A Gretna couple’s lives have been upended in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic while far from home — he now is a patient in a North Carolina hospital and she is quarantined in a strange house, unable to be by his side.
Jean Spradlin said she is quarantined in a large house in Kannapolis, North Carolina, with an inflatable mattress, a couch, a chair and a few other pieces of furniture that recently were brought in.
While she and 66-year-old Landon Spradlin did have some possessions with them while they spent more than a month in New Orleans as part of a traveling ministry, Jean Spradlin said most of those belongings won’t be of any use during the isolation period.
“I have some giant pots and pans that I used to feed everybody … probably not going to be cooking four gallons of soup,” she said.
Landon Spradlin tested positive for COVID-19 — as well as double pneumonia — Wednesday at Concord hospital Atrium Health Cabarrus, the family said. Afterward, Jean Spradlin was rushed out of the hospital, tested in a drive-thru clinic and told to wait in her car for further instructions for hours.
Jean Spradlin since has been placed in a house where only a few health department employees and the homeowner know her exact location for the next 14 days — she likens it to the federal witness protection program.
Right now, Landon Spradlin remains in the hospital on a ventilator, his family reports. His condition has remained poor but steady over the past few days.
While Jean Spradlin has battled with a fever and other symptoms in the past few days, her first test for the coronavirus came back negative, she said. The local health department is conducting another test because she was in close, sustained contact with her husband, the family reports.
The Virginia Department of Health, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and the Cabarrus Health Alliance have repeatedly refused to confirm for the Register & Bee whether Landon Spradlin, or any Virginia resident, has tested positive for COVID-19 in Cabarrus County or is even in a county hospital.
On March 17, Jean and Landon Spradlin were returning home from a traveling ministry in New Orleans because he hadn’t been feeling well. Landon Spradlin had both bronchitis and a small case of pneumonia, and had already tested negative for the coronavirus while in New Orleans.
The pneumonia, however, got worse. He wasn’t breathing right when Jean Spradlin tried to pull her husband out of the car during a stop in Concord, North Carolina.
“When I got his feet on the ground they crumpled,” she said.
Bystanders at a convenience store called 911 and he was transported to Atrium Health Cabarrus, a hospital in Concord. Doctors placed him on a ventilator and diagnosed him with double pneumonia — meaning both lungs were infected.
Cabarrus County, where Concord is located, currently has six confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to the Cabarrus Health Alliance, which oversees public health for that county. The first confirmed case, as explained by the Cabarrus Health Alliance, involves a person who reported symptoms two weeks ago after returning home from international travel. That diagnosis became public the day before Landon Spradlin was admitted to a hospital in the county.
Soon after reporting the first COVID-19 case, the county health department announced a person traveling through the region also had tested positive at the hospital for the virus. The timing of this report seems to coincide with the timeline of events for the Spradlins.
The health department’s report of the traveler passing through the region also noted the hospital was waiting for a positive diagnosis by the state. For that reason, the health department did not yet report it had more than one positive case of COVID-19. It leaves unanswered whether the county’s second confirmed case was of the traveler passing through the region. In an attempt to find out, the Register & Bee contacted multiple representatives from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, the hospital where Spradlin is staying, and the Cabarrus Health Alliance. No one would make such a confirmation or even discuss the case.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that if Landon Spradlin’s case were to receive a positive diagnosis on the state level, it could be counted as a COVID-19 case for Virginia — and not North Carolina — since that is his state of residence, explained Virginia Department of Health spokesman Robert Parker.
“And upon receipt and confirmation of that notification, those illnesses are counted in Virginia, as appropriate,” he said.
Test results in North Carolina “are sent to the North Carolina Department of Public Health. If necessary, the state office is then responsible for relaying information to other states,” Melanie Grafals, a representative from the Cabarrus Health Alliance, wrote in an email.
On Sunday the local branch of the Virginia Department of Health reported a man in his 40s had tested positive for the coronavirus and is in isolation in Sovah Health-Danville. There have been no reported cases in Pittsylvania County.
Stranded in a house in a city that’s not her home, it’s not the isolation from people that will bother Jean Spradlin; it’s the separation from her husband of more than three decades.
“My utmost and first thought is I miss my husband,” she said. “We have been together 35 years and usually I’m the one taking care of him.”
Jean Spradlin said a plethora of organizations have worked to get her information, ensure she is safely quarantined, and provide such necessities as food, extra clothes and internet.
The couple had been in New Orleans for several weeks as part of their traveling ministry when Landon Spradlin started feeling sick about a week ago. So, he took a test for the coronavirus, but it came back negative. Still, Jean Spradlin believes her husband contracted the virus in New Orleans. So far, the Louisiana Department of Health has reported 1,172 cases in the state, with the Orleans Parish having 567 of those cases and 20 of the 34 total deaths stateside.
On Monday morning, the Virginia Department of Health reported 254 positive cases in Virginia. Seven Virginians have died as a result of the virus. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reports 297 cases and 0 deaths. Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports more than 33,404 known cases and 400 deaths from the virus.
Landon Spradlin, an accomplished blues guitar player who was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2016, has led a number of non-traditional churches, including one in the 1990s that was located between two strip clubs in New Orleans and another for bikers in Texas that met at a bar. Jesse Spradlin, the couples’ daughter, described him as “a modern-day Apostle Paul” — the traveling evangelist who wrote half of the New Testament.
“He’s not just a normal minister,” she said.
The couple has trekked to New Orleans every year and seemingly always catch some sickness while they’re there.
“Something always happens, but this time it just had the one-two punch of the pneumonia and the COVID-19,” Jean Spradlin said.
Landon and Jean Spradlin’s daughter, Judah Strickland, came in contact with her mother a few days ago for a brief time, so she, along with her husband and three children, are under a voluntary quarantine for 14 days.
Judah Spradlin, who remains isolated with her children in Gretna, said her father’s pre-existing asthma, his age and the bronchitis and pneumonia he recently developed all made him more susceptible to the coronavirus.
“He falls into every category,” she said.
While encouraging everyone to practice social distancing and to isolate as much as possible, the CDC and other health organizations have warned the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions and weak immune systems have the highest risk of the respiratory virus causing serious issues.
Through all the couple’s travels to different cities and countries, “this is the first time it’s really been dangerous,” Jean Spradlin said. “This has sort of taken us for a loop.”
The family has set up a GoFundMe account that has already raised more than $11,000 by early Monday afternoon.
Ayers reports for the Register & Bee. Reach him at (434) 791-7981.