Italy Virus Outbreak (copy)

A man walks by the window of a closed fashion shop March 12 in downtown Milan, Italy. The outbreak of the coronavirus has led to a nationwide lockdown in Italy as the government is seeking to slow its spread. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

I am a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University’s campus in Bologna, Italy, who just escaped the stringent lockdown across that country. Some lessons I witnessed in the discomfort of a pandemic:

  • Cooperation reigns over panic and resistance. Images of physical altercation over toilet paper at Costco are inconceivable to a nation with strong cohesion. Since medieval times, towns were the central units of the polity and survival depended on residents working together.
  • Leadership emerges from the local level and residents entrust local guidance well before the decrees of Rome. National leaders are often tardy and take calculated risks for political expediency. We must build consensus at the closest level instead of awaiting a “strong, central ruler” to direct us.
  • Individual actions do affect the course of events. As hard as it is to ask a Milanese to not take a spritz in a crowded bar, there has been limited resistance once the coronavirus proved deadly. Self-isolation is done to protect those most vulnerable and esteemed generations in our society.

The efficacy of U.S. containment will depend on the discipline of each citizen — whether that comes in a Happy Meal or in Italian portions is yet to be seen.

Brandon Peterson


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