Virginia Beach pastor returns home from COVID-19 hot spot

Posted at 7:58 PM, Apr 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-27 07:10:33-04

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- David Flannery, a Virginia Beach native, lived in Milan, Italy as a pastor since 2018 with his family. He worked with local churches there.

Then on February 21, he said he saw one of the first COVID-19 patients taken to the hospital.

"I saw reporters filming this ambulance coming in,” Flannery said in an online video interview with News 3. “I called up some friends trying to figure out if there was someone of notoriety that was hurt, was ill."

He said a medical friend confirmed it was COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus. Then after 48 hours, more reports in Milan came in and the city was put on lock down.

The city in Italy’s Lombardi region to the north, unraveled as one of the worlds hot spots for the virus. Italy then followed suit, but locking down the whole country and flights to and from Italian destinations, such as Milan were suspended.

"I never felt that my freedoms were being restricted or that sort,” Flannery said. “It was an opportunity to serve our people especially as we were seeing the death toll increase."

Store shelves emptied and police questioned people outside. Flannery said police would question people to see if they were out for essential reasons or not, some could face fines.

Still in Milan, he and his wife practiced what they preached and helped out their neighbors.

"She wound up making little banana bread for everyone in the apartment complex,” Flannery said, explaining his wife liked to cook. "I reached out to our door-lady and asked if there were was anyone a little older needing assistance getting groceries, things like that."

On March 19, they received emails from the U.S. Consulate. It urged U.S. citizens to return home and said hospitals may not have adequate resources to treat new patients as hospitals were overrun by COVID-19 cases. Health was a major reason they decided to return to Virginia Beach.

"We have a two-year-old with respiratory issues and we've had to take him to the ER before,” Flannery said. "I have epilepsy and so there's medicine I need to take."

The family landed at Norfolk International Airport on March 28. He said a company that works with pastors secured their trip back, but once back they self-quarantined for 14 days.

"We did not think we had coronavirus,” Flannery said. “Knowing that there was a risk in traveling and airports, of course, there was that concern."

He said they did not experience symptoms and were not officially tested for coronavirus. Instead, their temperatures were taken twice a day and those close to the family would run their errands for them, such as purchasing groceries.

Now, Flannery said he hopes to soon return to Milan and continue his work.

"It was difficult to leave to begin with because we do care for our friends overseas,” Flannery said.