Central New York native, Nick Serio, and his wife, Virginia, are staying put in Putignano. Each year, the couple spends two months in southern Italy, near Bari. This year, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, it's going to be more like three months. Of course, they had no idea what was in store when they'd arrived, in early February.
"It wasn't really on the radar. It really didn't start til mid-February, when there were concerns that there were a few cases in northern Italy," said Nick Serio, via Skype, on Thursday. The virus spread like wildfire through Italy's elderly population.
On March 8th, Italy resorted to desperate measures to contain the virus' spread.
"They've locked down the country so now you cannot leave the town in which you reside," said Nick. "The rule now is you can only go to the pharmacy or the grocery store."
This trip, there will be no driving the Italian countryside for the Serios; no getting together with family in nearby Alberobello. They're limited to walks around their villa, in the gated community where they're staying, and surreal trips to the market.
"Outside, they have a tag station like you would see at a deli counter. You pull your tag. Everybody wears a face mask. When they call your number, and that's based on how many people are coming out the exit door, they let you in. You have to maintain distance," said Nick.
There are good reasons to maintain social distancing; Itally's death toll is staggering.
"On Tuesday, there was a spike to 743," said Nick, who believes part of the reason for the high death rate is the country's elderly populaton. "One of the reasons is that Italy has the oldest population in Europe; the second oldest population in the world."
Serio thinks part of the reason for the rapid spread, is that people aren't taking the virus seriously enough.
"We have videos of people we know in Milan, two week ago, going to the cafes, having their espressos, large groups of people. They are arresting people still who are congregating to have birhtday parties, things of that nature," said Nick. "The mayors of the cities are out walking the streets, admonishing people to go home."
While the Serios' two-month trip is looking more like a three-month trip, they're having no problem isolating themselves in their beautiful surroundings, and they have no problem riding it out right where they are.
"The situation in the United States is evolving on a daily, minute by minute basis, and it doesn't look good. At this point, where we are, we feel much safer than returning to the United States," said Nick.
"When our families were calling from the United States saying 'come home now, come home now', one, we felt that we knew the United States was a few week behind Italy as far as the crisis and pandemic, but more so, everybody's locked down. The airports aren't flying," added Virginia.
The Serios miss their children and grandchildren. But they're glad they didn't invite family to joint them this year like they've done in years past; then, they all would have been stuck in Italy. For now, they remain in southern Italy indefinitely. There is no takeout; they have to cook every meal, and other than when one of them goes to the market every week or so to grab food to cook, there is no contact with anyone other than each other. Fortunately, they say they're spouses, but also, best friends, and there is no bickering near Bari.
"It's good that we do get along so well, and we have Netflix!" said Viriginia. "So, we can change Netflix to English from Italian."