I'm Living in Milan in the Wake of COVID-19—Here's What You Should Know

Italian apartment building


The current outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) has been declared a pandemic by The World Health Organization. As the situation remains fluid, we’ll be sharing tips from doctors, nutritionists, and psychologists on additional things you can do to keep your mind and body well.

This morning I woke up early to get to the grocery store. On a normal day, it takes less than 15 minutes from the moment I pick up a cart to leaving with a bag of groceries.

Today it took over one hour just to enter the store because only a handful of people can enter at one time. In Italy, we’re urged to stay at home except for approved necessities—one person per family can go to the pharmacy, walk the dog, or shop for groceries.

Italians are infamous for their inability to form a line, and they’re even more notorious for skipping to the front. But today, in that hour outside the grocery store, we each stood three feet apart, and many covered their faces and hands with masks and gloves. 

The Coronavirus has disrupted the daily routines for everyone here in Italy. It’s easy to fall into complaining mode when having to adapt to constant changes. However, this hour of waiting was just a slight inconvenience in the vast scheme of things, especially as compared to brave and persevering doctors and nurses who are working around the clock to stop the spread of this virus. 

I’ve been in Italy for almost 10 years now, and there is nowhere else I’d rather be—even during this tumultuous time. Milan has that kind of buzzing energy you find in New York, but in less than two hours you can spend time in the Alps, on the Italian Riviera, or in a different European country entirely.

Before the crisis hit, I spent most of my day running around the city. My calendar was absolutely packed, and I had almost every moment of my day booked up between seeing clients, yoga class, and socializing with friends. 

When news of the virus first broke out here in Northern Italy, many people considered it a hoax and went along with their day. As more cases came out, there was a divide between those who scoffed and those who covered up with a mask. For each reputable news source that warned of the spread, there were twice as many fear-inducing chain messages on Whatsapp, from doctors who urged drinking water every 15 minutes to government agencies who claimed there were helicopters spraying chemicals in the middle of the night. Everyone was talking about Coronavirus, but we had no idea how it would affect our daily lives.

As you can imagine, the sense of fear is palpable here. The streets are empty, businesses are closed, and we have no idea what will happen next.

There was that same dissonance for a few more days, until the lockdown happened. That’s when the Italians understood nothing would be the same. No leaving the house without a legitimate reason. Short walks outside for fresh air are permitted as long as there is three feet of distance from others. No gym, shopping, or restaurants after 6 p.m. Offices implemented work-from-home policies. Heavy travel restrictions were imposed to enter and leave the country, with police giving fines and even arresting those who leave the house without a valid reason.

Do I miss the life I led before I became trapped in my house? Yes, of course. But I am willing to make sacrifices that could help save the lives of others. As a young woman, statistics say I am not at great risk to face mortality due to the virus, but I could pass it on to someone who is more vulnerable. And that is a chance I am not willing to take. 

As you can imagine, the sense of fear is palpable here. The streets are empty, businesses are closed, and we have no idea what will happen next. It’s easy to become consumed by fear. However, fear will only make me sick. I am dedicating my energy to staying grounded and finding ways to be of service to others.

For example, giving a colleague step-by-step instructions on how to Skype her family in the United States as she has never used video chat before. Asking neighbors if they need anything from the grocery store. Calling on friends to see how they are coping. 

It’s easy to become consumed by fear. However, fear will only make me sick.

Having our routines turned upside down is a challenge for all, but the best thing we can do is use this time to invest in ourselves. Instead of binge-watching TV, read a personal development book. Take a pause from scrolling through Instagram and send an email to someone you admire and introduce yourself. Podcasts and meditation are two free resources that can expand our mind and help us connect with ourselves.

A very wise person once told me if we wake up with a healthy body, a roof over our heads, and food to eat then we can consider ourselves to be truly blessed. Everything else is just icing on the cake. No one can say how much longer this will last in Italy, or how it will spread through the rest of the world. Despite all that is out of our control, we can keep washing our hands and finding those slices of joy in each day. 

Made in New York, based in Milan. Elena creates successful digital strategies to help luxury brands attract new clients. Her professional experience includes Belmond, Musement, We Are Social and RAI. Learn more about Elena on www.elenaciprietti.com

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