At first, the Italian Ministry of Education announced that schools and universities would be closing, beginning March 5th, until March 16th. Less than two days after the initial school closure announcement, St. Stephen’s teachers began teaching remotely. Several days later, the Italian government announced nation-wide school closures through April 3rd.
The closing of school wasn’t entirely unexpected. Life in Italy had been becoming stranger and more uncertain for weeks. At the end of February, as coronavirus cases began to rapidly multiply outside of China and as Italy emerged as Europe’s worst-hit country, school field trips both within and outside of Italy were banned and some cultural sites such as the catacombs began closing (Reuters 2020). The ban on school trips hit the St. Stephen’s community particularly hard as it went into effect at 6 am on Sunday, February 23rd, a day when half of the school’s spring trips were scheduled to depart. In the end, seven school trips successfully departed before the ban was announced and seven trips were canceled. When the school trips that had successfully departed returned to Rome, every student and teacher had to walk through body temperature scanners on their way to passport control at Fiumicino Airport. This was the first sign that life in Rome was changing. Over the course of the following two weeks, the masks and gloves donned by the Fiumicino airport employees would multiply in the streets of Rome until almost every passerby and many motorists and drivers could be seen wearing a mask and, in some cases, both a white mask and a pair of bright blue synthetic gloves. By early March, the Italian government announced an alarming national shortage of protective masks (Il Giornale 2020).
When the school closure was first announced, it seemed like a drastic measure, restaurants, bars, and clothing stores were still open and while the number of tourists in the city center had noticeably declined since early February, it wasn’t hard to stumble upon small groups of tourists relishing the unusually short lines for entry to the Colosseum and posing for dramatic photos at the increasingly empty Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps. On March 1st, Wanted in Rome magazine published an article entitled, “Why Now is a Great Time to Visit Rome,” urging would-be visitors to take advantage of the opportunity to “visit Rome’s greatest landmarks minus the crowds” (Wanted in Rome 2020).