US Navy in Italy shutters base schools and day care as coronavirus numbers grow

Naples Middle/High School in an undated photo. Base schools in Naples and Sigonella are closing due to a spike of coronavirus cases in Italy.


By NORMAN LLAMAS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 5, 2020

Stars and Stripes is making stories on the coronavirus pandemic available free of charge. See other free reports here. Sign up for our daily coronavirus newsletter here. Please support our journalism with a subscription.

AVIANO, Italy — The Navy is closing its base schools and day care centers in Naples and Sigonella because of rapid increases in coronavirus transmission rates, Europe’s top U.S. admiral said soon after Italy decreed a national curfew and other restrictions to contain the pandemic.

“Unfortunately, our case numbers of COVID-19, right now, at our installations and in the local surrounding areas are continuing to rise,” Adm. Robert Burke, commander of Naval Forces Europe-Africa, said Wednesday in a video on the command’s Facebook page.

Coronavirus case numbers have risen in some areas surrounding Navy installations at rates three to four times higher than at their peak in the spring, Burke said.

“Based on that, and the need to ensure that we’re able to meet the health care needs of anyone who does get ill, I’ve made the decision to close the (Department of Defense Education Activity) schools and the (child development centers),” Burke said. “We’re going to shift to 100% remote learning.”

Schools closed Thursday and day care centers in Naples and Sigonella will close Friday afternoon, Navy officials said. The schools will begin remote classes Nov. 12.

“This was not a decision that I took lightly and I want you to know that it was a priority to keep the schools open as long as we could and as long as we could do it safely,” Burke said.

The closures will be reevaluated every two weeks, Rear Adm. Scott Gray, commander of Navy Region Europe, Africa and Central said in the video.

“My gut is we haven’t seen any abatement of the increase in cases, so I think it’s going to be a little while … we do want to get there, but we only want to do so if we can do it safely,” Gray said.

Base services that haven’t already closed will stay open for now, Navy officials said. Gyms will remain open to active duty service members and the installations are working on making more outdoors exercise equipment available to the entire community, Naples area commander Capt. Jim Stewart said.

The changes came following an Italian decree that authorized a national curfew beginning Friday between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. and restricted movement in the nation’s worst-hit regions under a three-tiered system.

Lombardy, Piedmont and Valle d’Aosta in the north, and Calabria, at the southern toe of the Italian peninsula, are each going into a “red zone” lockdown. Lombardy, which includes Milan, has had more than 200,000 coronavirus cases as of Sunday, far more than any region.

People in red zones must stay home, other than for work or for essential shopping and services, the decree stated Wednesday. Grocers, pharmacies and hair salons will stay open, but most stores will be closed. Travel in or out of red zones is restricted.

Puglia and Sicily, which includes Naval Air Station Sigonella, have been declared intermediate-risk “orange” zones. What new restrictions would apply there remained unclear Thursday, but Sicily will continue to enforce mask-wearing rules both inside and outdoors, and a ban on gatherings.

Although the country’s other regions were made “yellow zones” Wednesday, significant restrictions remain. The Campania regional government, which includes Naples, in an Oct. 23 decree restricted movement between provinces within the region, except for work, family, health or essential needs, the Navy Installations Command’s website said.

Twitter: @normanllamas

Adm. Robert Burke, commander of Naval Forces Europe and Africa, talks about closing schools in Naples and Sigonella, Italy, beginning Friday, in a video posted on Facebook, Nov. 5, 2020.