Dealing with COVID-19 a world away

The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the few truly global experiences most of us have lived through in our lifetime. Everyone has been affected, no matter their country or age. However, experiences can still differ drastically from country to country and person to person.

AHN reporter Dillon Giancola caught up with his family's former exchange student, Stefania Casu, a doctor from Milan. Both her and her partner were working on the front lines of the crisis immediately, both contracted the virus, and were both sent back to work in the hot zones after recovering. Here is a look into their experience, and how this experience is both similar to and different from ours in Fort St. John. 

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Dr. Stefania Casu was working in her hospital in Milan with a colleague on Feb. 21 when she remembers hearing from her mom about the first case of COVID-19 in Lombardy. Most people with the virus in Italy up to that point had been isolated, and Casu thought the same would happen with the patient in Milan. However, by the end of the day, the recorded cases were at 18.

Just two days later, suspicious cases were reported in many emergency departments, and by evening the cases in Milan had progressed so rapidly that schools were closed. Casu’s parents flew to Milan so they could look after her and her partner’s kids while they kept working.

“We were very fortunate they came, as there were no daycares or schools, and as doctors we are both required to keep working,” Casu said.

As a hepatologist, Casu specializes in working with patients suffering from liver disease, and wouldn’t normally be working with patients with severe respiratory disorders.

As in Canada and Fort St. John, albeit a couple of weeks earlier, all shops and cafes were closed, with only supermarkets remaining open. Casu was asked to help in the hospital with coronavirus patients, in an environment she’s not used to, dealing with problems she normally doesn’t deal with. It was the same for doctors and specialists all over Italy, including neurologists and surgeons. Fortunately, under the lead from someone more expert in the field.

Though her life had changed, she never thought she would contract the virus. She protected herself, as did her partner. But despite the measures, they both came into contact with the virus and eventually tested positive. She and her partner couldn’t work, nor could two of their colleagues. As more doctors and hospital staff became infected, others had to work extra shifts and work longer hours.

It took 20 days, but eventually Casu tested negative for the virus. While in isolation, she and her partner didn’t see their kids, but everyone is back together now. Still, she’s back to work on the hospital. Casu said that though the hospitals have been non-stop busy, every patient has had a bed.

“When I’m at work I’m so concentrated on what I’m doing I don’t have time to think or worry. Sometimes I am worried about doing something wrong, when you go into a room with a patient you are required to wear lots of layers and need to take it off as soon as you leave so you don’t pass anything along. It can be stressful.”

Though she has been working in an area she’s not familiar with, she’s always had someone more experienced to ask a question or get help from when she had doubts.

Though things aren’t as dire as they were originally, all public health precautions in Milan remain in place. Wearing a mask in public is mandatory. Finding a mask can be hard, especially for kids, making it harder to take a kid out for fresh air or exercise.

At the supermarkets, people must go by themselves and wait in line spaced more than one metre apart, and only five people are allowed in at a time. However, there are some exceptions for people over 65 — they don’t have to wait in line in the morning, for example.

Casu knows that although Italy has been hit hard by the virus, everyone she knows in Europe and other countries is dealing with all the same things.

“Everybody is trying to respect strictly all the rules of distancing, and that is the only solution.”

Email reporter Dillon Giancola at

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