Thanks in part to President Trump's nonchalant initial response (though as he demonstrated during last night's Oval Office press conference, the president has changed his tune - or at least it appears that way), millions of Americans still believe the coronavirus is - worst case - like a bad flu.
Actors Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson inadvertently amplified this idea when they reported feeling "a little achey" after testing positive for the virus in Australia.
But after reading this desperate plea from an Italian citizen whose sister succumbed to Covid-19 before ever making it to a hospital, hopefully they'll understand what's really at stake here. As Dr. Scott Gottlieb said earlier on CNBC: It's probably too late for America to be South Korea (aka taking swift steps to contain the outbreaks before they get out of control), but we don't have to be Italy.
When his sister died after contracting the novel coronavirus, Luca Franzese thought that things couldn’t get much worse.
Then, for more than 36 hours, the Italian actor and mixed martial arts trainer was trapped at home with Teresa Franzese’s decaying body, unable to find a funeral home that would bury her.
"I have my sister in bed, dead, I don’t know what to do," Franzese said in a Facebook video over the weekend, pleading for help. "I cannot give her the honor she deserves because the institutions have abandoned me. I contacted everyone, but nobody was able to give me an answer."
Initially posted to Facebook, Luca's video was also shared to YouTube as he and thousands of other Italians tried to get the message out: Local officials don't care: Luca tried to find a funeral home to bury his sister and for weeks "ma nessuno ne fregata" - but nobody gave a fuck.
Al Jazeera reported that Teresa Franzese, 47, suffered from epilepsy but was healthy up until last week, when she began showing symptoms of coronavirus. She died Saturday evening in her home in Naples, the country's third-largest city, and the largest in the Italian south. Teresa was tested for the virus only after her death, Luca said.
During a press conference last night, PM Giuseppe Conte warned that Italian people that although the government's strict new measures to combat the virus might seem harsh at times, they are absolutely necessary to slow the spread of the virus and prevent Italy's health-care system from being completely overrun.
Italy now has the largest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world outside mainland China. With 827 confirmed deaths, it has the largest death toll in the world outside mainland China and probably Iran (though the regime has successfully kept the real numbers mostly secret).
And as the Washington Post reports, attempts to slow the spread of the disease have led to unintended consequences, including several instances (including the incident with Luca's sister) where funeral homes have refused to collect the bodies of those infected with the virus.
In Teresa's case, she was apparently the first person in Italy to die at home and then test positive for the virus after.
After various authorities failed to come up with an answer, Franzese said, the city of Naples finally referred him to a funeral home. But the funeral home refused, telling him it wasn’t equipped to deal with the situation.
"It was the first case in Italy in which a person with the virus dies at home, so there was some confusion on what to do," Francesco Emilio Borrelli, a local councilor who also serves as a member of Campania’s Regional Health Commission, told Al Jazeera.
In response, Luca slammed Italian authorities in the video, which was seen by millions of viewers. He has published several videos, including another that he shared on Facebook, where he shares the details surrounding Teresa's death and his battle with the authorities, before declaring that he felt abandoned by the state.
"We are ruined," he said. "Italy has abandoned us."
The funeral home involved in Luca's case insisted that it only turned away Teresa's body due to "administrative hurdles" imposed by the government, and that they would have gladly taken it immediately if not for that. It's not the only such incident that has been reported, and local prosecutors in Savona are reportedly opening a case into a similar incident.
But Luca's case wasn't the only virus-response nightmare to go viral in Italy. One woman in Borghetto Santo Spirito was quarantined alongside the dead body of her husband, who contracted the virus, but refused to go the hospital, according to CNN.
Yet another disturbing scenario played out this week when a woman was quarantined alongside the body of her dead husband. Giancarlo Canepa, the mayor of Borghetto Santo Spirito in northern Italy, told CNN that the man died at 2 a.m. Monday, but that nobody would be allowed to remove his body until Wednesday morning.
An Italian woman has been unable to leave her apartment where her husband’s dead body is being kept due to quarantine restrictions, Giancarlo Canepa, mayor of Borghetto Santo Spirito, told CNN Tuesday.
The husband, who had tested positive for coronavirus previously, died Monday at 2 a.m. local time.
A local Italian media outlet interviewed several of the couple's relatives, one of whom expressed grief and disbelief that their family member was suffering through such a tragedy alone, and that nobody was allowed to visit or comfort her.
Speaking of the strict quarantine rules, she said "siamo trattati peggio dell'immondizia, almeno quella si differenzia."
"We are treated worse than garbage. At least this is different."
There was some debate among experts after PM Conte declared the initial zone rosse' whether Italians would go along with the restrictions. Stories like these certainly undermine the legitimacy of the government's response to the virus by destroying peoples' faith in the systems that have been supposedly put in place to help those impacted by the virus. Last night's clarification that all bars, restaurants and stores of all kinds except for groceries and pharmacies would be closed probably added to the stress.
The FT reports that Italy is working at "10% capacity" as of Thursday. Meanwhile, tourist attractions like St. Mark's Square and the Trevi Fountain appear eerily vacant.
Welcome to Italy: Where even the grave diggers are being quarantined.