Migrant and refugee populations have been identified as among the most vulnerable to COVID-19 due to what medical anthropologists have described as structural vulnerability. We argue significant differences exist between migrant groups and offer lessons for society at large. We develop the concept of viral encounters to frame an analysis of social narratives, representations, and practices involved in coping with threats of transmission and practices of prevention. Specifically, the globalized city of Prato offers a case study due to its unique relationship with COVID-19. Instead of a COVID-19 epicenter, however, Prato emerged as a contagion exception particularly as related to its Chinese migrant community. We use a place-based framework to argue that the threat of xenophobia, preparedness with quarantine, and the will of solidarity motivated an entire migrant community to take action—well before the nationwide lockdown began and extending beyond its conclusion. We combine virtual ethnography with health data as well as evidence of xenophobia and solidarity to offer an analysis. We argue that the effects of solidarity reconfigure dominant ideologies of individualism, open space for collective orientation toward a human economy, and offer potential to alleviate detrimental impacts of pandemics.

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