FANWOOD, NJ -- COVID-19 isn't necessarily a death sentence, but it could have been. Just ask bar owner Sean Flannery of Sheelen's Crossing Pub & Bistro on South Ave. in Fanwood.
Coronavirus has taken a horrible toll at facilities for retired veterans homes and at nursing homes across the state, and many of the sickest patients are age 65 and over. Flannery, who recently turned 50, isn't in that age demographic. Nor does he suffer from underlying health issues, such respiratory ailments or diabetes. Yet, coronavirus could have killed him.
The Westfield resident started noticing symptoms of COVID-19 on Tuesday, March 17, when he went home with chills and a headache.
"I was home 9 days, had fever, chills, and aches and pains, and never left the basement. I couldn’t stop coughing and couldn’t process oxygen. When I went to the emergency room at Overlook, I waited for 20 hours for a quarantine room," Flannery told TAPintoSPF. "They gave me hydroxychloroquine, which is being used to treat the symptoms of COVID-19, Z-Pak (an antibiotic), and Tylenol for fever."
"There were two days in hospital that I don’t remember. I was there for a total of six days on oxygen, but was not on ventilator. With the oxygen going into my nose, I had enough to stay stable," Flannery said.
Flannery lost close to 40 pounds and joked that the experience made his hair turn gray. He described having to undo his own tubes just to make it to the bathroom (since a side effect of the medicines is nasty digestive issues).
"The worst part is being isolated. No visitors. The doctor comes in once a day, and the nurses stop by a few times," Flannery recounted. "But other than that, you are all alone."
Flannery warned against categorizing COVID-19 as an "old person's disease."
"Yes, seniors are dying from it, but anyone can get it. I have friends who have it. A 30-year-old baseball coach in Bergen County died. I've heard yesterday that a six-year-old got it," Flannery said. "It can happen to anyone, and the numbers are probably being under-reported."
"You have to keep social distancing. There are too many people still getting sick. I can't see reopening everything until June, and even then what will 'normal' be," he asked. "They may only let us open at 50 percent capacity -- and that's if people come in."
Meanwhile, Flannery says that the bills keep adding up: the mortgage on the building (which he owns), insurance, electricity, and gas. Since his return on Tuesday, he spends his days working on the business aspect of the restaurant in the upstairs office.
"These costs are pretty much going to remain the same -- even at reduced hours of operation. I got a letter from my insurance company that said if I don't pay my premium, they will cancel the insurance," explained Flannery, who also owns Sheelen's Fish Market (the former Chippery) in Fanwood.
After returning home from the hospital, Flannery self-quarantined for two weeks before getting clearance from his doctor to go back to work. He's still not involved in the kitchen or interacting with customers at the pick-up window. His partner, Frank Pascale, is managing food preparation and quality control and making sure safety precautions and social distancing are in effect.
The bar owner has spent much of his time reading up on the financial assistance available to small business owners through the CARES Act's Payroll Protection Program (PPP) and through the SBA's Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program. He also applied for and received approval for funding from the Union County Economic Development Corporation (UCEDC), but the while process took four weeks.
The emergency funding cannot come soon enough; the mortgage is soon due, as is the aforementioned insurance payment, and property taxes also loom.
"We want to keep as many people as we can with a schedule that works as best we can," Flannery said. "A couple of people left. Everyone that can apply for unemployment has done so. If we get PPP funding, we'll hire them back. Our goal is to hire back all our employees."
A challenge will be that even if the bar/restaurant receives financing that is supposed to be used to rehire workers, the costs of operating the business may still outpace revenues. "We can't just say it's over, and expect people will immediately come flocking back," Flannery said. "Without having money now, we'll never be able to make money again. If we don't get funding, we won't get to break-even."
Despite the fact that coronavirus and the resulting social distancing measures have reduced his revenues by 65%, Flannery does not fault Governor Murphy for closing down the state.
"People are still getting sick," said Flannery. "I own two restaurants. No one knows the physical, the financial, and the mental effect impact of coronavirus more than me. The mortage, the operational costs, the taxes and the medical bilIs. I'm being hit four different ways."
Nonetheless, Flannery is hopeful that things will eventually get back to normal -- whatever the new normal is.
"Getting the loans will give us time until revenues get back to normal again... that's if people show up."
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