ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — In less than a month, Sabrina Falco, a junior at St. Bonaventure University, has watched the coronavirus run rampant in both Italy and the United States. 

In January, Falco set off for Florence, Italy, for her semester study abroad program. Other than making the most of a life-changing experience and making new friends, Falco didn’t have many worries. Not COVID-19. Not a pandemic. Certainly not being sent home in late February. 

“I was aware of it [COVID-19],” Faclo said. “But as weeks went on, I started to notice people wearing masks, and there was a memorial for a doctor who treated people for the coronavirus and died in China. That’s really when it became more evident.”

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Falco said everything happened quickly. Every day, she said, more and more news broke. In matter of days, Falco said, the number of cases in the Tuscany region skyrocketed 

“Florence is in the Tuscany region of Italy,” Falco said. “Once there was a case in the Tuscany region, everyone started panicking. Should we be traveling? Should we not be traveling? My program was kind of confused in regards to what to do. They weren’t really sure how to approach it because it all happened within weeks.”

On Feb. 21, Falco found out that there were 14 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Venice, which is a little more than an hour away from Florence. By Feb. 25, Falco started to make plans to return home. She returned to Rochester on Feb. 27. 

“Initially, we were going to have a two-week leave of absence,” Falco said. “We were going to be back for classes, but a few days later, we learned that the program was not going to remain open. Obviously, for the safety of all of us.” 

While she said that she didn’t want to leave initially, she realized that she and her peers had no other choice. Since returning to Rochester, she has continued her coursework online. 

“At the time that I came home on that Thursday, I was hopeful that I was to go back,” Falco said. “But it got worse and worse each day. I feel so sad for the county. Italy runs on tourism. Their economy has dwindled.”

Falco said, “At the beginning I was so upset. This wasn’t how my experience was supposed to go. But as the days go on, and I see how rough it’s gotten, I am so thankful to be home. I would have been more stressed being over there than I am here.”

Falco said when the situation in Italy escalated, she noticed people purchasing items in a panic at supermarkets. 

“Water was scarce, so was pasta,” Falco said. “Things weren’t being restocked because people were scared and buying a lot of things.” 

To Falco’s surprise, she did not get screened for COVID-19 symptoms when she arrived in America. But when she traveled from country to country in Europe, she received screening and had to recount her travel history. 

“When I flew from Rome to Portugal, they asked where I had been and sent me on my way,” Falco said. “When I arrived in New York at John F. Kennedy International Airport, I was extremely surprised nobody was checking to see where I was or getting my temperature.”

Falco continued, “When I traveled from Paris to Italy, they were checking temperatures. It was the same thing when I traveled from Madrid, Spain, to Italy. They were very on top of things, making sure people coming in were healthy. In the United States, I didn’t see that. It was really odd to me.”

Despite having her trip Italy cut short by more than two months, Falco said that she made the most of the experiences that she did get to have. Amidst a chaotic ending, Falco said it’s the friends she made that she will remember most. 

“I obviously do have some regrets, because I planned a lot of things in advance, further along in the trip,” Falco said. “But I thought I was going to be there. I absolutely made the most of it, and made such great friends while I was there. People that I will know and be friends with for a lifetime. I am glad I was able to experience that, because I know that a lot of people don’t get to ever do anything like this. It was truly an amazing experience.”

For more information on the Coronavirus in the Greater Olean area, visit TAPinto Greater Olean's Coronavirus Updates page, which is updated continuously.

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