Patric Walton and his husband Mirco Soffritti, above, have become adept at keeping their three children occupied as the coronavirus spreads through Madrid. Provided photo

OTISFIELD — Patric Walton is on lock-down. He can’t leave the house, unless he’s getting groceries, going to the doctor, or walking a dog “a couple feet” in front of his house.

Walton, an Otisfield native, lives in Madrid, Spain. According to reporting by the BBC, as of Tuesday, there were 11,178 confirmed cases of COVID-19, second only to Italy.

“We’re all stuck at home for the most part,” Walton said in a phone interview. Walton, his husband and their triplets have been home since Spain declared a partial shutdown of the country last Wednesday, closing schools, daycare, and universities. Then, on Saturday, the ban of non-essential travel kicked in.

Walton’s husband is Italian, so they’ve followed the virus since the situation began to spiral.

“I have a connection to Italy as my husband’s Italian. They’ve been going through this even before us; my parents in-law live in one of the heavily affected areas of Northern Italy … from the beginning, there were a lot of misconceptions about what’s going on,” said Walton. Walton said he sees a those same misconceptions spreading in the United States.

“I’m starting to see it a lot in the United States. A lot of people are minimizing the danger and impact this could have, simply saying that this is a variation of the flu,” said Walton.

“The reality is that it’s more than that. It moves incredibly fast, and it gets a lot of people very sick, very quickly … many people were saying ‘this is a Chinese thing. This is a Chinese flu.’  Unfortunately, that carried with it a little bit of xenophobia and a little bit of racism as to not take it seriously enough,” said Walton.

And at first, the residents of Spain didn’t take COVID-19 particularly seriously.

Stories would slowly filter in of people being infected with the virus, and some people chose to self-isolate and quarantine. Because COVID-19 often presents mild symptoms, most would stay home and not get treatment because their symptoms were not severe, and the concept of “social distancing” was practiced much too late.

“Social distancing only started happening a week before the official declarations to essentially shut the country down here in the city,” said Walton.

“From Spain, we were seeing these things, but we weren’t taking it as seriously, in my humble opinion, as people should have. Then when it started coming to Spain, it was more a defiance …’We’re not going to change our lives. we’re going to show this virus that we can survive without going to drastic measures,'” said Walton.

But that defiance started to fade once large numbers of people, particularly elderly people, started to die. Walton said Madrid has had the largest number of deaths from the virus in Spain.

“People really started to pay attention to what this was, if not for themselves, for their elderly grandparents, parents, and other family members,” Walton said.

Walton still keeps up-to-date with local Maine news, and uses the Sun Journal as a tool during his work as an English teacher in Madrid. His understanding is that the U.S. – and Maine, in particular – is not prepared to handle the strain virus puts on local hospitals and the health care system.

“You guys are not prepared. We are barely prepared for what we have, and even then it’s off and on again, day by day … reading everything from what’s happening nationally to what’s happening in Maine … hard hit regions in Europe are barely coping with everything that’s happening. We have a very different healthcare system, and even then, access is difficult and intense,” said Walton.

Maine, Walton said, has a very elderly population, susceptible to the virus. Walton said his biggest advice to family and friends back home is to stay calm.

“The big piece of advice is not to panic. I know that’s very difficult, especially when you’re dealing with something unknown or something that seems completely foreign. Panicking solves nothing, and could start unnecessary problems,” said Walton.

Walton said a huge part of staying calm is listening to the advice from medical professionals and staying vigilant with personal hygiene.

“Listen to what medical professionals are saying; listen to the CDC … they’re going to be the one paying attention from a medical point of view, not a political point of view. When you do have to follow guidelines and restrictions, be consistence, even if it’s not for you, it could be for another person. There are many people who may have little to no symptoms … they feel okay. But, they come into contact with somebody else who has some type of medical condition that exponentially aggravates and contaminates any condition they get from COVID-19. That is social responsibility that everyone should have,” said Walton.

Social responsibility is a huge phrase in Madrid, maybe even eclipsing the popularity of “social isolation” tossed around in the the USA. If Europe is a snapshot of what Americans can expect from the outbreak, Walton said lock-downs could become common. Part of surviving isolation comes from keeping in touch with family and friends over Skype, and video chatting.

For parents, keeping kids busy is a bit more complicated.

Walton said keeping his three children occupied has been trying, to say the least. His advice for parents struggling to keep the troops at home happy? Fall into a daily routine, and stick with it.

“Needless to say this has been an adventure, trying to prevent them from burning the house down. The big thing is trying to create and stick with some kind of routine. A lot of the times for us, it’s just making sure that the kids are occupied with something constructive. Because our children are so young and they’re not in school right now, it’s just creating a guideline for their day … certain activities, certain classes, using music … once they become bored, they become absolutely wild,” said Walton.

And it seems as if isolation can bring communities closer together. At 8 p.m. every night, Walton’s neighbors flock to windows and balconies to cheer and applause medical personnel, so loudly that the sound carries to local hospitals.

Back in Maine, Walton said there are lessons to be learned from Spain.

“I hope that in the days, weeks and maybe even months to come … (I hope people) are able to tough it out responsibility. Use ingenuity to make the best of a complicated and potentially deadly situation. I talk to my family and friends often in Maine because they want to know what’s happening, what to expect. The best thing is getting information out,” said Walton.

And, in a nutshell, Walton said that information is necessary to combat the effects of a fast spreading virus that has reached Maine.

“Be smart, and pay attention to medical professionals, and do what’s necessary so that situation passes as quickly as possible and has a very small fatal effect for our older and more immune compromised (populations),” Walton said.

Walton also offered a simple mantra.

“Be vigilant, be consistent, and above anything else, keep washing wash your hands.”

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