological transition.
When Joanne Kuttner, the students, and I arrived in Rome at the end of January 2022, Italy was among the countries with the highest vaccination rates in the world, just over 70% for those eligible. It also had some of the lowest case numbers. This, in part, led to the decision by the leadership at Lewis University to reopen the Lasallian University Center for Education (LUCE) in Rome. It would be a new start for the program that paused suddenly due to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic two years ago.
Northern Italy, especially the area near Milan, became an early epicenter for COVID-19. From March 2020 to May 2020, Italy had 500,000 COVID-19 cases. In 2020, Italy registered more deaths than in any other year since World War II. The televised images of crowded hospitals and funerals had a deep impact on the nation. On March 9, 2020, all of Italy’s 60 million people were placed on lockdown. Almost all commercial activity ceased, and each household designated one individual to do the weekly shopping. Now, on March 31, 2022, the state of emergency officially ends, and most of Italy’s COVID restrictions, including masking and proof of vaccination status, expire.
The Italians took the state of emergency seriously. They consistently wore N95 type masks indoors and outdoors. The metro subway line would broadcast reminders that a Green Pass, proof of vaccination, and masks were mandatory in Italian and in English. When someone’s nose would pop out above their mask, Italians would gesture or remind them to “pull it up.” The few exceptions to the mask mandate have been the few homeless on the streets and the occasional teen speaking on the bus with friends, but these were conspicuous outliers.
As a regular visitor to “the Eternal City,” the streets in early February 2022 were eerily empty. I remember being in Piazza Navona, with maybe 10 people at 9 p.m. when on previous trips hundreds of tourists would be mingling, taking photos, and enjoying the atmosphere. By the end of March, the number of visitors increased, including a great number of high school students from around Europe. The students could be seen walking to visit the art in churches in the historic center.
At the Christians Brothers’ Motherhouse, the one-way directional arrows taped to the ground are being scraped off. Other reminders of COVID-19 restrictions and policies are being removed. Soon cautious behaviors of a pandemic way of life will be fading away.
We hope for continued good health for all as Italy, like much of the globe, reduces COVID-19 mitigations and begins a new normal.