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Andre and Kim Philot Photo contributed by Kim Philot and Photo Illustration by Times Free Press

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 11:16 a.m. on Saturday, March 21, 2020, to state Lombardy is a region, not a city.

The streets of Trevizo in Italy were nearly empty as Kim Philot left her apartment for a doctor appointment.

Philot is nine months pregnant and due in two weeks. The hospital near her home in Oderzo was completely shut down weeks ago, and the hospital she is now scheduled to give birth in is about 30 minutes further away.

On Tuesday afternoon, Philot was stopped three times by officials making sure she was abiding by the lockdown that has millions of people in Italy in quarantine due to the world's most serious outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

"I think that the problem was that they didn't know that it was here until they knew that it was here in full force," Philot said. "By that point, you're playing catch up. You're running against time."

Philot is a North Georgia native and graduated from Trion High School in 1999. She has lived in Europe for 14 years, and the last three of those have been in Italy where she is a high school teacher.

From her home in Italy on a video conference call, Philot told the Times Free Press what it's been like while the country is on lockdown and what friends, family, neighbors and the rest of the United States can learn from Italy's actions.

Projections show that Italy will surpass China's coronavirus-related deaths, even though China has an estimated 1.38 billion people, compared to Italy's 60.5 million.

The outbreak in Italy started in early March, largely in the region of Lombardy. By March 8, Italy had seen the largest number of coronavirus infections in Europe, with the number of confirmed cases jumping by more than 1,200 to 5,883 in one day.

"If you've ever been to Europe, you know everything is very close. You go into a restaurant and you're literally sitting with people at the same table," Philot said. "Italians are also very touchy-feely, loving people, very warm, and they're kissers. I think just their normal culture leant itself to this boom, if you will, because they're going to love each other."

Philot said the United States is about three weeks behind Italy's schedule. Italy announced 627 more deaths on Friday, the biggest day-to-day increase in the country's month-long epidemic. The total number of deaths in Italy is 4,032.

"Watching those numbers grow is not only terrifying, but it's heartbreaking," Philot said. "Over 2,000 people in this country were alive three weeks ago and now they're not. It's heartbreaking."

Philot said she has seen the strain that hospitals are facing due to the outbreak.

"There's only so many ventilators, there's only so many machines, there's only so many hospital beds," she said. "There's just too many people sick to keep up with it."

Philot said hospital employees have a look of desperation that does not seem to be going away anytime soon.

The same can be said for the situation in the United States. Philot urged people in her home country to take the spread of the virus seriously and to not be selfish in a time of desperation.

"As Americans, by default, we are a bit stubborn," she said. "We don't like being told what to do.

"We don't like this concept of your freedom being taken away. But it's not about you."

Kim and her husband, Andre, are healthy and doing well.

"We're going to be OK," she said. "The people that live above us, who are in their 60s and 70s, are not."

Philot has seen what the coronavirus can do firsthand and she urged people to stay home, to have as little contact with other people as possible, to leave groceries for elderly people at the front steps and to make sacrifices in their everyday lives until something changes.

"It's going to get worse before it gets better, so just ride out the storm," she said. "While you're doing that, please remember that there are people that can't help themselves and it's up to us to keep them alive."

A silver lining is the timing of this particular pandemic, she said. Philot said if it had happened 50 years ago, it would be completely different and harder for people to communicate and feel connected.

"Italians, they're still having dinner together, they're just doing it with a computer," she said. "It reminds you that you're not alone."

She can't help but feel heartbroken about the difficult decisions doctors and medical professionals are having to make in Italy.

"They're having to turn people away," she said. "They're having to choose literally who lives and who dies. Nobody would ever want to be in that situation."

There isn't chaos in the streets, but an eerie and somber stillness.

She said her biggest worry is that the country — and the rest of the world — doesn't know when the pandemic will end.

Even in Italy, where the outbreak is known to be at its most dangerous, there is hope.

While children are quarantined at home and away from school, they have started to make drawings and paintings of the unofficial slogan of the moment. Philot said it is the mantra these days.

"Andra Tutto Bene."

In English, it means "All will be OK."

Philot said colorful drawings are everywhere, taped and posted to street poles, fences, buildings and shops.

"There is a lot of beauty amongst the darkness," she said. "But it's really hard to see sometimes."

Contact Patrick Filbin at pfilbin@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.

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Photo contributed by Kim Philot / A sign posted in Italy that reads, "Andra Tutto Bene," which means "All will be OK" in Italian.
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