FLORENCE, Italy (WPRI) ─ Studying abroad in Italy has been the experience of a lifetime, according to University of Rhode Island (URI) junior Naja Sasa.
But this weekend, the 20-year-old Johnston native had a brush with a once-in-a-generation epidemic: the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19.
Returning to Florence from a quick trip to Paris, she said, “they took our temperatures right from getting off the plane, and everyone was in hazmat suits. It’s kind of like a scary movie.”
Sasa is studying abroad with five other URI students, and in between lessons, she said they’ve jumped at opportunities for experience, including skydiving and a weekend trip to Switzerland.
She said she was shocked by the news that a man in Florence was diagnosed with the coronavirus, not knowing he’d been carrying it for weeks.
She and the other students have started wearing face masks and she said others are taking it seriously too.
“There’s a sign on every pharmacy, saying masks are sold out. Stuff like hand sanitizer and other cleaning supplies ─ you can’t get anywhere,” she said.
To date, the coronavirus has infected more than 80,000 globally and is responsible for more than 2,500 deaths, mostly in mainland China. Thirty other countries have seen coronavirus cases, with growing outbreaks in Japan, Italy and South Korea.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said Americans should prepare for the virus to inevitably become widespread across the country.
Sasa said URI’s study abroad program is monitoring the spread of the virus closely. For now, she plans to stay in Florence to finish out her term, which ends in May.