By Brian Maass

(CBS4)– From her home in Garda, Italy, Shannon Unks, a CU graduate and former Colorado resident, has a harsh warning for Colorado residents: “Don’t do anything- don’t go to the cinemas, stay home, shut it down.”

As of Friday afternoon, there were one death and 77 cases of coronavirus in Colorado.

(credit: Shannon Unks)

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Via Skype, Unks told CBS4 she hoped her warning of what is happening in Italy would resonate with U.S. and Colorado residents and prompt them to follow the advice of medical authorities and dramatically change their daily living patterns for the near term.

“What you need to do is stay home. Do not look at this two weeks as a vacation. You need to stay home,” urged Unks.

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She and her family live in the picturesque town of Garda, not far from Verona. But outside of China, Italy is the country hardest hit by COVID-19 with 1,016 deaths and more than 17,000 infections.

Garda is “locked down,” said Unks, with residents prohibited from going out unless it is to buy groceries or other essentials like medications.

“We’re allowed to go to the grocery store. One person per family. Get in and get out.”

She said customers enter the store one at a time and stand about three feet apart while waiting in line. The outbreak has overwhelmed Italian hospitals which don’t have enough beds, equipment or personnel to handle the volume of coronavirus patients.

The town square in Garda, Italy (credit: Shannon Unks)

“It’s a massive overload,” said Unks. “They have triage tents outside hospitals so if you and I walk in together, they decide: ‘Is Brian going to live or Shannon going to live?’ They pick the one most likely to live. They have to pick the person they think is going to survive the most. They do not have enough beds, respirators, not enough personnel to care for everyone.”

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So Italians are confined to their homes and Unks said Coloradans need to view what is happening in Italy as a glimpse of what might lie ahead for the U.S. if people don’t curtail their outside activities.

“Your health care system, as good as it is, is going to be overloaded.”

American medical officials have voiced similar concerns- that an influx of coronavirus cases could overwhelm U.S. hospitals and health care workers.

The line outside the grocery store (credit: Shannon Unks)

“Funerals are forbidden,” said Unks. ”Churches are closed and they don’t know where to put the bodies.”

She urged Colorado residents to heed the warnings from medical leaders.

“Get the essentials and stay home as much as you can. Go ahead and stay home. Don’t go out to movies… bars or have gatherings in your home. Anything that can be put off needs to be put off. What you need to do is do not look at this as a vacation. You need to stay home.”

Unks said her husband, who runs a factory, has been allowed to work but will soon be working from home. She said she and her daughter stay home and only leave to walk their dog or buy groceries. She said it is the only way to help prevent the spread of the disease and hopefully avoid having U.S. hospitals overwhelmed as has happened in Italy.

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Additional Information from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment:

  • Practice good hygiene. Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water. In the absence of soap and water, use hand-sanitizer; use your elbow or sleeve to cover coughs and sneezes
  • Stay home if you’re sick; keep your children home if they are sick. The illness can last for many days so make preparations now to work from home if possible.
  • We advise Coloradans to always be prepared for an emergency– like a large snowstorm– and have a plan for your family. Make sure to have 72 hours of key supplies on hand like medications, infant formula, diapers, pet food, etc. FEMA guidance for pre-pandemic COVID-19 preparedness is available on Ready.gov.
  • Stay informed with reliable, up-to-date information. People who have general questions about coronavirus disease 2019, can call CO HELP at 303-389-1687 or 1-877-462-2911 or email COHELP@RMPDC.org, for answers in English and Spanish (Español), Mandarin (普通话), and more.

Brian Maass