For the first time since arriving in Italy two months ago, Roger Reinert got to explore outside last weekend.
He and others left a U.S. Navy base adjacent to the Naples airport to explore the Amalfi Coast.
“Stunningly beautiful,” said Reinert, Duluth’s globe-trotting Navy Reservist who has spoken to the News Tribune from Afghanistan in the past. “The cliffs drop into the Mediterranean Sea. We were on a hiking path, Path of the Gods, and it was just amazing to finally be out and see a bit of Italy and travel through the small communities.”
Reinert, a former state legislator representing Duluth, is a lieutenant commander and communications specialist. He was deployed to Italy in April to lead a COVID-19 crisis action team for the Navy’s Sixth Fleet. The team reports local and international pandemic updates to four- and three-star admirals in command at a pair of bases in and around Naples.
“This has been a gift,” Reinert said of his deployment. “I feel like we’ve made a really productive contribution, and the appreciation from the Italians has been great.”
After a brutal winter that saw hospital facilities overwhelmed, Italy, with 32,330 deaths due to COVID-19, has been phasing out restrictions rapidly as the number of cases and deaths dwindle.
Reinert said restrictions in the United States were nothing compared to Italy. Travel has continued to be restricted to provinces — equivalent to a United States county — and anyone who does go out needs to have official papers to show authorities.
“This would never go at home — police checkpoints and having to carry papers,” Reinert said.
Prior to the relaxing restrictions, Reinert, an avid runner, Googled “prison workouts” and “how to cut your own hair,” in order to cope with staying on the base.
“Both proved to be a necessity,” he said.
On weekends, he was allowed to take a shuttle to a larger inland base, where Reinert would run the track along the interior fence line. That’s where he was able to see families walking outside their homes on a day in early May when some restrictions were lifted.
“I will always remember it,” he said. “You could just feel their joy from a simple thing like going for a walk on a Sunday morning as a family. To see them come out for the first time in three months was just heartwarming to see.”
Traffic that had only included delivery and commercial vehicles is returning to the roadways. After a long period of no outdoor exercising, such as running or cycling, those restrictions are also now lifted.
Reinert talks with locals who work on the bases. They’re socially gregarious people and fun to watch talk, he said. They’re also not taking anything for granted.
“You can just feel it, like, ‘We sacrificed a lot to get to this point and we’re not going to screw it up by ignoring things like wearing face masks, or breaking physical distancing or travel restrictions,’” he said. “They’re definitely adhering to guidelines.”
Because restaurants have been closed with no takeout or delivery, Reinert has been eating out of the Navy’s on-base version of a 7-11, he said. The mess hall and food court were closed to honor Italy’s restrictions, even though it wasn’t required of the Navy to do so.
“We wanted to be good neighbors,” Reinert said.
It’s left him in position to crave things back home. He's targeted to return in the upcoming weeks.
“I am going to eat,” he said, acknowledging the irony of being in Italy and not being able to sample its cuisine. “I can’t wait to go to Love Creamery, Johnson’s Bakery. I’m going to spend some serious money on our local restaurants.”
On June 3, Italy is scheduled to lift travel restrictions, allowing movement between provinces and accepting foreigners to come as tourists.
“That’s the thing most Italians are nervous about," Reinert said, "that tourists won’t adhere to guidelines or restrictions if they’re coming from places that haven’t implemented the same rules."