A Benton, Kentucky man is self-isolating after returning from a study-abroad program in Italy, the second-hardest hit country as the coronavirus rages onward. The University of Kentucky student returned less than a week ago from the country which is now under a mandatory four-week quarantine, affecting 16 million people, resulting in the death of nearly 500 and infection of nearly 10,000.
Alec Foust, 22, said his roommate is still trapped in Italy and hoping his home university can negotiate his return to northern China. Foust was forced to return to the United States. He says when the U.S. Department of State issued a level three travel advisory for Italy, he received a notice from the university saying it was time to come back.
Foust said his roommate, who goes by, “Jay,” arrived at Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan on Jan. 25 even though the semester didn’t begin until Feb. 24. He said in Jay’s hometown, there had only been two confirmed cases among the 15 million natives but Jay said he didn’t want to risk contraction so he came early.
And upon arrival, Foust recalled, Jay took extra precautions including self-quarantine and limiting his contact with other people. But of course living in the same, small space with Jay created Foust’s first concern about exposure.
Fast forward to a week before the semester is scheduled to begin, Foust recalled, and nearly a dozen cities just south of Milan have completely shut down. The number of cases of infected persons was growing rapidly from 30 to 100 to 200. The university delayed courses for a week as a precautionary measure.
Foust recalled uncertainty watching the numbers of infected persons grow, the cities affected growing closer and closer to Milan, and awaiting word from his home university. In the meantime, he and Jay would mostly stay in their apartment, getting out occasionally for a cup of coffee or groceries but usually wearing medical masks to do so.
“The grocery stores were running out of food, but especially the pasta,” he recalled. “They had ransacked the pasta shelves. Pasta is definitely a major staple in Italy, as well as coffee, but we didn’t see as much about coffee shortages.”
Jay wore a medical mask everywhere outside the apartment from the day he arrived in Milan until the day Foust had to leave, he said, and there was another Chinese student in their social circle who came to Italy with a stash of at least 250 medical masks.
Foust said he would wear a mask when Jay insisted but wasn’t as dedicated to that level of precaution as his roommate. But one place he never went without a mask was the subway system.
“There was no way I was going to ride on that underground train without a face mask,” he said. “That just freaked me out too much.”
When Foust boarded the airplane to return home, the only checkpoint was a thermometer to his head. When he was able to demonstrate he wasn’t running a fever, he was allowed to board the plane. But, he recalled there were only about 10 people on the plane with him so everyone was able to keep a healthy distance.
Upon arriving home Wednesday, Foust began self-isolation as a precaution for his community and family.
He said, “I don’t think I have anything but I mean, I just don’t want to risk it.”
Foust is staying at his parents’ home and one of his siblings is home for spring break. He said those family members are limiting their exposure to others in the community as well, including his grandmother who’s ready for a hug.
“If my parents were concerned, they did a very good job of hiding it, my brother doesn’t seem bothered by it; not even my grandmommy seems worried about it,” he said. “I obviously want to see her but I don’t want to risk giving her anything.”
Foust continues coursework for his final semester of college through the Italian university online. He will graduate in May and had planned to work for a while in Milan, but said he’s “back to the drawing board” when it comes to his immediate future plans.
“I guess we’ll see in May,” he said. “Now that I’m home all of my plans are sort of out the window."