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The coronavirus has impacted the lives of millions across the globe  — including those visiting Happy Valley and students who traveled from Penn State to different countries to study abroad. 

The day before he left his hometown of Bologna, Italy to visit State College, 18-year-old Italian high school student Davide Ravaioli first realized the gravity of the novel coronavirus.

Italian government officials declared that all schools and universities in his home region of Emilia-Romagna, along with Veneto and Lombardiga, would be closed for a week, as the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Italy rose from fewer than five to 150.

As of Thursday, there are more than 3,850 confirmed cases in Italy and 148 deaths.

Penn State has since canceled all international university-affiliated spring break travel and requires all students returning from CDC Warning Level Three countries, including Italy, to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Having first heard about the virus in January, Ravaioli recalled that Italian news media began to project “exaggerated numbers” of those affected with the disease, as many people falsely tested positive for COVID-19 due to complications with their test kits.

“As Italians, we like drama and all news titles that sound too negative or too positive,” Ravaioli said via email.

Victoria Castano, a Penn State architecture student currently studying in Rome, said despite the disruptive nature of the coronavirus outbreak, said everyday experiences have not been overly hampered by its impact. She said that people in Rome continue to feel safe as there have yet to be any confirmed cases of the outbreak and noted that, “very few people are in masks considering the situation.”

For Castano (senior-architecture), the spread of the coronavirus will not discourage her from wanting to return to Italy in the future.

“Rome is a beautiful city that has survived over 2,500 years of history, I doubt the coronavirus will be the end of it all,” Castano said.


However, the university said in a press release last week it is working to bring home students from Italy in midst of the spread.

Similar to Castano, Allie Graf — who is currently in Madrid, Spain as part of the IES Madrid Engineering Math and Science Program — emphasized that though the spread of the virus has not hindered her overall experiences abroad, it has limited her ability to explore other countries.

“It has also made me paranoid about being sent home from my program early which is something that I don’t want to happen,” Graf (junior-industrial engineering) said. “It did create a change in the atmosphere of American students studying abroad because we are consistently checking our emails wondering if our program is going to be canceled.”

As of Thursday, there were 259 confirmed cases in Spain.

Ravaioli said traveling back to Bologna was a relief. He said he did not notice anything out of the ordinary in the airport, noting that except for being measured for his temperature in Bologna, he did not see airport or airplane staff take any drastic measures.

In spite of appearances, Ravaioli maintained that “there is a lot of fear due to misinformation.”

In Italy and elsewhere, panic and xenophobia tend to be spreading just as fast, if not faster than the coronavirus itself.

“As always, racism is due to this misinformation: There have been cases of violence against Asian people recently and I can imagine there might have been more cases that weren’t reported on the news,” Ravaioli said. “If this crisis will end soon, I hope it will teach us that it is right to be truthful and objective in order to not [raise] the paranoia.”

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