Five positive cases on Rome campus, region in lockdown

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Photo by Colin Lancaster

On Monday, March 15, as the Spromers returned to the Due Santi campus after a much-needed spring break, they received the news that Lazio, the region in which the campus resides, was put into full lockdown due to an increase in COVID-19 cases. On March 17, the Due Santi community saw its first positive COVID-19 case for the spring semester. 

In an email sent out to the residents of the Due Santi campus, Benjamin Gibbs, director of student affairs on the Due Santi campus, explained that the positive student is in isolation and the students who were in contact with that individual are in quarantine until further testing. 

Gibbs encouraged the students, faculty and staff to continue to practice social distancing, mask-wearing and hand-washing. 

As a result of the positive case, the campus conducted another round of campus-wide testing on March 19. The second round of testing resulted in the discovery of four new cases, one of which was a staff member, according to an email sent out by Dr. Peter Hatlie, dean and director of the Rome program, on March 21. 

In that same email, Hatlie detailed the strengthened campus-wide measures that will be taken to eliminate COVID-19 as soon as possible. These measures include a temporary campus quarantine, online classes, prepackaged meals from the Mensa, careful contact tracing and adapted recreational activities provided by the office of student affairs. 

Hatlie assured the students that “[his] hope and expectation is that [they]will eliminate this outbreak within a week to ten days and notably in advance of the Easter Weekend.” 

Lazio is one of the 11 regions in Italy put in the red zone. All the others, excluding the island of Sardinia, were moved to the orange zone. The red zone means that all non-essential travel is prohibited, restaurants and bars are closed and students are only allowed to leave campus on specific days at particular times to go to Top, the local grocery store. 

These restrictions will be in place through April 6, according to a decree published by the Ministry of Health on March 2. 

In an email sent out to students, faculty and staff on March 17, Hatlie shared the plan for the rest of the semester. 

Regarding academics, Hatlie wrote, “Over the next three weeks we will push forward with classes, with the goal of completing all classes on or before the morning of Holy Thursday.” 

While all travel is currently prohibited, all students, regardless of work-study status, will be given opportunities to work on campus in the library and in the vineyard, starting March 22 until the end of the academic semester on April 9 to help fill the extra free time. Even with the minor COVID outbreak, Gibbs said in an email on March 21 that Hatlie and the OSA “feel we can complete these work projects without adverse health/safety risks.”

After academics are finished, the Spromers have multiple options to choose from. The university is sponsoring a trip to the Canary Islands, a week in Rome or a stay at a monastery or convent, depending on how the COVID restrictions change after Easter. 

Students also have the option to have their charges reimbursed on their account and travel on their own. If the students decide to return to the United States at any point during the remainder of the semester and they will receive a prorated reimbursement. 

In an email on March 19, Hatlie reminded students of the uncertainty of Italy’s situation after April 7, when the Italian government will reevaluate the COVID-19 restrictions; he emphasized his belief that the situation is under control and Due Santi is in a promising position, saying, “one might say that the peace of this campus, the generosity of our campus community, the support and guidance of our religious life programs, and the progress of studies are both good reasons to think we are in a very favorable position from an overall well-being point of view.”

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