Illinois State University associate history professor Kathryn Jasper had traveled to Italy to research a book about a monastery in the Middle Ages, and also give her daughter time to bond with her husband's parents and uncles who live just outside of Florence.
It wasn't long after they arrived in January that Italy became the epicenter of COVID-19. As of Monday, the virus had claimed more than 10,000 lives, making Italy's death rate the highest in the world.
"It was all going very well," Jasper told The Pantagraph via email. "I took a bus into the city center during the week and (was) getting a lot done when the libraries closed, then the archives after that. It happened quickly and without much warning, because the number of coronavirus cases was growing exponentially to our great shock."
Fearing the virus would spread to Florence, Jasper said the family decided to stay put. She hasn't been outside since March 10, when she mailed her ballot for the Illinois primary election.
"I have asthma and weak lungs but I still hadn't thought of this virus as particularly dangerous," said Jasper. "Then, the number of cases started to grow by an alarming rate. March 10th, there were 9,000 cases and a week later, there were 35,000; and a week later on March 25th, there were over 74,000 cases." As of Saturday that figure had risen to 92,472.
Italian President Giuseppe Conte ordered all businesses to close except for pharmacies and grocery stores. Leaving home required special permission.
"I didn't take this thing as seriously as I should have. No one here really did," said Jasper. "It got real bad, real fast. The hospital beds in Italy are running out/have run out in some places and that means people are going to be left to die."