Ozark Countian and his family, now living in Italy, cope with ‘scary situation’ there

Justin and Christina Hannaford and their children, David, 15, left, and Angelia, 10, live in northern Italy attached to Aviano Air Base, where Justin serves with the U.S. Air Force. The family is coping with government restrictions after more than 6,000 deaths have been linked to the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy.

In Italy, where the COVID-19 pandemic had caused 6,077 deaths as of Monday night, a former Ozark Countian and his family are adjusting to a new normal in a country where language and cultural differences already require a necessary adjustment.  

“It’s hard, but we’re OK,” Christina Hannaford, wife of former Ozark County resident Justin Hannaford, told the Times last week. The Hannafords, with their children David, 15, and Angelina, 10, are attached to Aviano Air Base in northern Italy, where Justin serves with the U.S. Air Force. 

They’ve enjoyed their two and a half years in Italy, Christina said, but the COVID-19 pandemic has created several challenges – as it has for nearly everyone worldwide. “There’s a language and cultural barrier, of course, but we have a great American community here, and we’ve banded together during this,” she said.

A few weeks ago, she said, “it was still OK here, kind of like where it was in the States last week. We were living our normal lives. The markets were open, we were visiting with friends, we went to the winery. It was like, ‘The virus is a thing, but it’ll be OK.’ Then it got progressively worse and worse. They labeled some of the regions of Italy as red zones, but our region wasn’t one of them. Then it went from OK to really bad overnight. That was the night the prime minister came on and said all of Italy is a red zone.”

 Since then, Justin has been able to do some of his work remotely by computer. Other times, he goes to work on base – and stops by a grocery store or the military commissary on his way home. Christina and the kids have stayed homebound.

Under the government-enforced travel restrictions, “in order to leave our house we have to have paperwork stating specifically what we’re doing and whether it’s for work or essentials such as food or medicines. You go to a website and print the form,” she said. “Only one member of a family can go out at a time.”

At the markets in their town, “where you pay is marked off with tape for social distancing. That was done almost immediately after the schools closed,” she said.

When that happened, “Americans being Americans, we flooded the stores. But we didn’t do what happened in America. We all went out and got a little extra, but we didn’t really stock up the way it happened there because the majority of us over here have been stocking up for a long time,” she said, adding that hand sanitizer was one of a few things did sell out.

There are no drive-thrus at the businesses in the Italian town where they live, she said, “but the Italian culture is fantastic. Grocery stores will deliver. Butchers are delivering. Even the winery delivers. The restaurants are shut down, but they can deliver too.”

In Italy, especially during the “red zone” restrictions, “we don’t have the freedoms that are in America,” Christina said, “but it actually makes it less scary for us now because the government can say, ‘Stay in your house or we’re going to put you in jail.’ If you’re out and you’re caught without the right paperwork and are tested positive, you can face 12 years in prison for homicide. They’re very strict about it.”

The Hannafords’ children attend an American school on the Air Force base. “Now the teachers here are doing ‘digital learning,’” Christina said. “Our high-schooler logs on to the computer according to his bell schedule at school. He has to be on the computer at 8 a.m. every day. The teachers here have done an amazing job. They went from we-have-school to we-have-no-school to teach-your-kids-remotely, all within a four-day period, and they’ve done that very well. We’re thankful. Schools are even checking out computers to those in need.”

The Hannaford children are already familiar with a homeschool routine, she said, because she homeschooled them during the year they were based in South Korea before coming to Italy.

The pandemic struck just as the Hannafords were planning two eagerly awaited trips. 

“We were planning on going to Paris,” she said. “We were just about to book that trip, and then they closed the schools. We were thankful we didn’t go and get caught there.”

They have tickets to come back to the States in June – the first time Christina and the two kids will have been back since moving to Italy in 2017. (Justin has been back on Air Force business.) They are hoping that trip can still happen because they’re eagerly looking forward to visiting Justin’s mother and step-dad, Nancy and Dan Schultz, in Pontiac. (Justin’s father, Richard Hannaford, died several years ago.) 

They will also visit Christina’s family in Texas and Maryland. 

She and Justin, a 1998 Gainesville High School grad, met when he was based in Wichita Falls, Texas, where she lived with her family. They married in 2008. 

“Now we’re just hoping we still get to go,” she said. One of the things they might do on their trip is enjoy a delayed celebration of Justin’s early-April birthday, when he turns 40. 

Meanwhile, they’re living through some grim times in Italy, which has had more COVID-19 deaths than any other country in the world. The number of daily deaths there included what authorities hope was a peak of 793 deaths on Saturday, followed by a daily death total of 651 deaths on Sunday and 601 deaths on Monday. 

Last Thursday, Christina posted a video on her Facebook page showing a line of trucks carrying the bodies of COVID-19 victims “to alternate towns, as their local town cemeteries are full.”  

The public hospital in their region is struggling, she said. “They’re so overworked. They have tents set up. They’re discharging people who don’t have life-threatening issues if they can sustain themselves at home,” she said, relating the experience of a friend who was hospitalized for another issue. “She said if you need your appendix out, and it’s not about to rupture, they’re going to send you home awhile. She said she saw the same nursing staff over and over again, and she said, ‘I don’t know when they’re eating or sleeping.’ She said she saw many of them crying in the halls because it was all so overwhelming. They’re working so hard.”

It’s a challenging time, but the Hannafords remain optimistic. Christina said in a Facebook post, “It’s a scary situation here, but with prayers and positive thinking we’re making it through. All of you back home, please take heed of directions they are giving you! We want you all to be safe and not have to endure what we are here.”

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