Former Minnesotan lawmaker joins battle against COVID-19 in Italy

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Roger Reinert served in both the Minnesota House and Senate and fought many political battles. He’s also served in Afghanistan as a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve. Now he’s in that same role joining the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy, perhaps the toughest battle of all.

"I had been kind of at home stuck in the house like most people and I’m not a sidelines kind of guy. So this looked like a great opportunity to use skills and experience on behalf of the Navy," Reinert told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS in an interview from Italy.

He’s commanding a "crisis communications" team tasked to get timely information about COVID-19 to commanders, sailors and their families.

His trip on Monday from Duluth to Minneapolis to New York to Italy took him to two of the most intense COVID-19 hot spots in the world. Reinert says there were only three people on his flight from Duluth to Minneapolis and nine passengers from Minneapolis to New York City. Before boarding the flight to Italy there was a lot of screening.

"You had a temperature check," he said. "Airline employees were checking every single passenger’s temperature. And face masks and latex gloves were required throughout the entire flight."

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That was after he worried about the gate crowded with passengers.

"Obviously New York City is an epicenter at home in the states and what I saw in terms of not the most stringent of standards being enforced made me nervous, made me anxious," he said. Social distancing was much more strictly enforced at the airport in Italy.

"You get to the airport at Rome and the distancing here is one meter, it’s not the six feet at home. It’s more like three feet, but it is enforced. There are lines on the floor. Airport security are enforcing it."

Reinert says he’s concerned about being able to stay healthy in Italy, one of the hardest hit countries in the world by the COVID-19 pandemic. But at age 49 and in good health, he’s confident he’ll be okay.

Although he’s working from quarantine for the first 14 days in Italy to make sure he didn’t get infected with COVID-19 on the way over, he’s been impressed by how strictly "stay at home" orders are being enforced in Italy.

"You need papers to be out and about," he says. "And that’s work. That’s medicine. The pharmacy. The grocery store. There’s no running… You can take your dog out to relieve your pet, but you are not out exercising."

Although there have been outbreaks elsewhere in the Navy, so far, there are no cases of COVID-19 reported in the Sixth Fleet based in Italy.

Reinert says the Navy will do what it can to make sure it stays that way.