CERESCO – Caitlin Makovicka’s three-month study abroad trip to Italy was cut short by the threat of the coronavirus. And now the Morningside College junior is isolated at home with her parents and two house guests until the 14-day quarantine period is over.
Makovicka and a group of 11 fellow students left for Italy on Jan. 20, intending to stay until April 20. They settled into the small island Ortigia just off the island of Sicily. There, the students were studying the Italian language and learning about politics and the environment at Exedra Mediterranean Center.
The nine female students on the trip bunked together in an apartment. Makovicka roomed with one of her teammates on the Morningside volleyball team.
The students were enjoying their time in Italy for the first month or so, when they heard talk of an illness hitting northern Italy caused by something called the novel coronavirus, a new strain of virus in a large family of viruses that cause everything from the common cold to severe diseases, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The respiratory disease caused by the virus has been given the name COVID-19. The first cases were detected in Wuhan China on Dec. 31, 2019. Since then it has spread to several countries around the world.
On Feb. 24, Makovicka and the other students met with representatives from the school they were attending in Italy. At that time, they were in contact with officials from Morningside College but those in charge felt the students were safe. They even gave the students approval to go on spring break in the first week of March.
Even though they knew the virus was present in Italy, Makovicka said the students were not worried that they would be exposed, because it was mainly in the northern part of the country. And with Sicily being an island separate from the mainland of Italy, it seemed more isolated to her.
“The whole time I was there I didn’t find it fearful,” she said.
A few days later, the students were told they would need to go back to the U.S. by March 13 because the virus was continuing to spread. But they were still allowed to go ahead with their spring break plans.
Makovicka and her parents, Laura and Alan, had scheduled a vacation together in Italy during her spring break. They proceeded with their original itinerary, traveling to Naples and the Amalfi coast, traveling with Caitlin’s volleyball teammate and her mother.
While the family enjoyed their trip, there was an underlying current of anxiousness taking hold throughout the country. Social distancing was ordered by the Italian government, and was strictly enforced. For example, Caitlin and her family had to sit at separate tables at a restaurant.
On March 9, Italy closed its borders and flights were starting to be cancelled. Businesses and restaurants were shuttered.
“Last Monday it started to hit us,” Makovicka said.
Laura and Alan Makovicka were going to extend their time in Italy after their daughter’s spring break was over and spend time in Florence. Instead, they shortened their trip and began finding flights back to the U.S. with Caitlin. It took a lot of phone calls with the airline to get their tickets changed and to make sure all three were on the same flight.
Makovicka was happy she was able to fly home with her parents, but sad that her semester abroad was cut short.
“I was pretty bummed,” she said. “I had gotten pretty close to the people I was studying with, so those goodbyes were pretty hard.”
There was one fellow student Makovicka didn’t have to say goodbye to, however. When they arrived back home, Makovicka, her parents and the student and mother they traveled with on spring break were forced to quarantine. Because the mother’s husband was not on the trip, they could not go to their home in Omaha. Instead, they are staying with the Makovicas.
Before they arrived home, Makovicka’s sister, Cassi Deerson shopped for groceries and other items they needed during their two weeks at home.
“It was all there once we got back,” Makovicka said.
Deerson brings over things they need, and just leaves them outside the front door. Makovicka and her parents will wave at her from the window. To keep in touch, they rely on video phone calls.
“Facetime has been amazing for us,” Makovicka said.
While it isn’t ideal, Makovicka said they are dealing with the quarantine by keeping their spirits up.
“It’s the best situation we have right now,” she said.
Three Rivers Health Department is in contact with the group, who must record their temperature twice a day and monitor any symptoms.
Makovicka is also waiting to hear what Morningside College will do in regards to the coronavirus. The school has extended spring break for students through March 22 and will resume classes online on March 23. They hope to resume normal class delivery following Easter break, according to the school’s website.
All spring sports for Morningside have been cancelled. As a volleyball player, this does not affect Makovicka. Their season ended in December with a record of 17-13. They competed in the NAIA National Championship for the fourth consecutive year.