Local woman stuck in Italy

Gloversville resident Donna Kenney, left, is seen in this photo taken during her trip to Italy. Kenney is currently stranded in the country after Italy put travel restrictions in place. (Photo courtesy of Donna Kenney)

SAN VITO, Italy — While Fulton County grinds to a halt amid growing fears of the deadly coronavirus that has swept the world, one local resident is struggling to find her way home after a dream-trip to Italy was upended by the global pandemic, leaving her stranded in a foreign country.

After retiring as a sales representative for The Leader-Herald in January, Donna Kenney of Gloversville set out on the retirement trip of a lifetime to tour the cities, villages and country side of Italy on Feb. 5. At that time, word of the rapidly-spreading coronavirus was fairly muffled, even as 5,100 miles away in Wuhan, China the novel virus was already sickening thousands with the COVID-19 illness and causing massive economic upheaval throughout the world as fears of a global pandemic took root. It took several weeks — which for Kenney were spent exploring the splendors of the Mediterranean nation — before the perilous nature of the virus and the direness of the situation became apparent.

“I arrived here back on Feb. 5. At that time you heard scuttle-buttle of it. But then things started to get a little crazier on Feb. 20,” Kenney said over the phone Friday afternoon from the San Vito home of her friend and traveling companion on the outskirts of Brindisi in southern Italy, which is about 6 hours outside of Rome. “I took a little train ride up to a small town called Melissano and I saw tourist attractions starting to close down. But [people] weren’t getting really crazy about it until about March.”

By the time Kenney understood the true nature of the pandemic — Italy now has over 47,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus which has killed more than 4,000 in the country, surpassing the death toll in China where the virus originated — travel within the country had become extremely restricted, effectively stranding Kenney 5,300 miles away from her home in Gloversville while the world deals with global pandemic never before seen in our lifetime.

“[On Feb. 27], my sister called me from Gloversville and she said, ‘Donna, you’d better get home. Things are getting crazy here,'” Kenney said on Friday. “I tried to get flights out. I couldn’t. I just couldn’t get out of the southern part of Italy. They closed the airport. They closed the train stations so I couldn’t even take a train up to Rome. They closed the bus stations and they limited travel on the highways. Everything is closed down.”

Kenney has been in contact with the U.S. Embassy, which has assured her that a U.S. citizen cannot be denied entry into the United States, and she was able to secure a ticket for an Alitalia flight home on April 8 thanks to Herman A. Carbonelli Travel Agency in Gloversville, which Kenney cited as her “biggest resource right now.” However, Kenney fears that President Donald Trump may decide to restrict all flights from Italy into the U.S., which could leave her stranded for an indefinite time.

“If Trump decides to go to a level four [travel ban], which they possibly could do just like they did to China — not allow any flights from Italy into the United States — then I’m in trouble,” Kenney said.

Despite being effectively stranded in a foreign country amid a global pandemic, Kenney emphasized that she is safe and relatively comfortable in San Vito, with access to food and supplies and there is a hospital 20 minutes away in the city of Brindisi.

“I have a safe place and I’m comfortable where I’m staying. It’s not like I’m cooped up in a hotel or someplace where I can’t go any place, like a room where I’m confined,” Kenney said. “I’m in a home. My friend is here so we can talk. So I have it a whole lot better than some people. But you just miss home.”

Kenney said that she feels relatively safe from the virus in San Vito as the majority of coronavirus cases are in northern Italy — near its border with France, Switzerland and Austria — and because she is not in an overly populated area.

“I’m fortunate as to where I am, because I’m in a place called San Vito, and I’m on the outskirts,” Kenney said. “You’re talking about like the Mayfield area — you’re out of the city, and the place that I’m staying is kind of out in the country and there is nobody around. I’ve actually been cooped up in this house since about March 5, but I’m able to go outside. I take walks on the roads. For about a mile or so there’s no traffic or anything. There’s nobody around so we haven’t got to worry about wearing our masks, but when we go into the city, you definitely have to have a mask on.”

Kenney said the worst part for her is that all of the television programs are in Italian, which she is unable to understand.

“The worst part is the TV — it’s all in Italian. Once in a while I do get some programs in English. So in the meantime I watch it in Italian and just kind of make up my [own] story,” Kenney said. “But that’s about it. You’re kind of confined. I have my phone, naturally. I don’t have internet where I am here, but I have my phone. I can go on and watch CNN on YouTube and find out what’s going on in the United States and try to find out a little bit about what’s going on here in Italy, just so I kind of know what’s going on.”

Despite being only a 15 minute drive from the Mediterranean coast, travel restrictions prohibit individuals from making non-essential trips, which is practically anything other than trips to the grocery or drug stores. Kenney said that grocery stores are allowing only about five customers in at a time, while others wait in line for entrance, and that she has not seen any supply shortages, such the toilet paper shortage currently being experienced in the U.S.

“I haven’t heard of any shortages here of anything. My thought is that would be the last thing I would be worrying about was my toilet paper. But I guess people are funny,” Kenney said. “The only thing is we can’t find are masks. So far food hasn’t become an issue and I hope it doesn’t become an issue even in the United States. But people get scared, and it’s very easy to get scared.”

Kenney said the economic impact on the region has been severe and that she fears for the country’s future, as restaurants and other businesses have been forced to close their doors.

“Italy is a beautiful country, but they’ve got a long road ahead of them recovering from this I think,” Kenney said. “I think [people] are getting scared. Businesses are hurting. That’s what I worry about in our community up there in Gloversville. My gentleman friend here — he’s a U.S. citizen and he’s also an Italian citizen — and he says the same thing. He says, ‘I don’t know how Italy is going to recover from something like this if it goes on for too long.’ They’re going to be suffering over here.”

But while Kenney does fear for the economic impact on both Italy and her home of Gloversville, her most pressing concern remains finding a way home to Gloversville where her family and her animals await her return.

“I’m very fortunate in that I’ve got people taking care of things. But you still want to come home,” Kenney said. “You feel more comfortable in your own nation, in your own country when there’s a disease like this going around. It’s scary. I’m not scared right in my locality here, I have to admit. But emotionally, yeah I want to get home. I want to be in my own country. But I also know that I don’t want to bring anything home to anybody either. I understand when I get home I will certainly go into quarantine. I always planned on that four weeks ago when I thought about coming home.”


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