Updated on March 9 at 5 p.m. ET.
Giada Woolley, 14, can’t remember exactly how many days straight she has been cooped up inside her home in Milan. In her last outing, she’d gone over to a friend’s house for lunch — but was it last week, or the week before?
What she does know is that she hasn’t seen most of her friends since Feb. 22, the last day of classes before her high school, Civico Liceo Linguistico Alessandro Manzoni, moved to online instruction because of the coronavirus outbreak. Amid the worsening situation — the death toll is now at least 463 — Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced Monday that Italy would expand travel restrictions for the entire country. When Woolley learned about the lockdown in her region on Sunday, she realized she’d be staying home for another month. It’s hard to imagine being quarantined for so long, she says: “It’s just boring, and missing these many days of school isn’t nice.”
In what have been the most extreme measures taken by a democracy so far, Italy announced that it is imposing travel restrictions that affect its 60 million residents. People are barred from travel other than for emergencies or essential work or health matters; the country has also banned all public gatherings, including weddings, funerals and Mass, until April 3.
It’s not just in Italy: Countries around the world are ratcheting up precautions as the virus continues to spread. Saudi Arabia enacted new travel restrictions and suspended schools in the capital, and Iran suspended flights to Europe.
In the United States, where the number of cases has surpassed 500, self-quarantines are becoming increasingly common. In the nation’s capital, D.C. officials urged hundreds of Christ Church Georgetown attendees to self-quarantine after they were exposed to Rev. Timothy Cole, the city’s first known coronavirus patient. And in St. Louis, a school closed after the father and sister of a young woman infected with the coronavirus attended a father-daughter dance on Saturday night. The patient’s family had been told on Thursday to self-quarantine at home, but the father did not follow those instructions, as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
For Woolley and her parents (she’s an only child), “going out” isn’t worth it. The outbreak “really makes you understand how people are, how they behave,” she says. “In this situation, you actually see a lot of people that don’t behave correctly, that just don’t really care. They leave the house and they just risk making it really worse.”
All of Woolley’s classes are being held online, and with a limited schedule. On Monday, Woolley had only one online class, which lasted an hour. For the past week, and for the foreseeable future, her high school conducts classes via an app called Meet, where teachers instruct students over video chat. She still has significant homework assignments, she says, which usually take up about half of the day. As Woolley puts it, “At least we’ve got something to do.”
Kim Ji Eun, 15, is one of Woolley’s classmates. Last week, she met up with friends once or twice, but there wasn’t much going on, she says. All the movie theaters were closed, so she and her friends hung out in the park.
“The streets are empty, and nowadays, there are also no cars,” she says. She jokes that that’s probably “good for the pollution.”
The news has been playing a lot on the TV at her home, Ji Eun says, because her family wants to stay up-to-date on the latest information related to the coronavirus. Ji Eun has also been watching Korean dramas (she’s Korean Italian), and occasionally plays “Minecraft” on her PlayStation 4 with her 11-year-old brother.
Woolley says that she’s been passing the extra time with one of her favorite hobbies: drawing. In the evenings, before or after dinner, she’ll spend time talking with her parents. They’ve been eating a lot of pasta, she says, but they did have some ingredients to make homemade pizza recently.
Although both girls describe the situation as “boring,” they say that the “alarm” of the outbreak has somewhat subsided. Some people are still “overreacting,” according to Ji Eun, but she and her friends aren’t talking about the coronavirus much these days. “We talked a lot about the virus situation back when it started, but now we try to talk less about it,” she says, referencing chatting with classmates on Instagram and WhatsApp. “We are less scared than other countries where the virus hasn’t come yet, because we know that it isn’t as scary as it first seemed.”
Certain guidelines are beginning to affect young people in the United States. Columbia University announced that it was canceling classes on Monday and Tuesday and would conduct remote classes for the rest of the week before spring break; Princeton also announced it was moving to virtual classes. (Stanford University and the University of Washington have done the same for the remainder of winter quarter.)
Columbia junior Lola Williams “had a lovely sleep in” on Monday morning, she says, seeing as she didn’t have to make it to her usual 10:10 a.m. class. According to Williams, it seems most students on campus are studying and “chilling” in the wake of their canceled classes. Monday was sunny in Manhattan, in the mid-60s, and Williams planned to sit on Columbia’s Low Library steps in the afternoon, or maybe head downtown to check out a new museum.
Williams is taking certain precautions — minimizing riding the subway, using hand sanitizer when she can. She says that the response on campus has been mixed.
“There are some people on campus who are like, ‘This is an apocalypse, this is the end of the world. I’m buying out every single cleaning supply thing from Duane Reade,’” she says. “And then there are other students who are like, ‘Eh. We’ve all probably been exposed.’”
The thing Williams is most worried about is “how academics are going to go from now on.” She’s pre-med and can’t envision certain aspects of her education, such as biology tests, being administered online.
The two quarantined Italian students feel the same way. Mostly, they miss seeing their friends every day.
The biggest thing she’s felt missing in her life? “Seeing my friends at school — and playing tennis,” Woolley says. “My parents and I could’ve gone to play tennis one day, but everything was closing down. So we couldn’t even do that, really.”