On the same day state officials ordered Maryland public schools closed four more weeks amid fear of spreading the coronavirus, a 39-year-old Prince George’s County high school teacher lays sedated in a hospital, hooked up to a ventilator, fighting for his life.
Jason Flanagan, a teacher at High Point High School and former freelance writer for the Baltimore Post-Examiner, was tested for COVID-19 six days ago, but his doctors and family members are still waiting for the results.
“I think of a difference a day makes,” his 35-year-old wife, Leslie Flanagan, said in a telephone interview. “I wished I had pushed him, I’m also thankful I didn’t wait that extra day.”
She said she was shocked at how abruptly his condition changed 10 days into the undetermined sickness. He was being treated at home, following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines carried out by her husband’s primary care physician.
“I didn’t know how serious it was because of the directive we were given to just stay in,” Leslie Flanagan said. “At this point, I think they need to improve [guidelines] from here on out.”
A spokesperson from the Prince George’s County School system said once Flanagan’s case is confirmed for coronavirus, a letter will be sent out to parents and others.
“Once we are informed by the health department that any member of the PGCPS family has tested positive for COVID-19, we immediately notify those who are a part of that school network,” county media relations director Gabrielle Brown stated in an email Wednesday. “That includes parents and other stakeholders.”
Flanagan’s mother, who lives in South Carolina, expressed concern over school and community exposure due to a lack of test results.
“He’s a teacher,” Diane Flanagan McNinch said. “The people in High Point High School in Beltsville will have to know. He also did the grocery shopping for the house. Gosh knows how many people he had contact with. The virus can stay on the handle of a shopping cart.”
Flanagan’s symptoms began 12 days ago on March 14, a day after public schools in Maryland held their last day of school on campuses following a directive from Gov. Larry J. Hogan, Jr., due to the coronavirus.
His wife said it began with what are now familiar symptoms of the deadly virus – fatigue, fever and a small cough.
Flanagan’s fever fluctuated between 99 and 102 daily and his cough worsened over the days, but he didn’t experience problems with his breathing until Day 10. During that time, he had interacted with his physician twice — once in a telemedicine call and once in person, his wife said.
Some days they both thought he was getting better. Last Thursday he didn’t even wake up with a temperature.
“We thought we were going to kick this,” Leslie Flanagan said.
But on Monday, four days later, things changed for the worst. Flanagan started having shortness of breath – a telltale sign of COVID-19.
“He had flu-like symptoms for a week, wild temperature swings and we just thought, since he was in constant touch with his doctor, who was doing everything he could do, including giving him antibiotics, he wasn’t that bad,” Leslie Flanagan recalled. “It was only in the last couple of days he was having difficulty breathing, shortness of breath. He could still breathe, so we thought let’s keep an eye on it for a couple of days.”
It was the second day into his labored breathing that the couple decided to again contact a doctor. This time a chest x-ray was ordered.
The plan was to get the x-ray, wait a few hours for the results and then make a plan with the doctor.
“I figured they’d order some Prednisone, or something,” Leslie Flanagan said.
But by the time Flanagan got to the imaging facility, the technicians said his oxygen levels were too low to go back home. He needed to be admitted immediately to a hospital emergency room.
“It just became so severe so quickly,” Flanagan’s wife said. “I think that’s the really concerning part. I read the news and never thought it would touch our household. Jason has no underlying health conditions. He’s healthy.”
Now he is in a medically-induced coma, according to his mother, and he must stay on a ventilator for four days.
“In Charlotte, they’re doing the testing and turning around results in 24 to 48 hours,” said Flanagan McNinch, who’s self-quarantining for three weeks due to her own underlying heart and lung conditions. “Up there it’s six days. I don’t understand why so long.”
Flanagan McNinch said her son was taken by ambulance to Frederick Memorial Hospital where his condition is worsening. But she and Flanagan’s wife expect him to get worse before he gets better.
“He’s totally asleep, pain meds going in him and a machine is breathing for him,” she said. “Just the picture of that in my head, knowing I can’t see him, totally breaks my heart. When it hits so close to home, it’s devastating.”
As of Wednesday, Maryland health officials confirmed 423 cases of Coronavirus in the state and four deaths. Prince George’s County, where the state’s first COVID-19 death occurred, has 76 confirmed cases, the state’s second-highest number among counties and two of the deaths. The other deaths were in Montgomery and Baltimore Counties – all the recorded deaths involved people with underlying medical conditions.
The family doesn’t know if Flanagan is going to make it, but his wife has a message for the public.
“I’m not doing well, I’m losing it,” she said tearfully. “I’m not brave. I’m not courageous. He’s strong and healthy, but this horrible, horrible disease…it just tears people apart. It just tears families apart. I would rather be inconvenienced for months not to have just one day of this misery – my whole world, my husband, to suffer in this position.
“You have to take this seriously. Don’t shrug it off. Err on the side of caution. It’s important as a community we help each other and try to do our best to prevent the spread of it.”
Editor’s Note: For Update on Jason Flanagan’s status – please read Part 2.
Feature Photo: Jason and Leslie Flanagan (Facebook)
Glynis Kazanjian is a freelance journalist and award-winning investigative reporter with an eye for transparency and accountability in government and politics. Kazanjian’s reporting has triggered state investigations in police corruption, as well as changes to state policy in campaign finance and regulatory reform. During her 10-year freelance journey, she has also worked for cable television production companies like the Discovery Channel and Reelz providing true crime timelines for television series scripts.