Student Studying Abroad Returns Home to North Texas After COVID-19 Outbreak in Italy

The latest numbers Saturday showed there are more than 21,000 cases of COVID-19 in Italy. More than 1,440 have died and nearly 2,000 have recovered.

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A college student studying abroad in Europe is sharing her experience now that she is home from one of the coronavirus outbreak hotspots – Italy.

Athena Adaska, a junior at the University of Oklahoma, returned home to North Texas Friday night. She had been studying in Italy since Jan. 12.

“Before I left, my mom just told me… she said, 'There’s this thing called coronavirus. Right now, it’s in China. Just keep your hands clean, just watch out,'” Adaska said.

She was staying in Arezzo, located in southeastern Tuscany. During the first month of the semester, she said nothing seemed out of the ordinary, but the mood changed about three weeks ago. On the weekend of Feb. 22, a dozen towns in northern Italy went into lockdown after the deaths of two people infected with COVID-19.

Adaska was in Milan that same weekend and in Venice the weekend prior, where she said concern amongst the group wasn’t high at the time.

“Milan, we did start to hear more and more about it. We found out a couple days later that a bunch of Milan fashion weeks had been canceled. That’s when things started taking a turn," she said. "Then we learned that the Lombardy region which is kind of where Milan is, was getting shut down and quarantined. We got out right before they shut it down."

Adaska said there was a meeting with the study abroad director about the virus once the group returned to Arezzo.

“It honestly took over everything. Not like 'took over' everything – but it’s all anyone talked about, because we were so concerned about getting sent home,” she said. “We thought we were fine in Arezzo and then we had to get out of Arezzo within four days. We had from Monday to Thursday to get out and that was kind of stressful. Then getting to Dublin, trying to figure out hotels.”

According to the latest numbers released Saturday, there are more than 21,000 cases of COVID 19 in Italy. More than 1,440 have died and nearly 2,000 have recovered.

Adaska was spending time in Dublin, Ireland last week while on spring break. Her parents’ decision to fly her home immediately came after President Donald Trump announced a travel ban this week for most of Europe – followed by the UK and Ireland on Saturday.

Though restrictions apply only to foreign nationals, Adaska said her parents wanted her home as soon as they heard about the original ban.

“They said, 'You need to come home now because it’s in a bad place.' They didn’t know if it was going to continue to get worse. They just didn’t want to risk me staying for the week,” Adaska said.

Despite being disappointed in the study abroad program ending earlier she expected, Adaska said she was ready to be home.

“I think the past three weeks for me have been very chaotic – just from finding out, everything has been moving so fast,” she said.

For the next two weeks, she will remain in isolation. Guidelines from the CDC state travelers returning from several countries in Europe must stay home for 14 days to monitor their health and practice social distancing.

“We live with my grandparents and my parents can’t afford to get sick. I have been out of Italy for about a week and a half, but since I was on the planes and in an airport, they just want to take the precautionary measure and have me stay in my room for a while,” Adaska said via Facetime from her room on Saturday. “It’s so disappointing to miss out on certain things, but you have to look at the perspective of everyone’s trying to keep in mind the safety of our country and the world right now.

“I hope that for the sake of everyone that this gets controlled soon so people don’t have to feel the way I felt and hundreds of thousands of study abroad students felt about all of this happening.”

Adaska said she has no symptoms of any illness, though she will continue to monitor her health.

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