Our Life In Times of COVID-19

I have been in full lockdown in Italy, outside of Bergamo in the North, which has the highest concentration of infected people and fatal cases, for the past two weeks. The streets are empty. There is no traffic.

Berghem mola mia – Bergamo does not give up (in the local dialect)

You can only hear the the birds singing, as spring is here, and sound of sirens of the ambulances passing every few minutes. The last few days it looks like the ambulances received an update to their procedures. Since there is no traffic, they don’t even use the sirens, in order not to unnerve you. The churches stopped ringing their bells when people die, as it would just keep ringing.

You are prohibited from leaving your house except for health related emergencies and grocery shopping and to work in those places that are not closed. Everybody who can works from home, if their line of work allows it. Violation of the social distancing measures, which are enforced by frequent road checks by Carabinieri, a military force, carries three months jail term. Violation of the quarantine carries a jail term of up to 12 years.

Social signaling mask (given the beard)

We are all healthy. The parents of my son’s girlfriend had a fever, and they decided not to see each other in person for two weeks. It’s going to be over next week. But we have not only heard of people who are sick. We have had relatives of friends who died. The level of psychological impact is notably higher when that threshold is crossed. I hope not to learn the impact of the ones that would follow.

I have a wonderful home luckily. So it’s a pleasure, really. Garden, good air and water, barbecue, etc. Best place if one has to be in lockdown… We are eliminating any external contact and having only one trip per week for groceries or so including also arranging for online deliveries. My mother is 80 years old and my wife smokes so definitely I’m worried about them if they catch the virus.

Universal healthcare and the social safety net are extremely strong and useful here in Italy and they guarantee care as well as the fact that people don’t go to work if they are sick because they have sick leave. However the rapid increase in infections coupled with the relatively older population, one of the oldest in the world, has the consequence of saturating the available hospital beds and especially the intensive care units. There is already anecdotal evidence in certain areas close by hospitals having to apply triage and choose younger patients over older ones. China donated a lot of equipment, masks, respirators, and now that their resources are freeing up, doctors flew over to come to help in Italy.

Empty Bergamo streets

The shape of exponential rate of infection is the same everywhere. The only difference is when it starts, and once it does, it relentlessly goes through the same stages. Be ready that the measures just announced in New York are going to rapidly become much stricter, in a matter of days. The next challenge, after the measures of social distancing are showing to be effective, is not to ease them too early, as that can lead to an immediate resurgence of infections in new waves. I wrote about it more extensively.

My conference engagements which represent an important part of my income have been of course completely cancelled and I am now transitioning into delivering paid online conferences experimenting with various platforms. The weekly video series The Context that I am producing which has been going for over 30 episodes now is successful, and is still growing to gather the necessary volume of supporters on Patreon.

Giordana in Seoul

On top of all of this, when she turned 20 last November, by daughter Giordana moved to Seoul, where she is now living alone. A couple of weeks ago she had fever and cough, but it passed in a few days. Imagine how we felt!

Happy birthday, on a video call

My son Cosimo had his birthday a few days ago, and we celebrated with a group video call, wishing him happy birthday from all around Italy and South Korea, with my mother, Jacopo my other son, and Giordana.

Queuing COVID19-style

I cried with the family at the lunch table today (about time, after two weeks in lockdown). It is very important to build self awareness of the psychological pressure, and to allow it to show towards others. Both to display the emotions and also to let others know that they should reciprocate if they desire.

So as I was grocery shopping on the empty streets of Bergamo, in the epicenter of the pandemic, with people dying in droves, with mask, gloves and properly distanced from fellow humans, queuing to enter the supermarket, I was thinking: this is how a Singularity that went the wrong way feels like. Starts far away, reported by newscasts that you pretend you can ignore, and then suddenly upon you, as you gaze uncomprehendingly around, looking out from behind your ineffective protective gear, at a world that has been grabbed by something that is beyond your imagination, responding to dynamics that you can’t grasp.