Interview with Amanda Flores, a teach in the Bronx whose family was directly impacted by Covid-19
Interview conducted on May 7th, 2020
Amanda Flores has worked as a teacher for seven years, currently serving as a 5th-grade teacher and lead teacher at P.S. 25 in the Bronx, New York. Her mother, a school administrator in New York City, tragically passed due to complications from Covid-19. The pandemic hit the rest of her family as well, as her brother, father, and uncle all spent time in the hospital as a result of the virus. Amanda also tested positive but was asymptomatic. Thankfully the rest of her family is now okay. Amanda has continued to teach throughout the crisis, saying that her students need her and that is what her mother would have done.
Johnnie Kallas: How long have you worked as a teacher?
Amanda Flores: I’ve been a teacher for seven years. I’ve taught at P.S. 33 on Fordham and Jerome in the Bronx. I am currently working as a 5th-grade teacher and a lead teacher at P.S. 25 on 149th street and Southern Blvd. Most of the time I am in the classroom but two periods/day I am mentoring teachers.
J: What union do you belong to and do you have an official position in the union?
A: I am a UFT member. I do not have an official position with the union.
J: And I hear you are an aspiring administrator as well?
A: Yes, I just passed all of my tests which is super exciting.
J: I know you have been through quite a bit during this coronavirus experience.
A: When everything started we found out on March 15th or 16th that schools were going to close. My mom just happened to start getting sick on the 16th, that Monday. It hadn’t hit that it was so serious at that point and schools were still opening those three days to get laptops out for students and get everything together. We didn’t know the schools would shut down for months at that point. I went in on, I think March 19th, 20th, and 21st. We went in for three days and got everything set up and my mom had been getting worse. She went to City MD and got tested. They said she did not have the flu but she had an upper respiratory infection. They sent her back home. About a week went by and they tested her for the coronavirus. It was a new test at that point and they said to wait 5-7 days. Five days went by and my dad called in asking for the results. They said they would be in tomorrow, so he called back tomorrow. Same thing. About nine days went by before we said we would come back in and get retested because she is getting worse. I remember my mom being nervous because my dad wanted to take her to the hospital and she said no because if I do not have the virus that’s where I am going to get it. The test hadn’t come back yet. She didn’t know that she had it so she didn’t want to go to the hospital because that’s where she would get it. She went back to City MD and at that point, it had progressed bad to both her lungs. They took her to the hospital right away. During all of this time, I am still working and still remote learning. I am listening to all of this. I was trying to stay away from my parents because they are not older, but I was with my students and I did not want to endanger them or expose them to anything because I didn’t know if I had it. It was so new we didn’t know what to expect. She goes into the hospital on, I believe, March 21st. I think those are the right dates. I call her, I speak to her. She’s very breathy and two days later I get a call from my dad telling me that him and my brother are going into the hospital. They said they can’t breathe. My brother can’t move and can’t get up. I live in Connecticut and they live in Yonkers. Now my mom, dad, and brother are all in the hospital. I am scared that I will lose my family in one night. I’m 32, and you think you’re an adult until something like this happens and I never felt more like a child. I couldn’t sleep that night. It was a Thursday of that week, maybe the 26th, and my husband is not feeling well. I run to five CVS and a ShopRite and there are no thermometers at 6 am. At 7 am I am waiting outside for a CVS to open up. I call the ER for my dad and brother. They told me that my dad and brother have been discharged. I did not understand that they could be discharged, my brother and dad, and have asthma. I finally get in touch with them and asked what’s going on. My dad said they sent us home. Our oxygen saturations were high enough even though we couldn’t breathe. They needed the bed for somebody else who was worse. I found gloves and a little bit of Lysol. I couldn’t find masks. I ran to the 99-cent store and the lady said I could only take 10 masks. I said please miss, could I have 14 masks, one for each day, to take care of my dad and brother in quarantine. During all of this, I am still working. I am working from my cell phone on google classroom and doing meetings with my kids while driving. I finally get to my dad’s house and I go in with gloves and masks. I clean the whole house. I isolate my dad to the basement, my brother to his room. I clean my mom’s room and my mom’s room becomes my quarantine space where nothing goes in there that’s dirty. My dad looks like I’ve never seen him before. He can’t move, he can’t breathe. He is so weak and he won’t eat anything. I look at my parents as these superheroes. I’m an adult but you just want them to be okay and take care of you, now I need to take care of them. All-day I am running up and down the stairs giving them medicine, asthma treatments. About two days later, after his last asthma treatment at night, I would shower and put on clothes to go to bed. By the stairs I would put sweatpants, sweaters, towels, gloves, and mask so when I have to leave my mom’s room, I would put everything on. At around 3:15 am, I would wake up, go downstairs, get my dad's asthma medication.
This lasted for about two days until my dad said he could not take it anymore. He was passed out in the bathroom, I found him on the floor throwing up. I called 911 and they came. It was one of the most relieved I felt because I felt that help was coming. I felt so helpless and that I could not help him. Nothing I was doing was making him better. I thought I’m going to see him die here. At least someone is helping my mom in the hospital. I felt relief when 911 arrived.
At around 10:30 pm I got a phone call from my brother who was still sick, but he was making a turning point and getting better. Whenever the phone rang I felt my heart would come out of my throat. My brother says the hospital is sending dad back, I’m going to order him a Uber. They said his oxygen saturation is higher. They never did an x-ray on him the first time, so I begged the EMS workers who came in the ambulance to please get him an x-ray. They gave him an x-ray and saw he had double pneumonia and they still sent him home. I was so angry they sent him home because I felt they sent my dad home to die. I’m not a nurse. I’m checking his temperature and giving him Tylenol. I don’t know if Mucinex works because he has asthma. My dad always self-regulated his asthma. I never had to think about it.
My dad said he was unsure if he would make it. I told him don’t ever say that again. When mom comes home how will I explain that I had killed you? I need you, my brother needs you, don’t you ever say that again. He said that was the turning point where his will kicked in and he willed himself to get better. I told him I couldn’t do this without you and I need somebody. The thought of being an orphan at 32 is a silly thing because you’re an adult but that word orphan is there. I’m nine years older than my brother. I’m the responsible one. I don’t want to be responsible. This is heavy stuff and it’s scary. He starts to turn again and this is when my mom starts declining in the hospital. My dad can’t talk to the hospital so I’m the one talking to nurses. My uncle—my mom’s best friend who I call my aunt and my uncle because they’ve been in my life since before I was born—my mom’s best friend’s husband was in the hospital at the same time as my mom and with the same thing. She had been calling me and giving me updates about what’s happening. He got intubated. At first, my mom was up and down. She was doing really well for a little bit. They had my uncle on remdesivir so I was asking them when they would give this to her. They finally gave it to her, but it first went through all of this red tape. She got intubated. I told her everything would be fine and that I loved her. That was the last time I spoke to her.
I was the only one talking to the hospital because my dad couldn’t. He could figure out when something was wrong. I was so afraid that any bad news would make him more sick. I told him that she was getting intubated. What was funny is my mom didn’t know that I came to Yonkers so as I am talking to her she asked “where are you?” and I told her that I’m at your house. She asked what’s wrong with dad and my brother. I told her nothing was wrong. She was just worried about my dad and brother so much because she knew they had asthma. They were the ones who were taking care of her before she went to the hospital. I didn’t want to tell her that my brother tested positive.
Things went bad when her lung collapsed. They called me at 6 am and said that they had a rough night. They put in a lung tube to inflate it. The ventilator was too much pressure. At that point, I kind of knew. We were raised in the church and our faith. It was hard, it was really hard. I was brought up to believe that if you pray then something will come out of it. Nothing was happening. I just had this nagging feeling that it was not going to end well. My brother was the pillar of positivity.
My mother started to get better. Her fever broke and we felt it was going in the right direction. But then she started having kidney issues. The underlying reason why she was doing so bad is because my mom had high blood pressure. High blood pressure is one of the things that the coronavirus attacks. Nothing could be stabilized because her blood pressure was either really high or really low. She coded one night and they started to tell us that we had to have these hard conversations about what we wanted to do. I started seeing on the news that hospitals were putting bodies in trucks. I just panicked and broke down. They asked us about coding and if we wanted to bring her back. Of course, I said yes, definitely. My dad didn’t want her to suffer, so we said we wanted one resuscitation to give her a chance. Her birthday was on April 4th and we got to video call her and sing happy birthday. She was sedated. On April 6th they told us that she coded and we should have these hard conversations. They told us they did not think she would make it through the day. We asked if we could see her again and we said our goodbyes. About a half-hour later she passed.
I didn’t want to take any time off. What I found was the hardest thing was to explain to somebody else how to do everything that I was doing and how my classroom was set up. I just felt that I didn’t want to explain to somebody where everything was and all of these intricacies. I said that I’ll do it. There’s nothing else I can do at this point. I can’t see my mom, I’m quarantined in the house. So I just did it and they asked if I would take time and I said no. I called my principal and let her know. She cried. The DOE is such a big system but also a small system. Everyone kind of knows everyone. I think she had met my mom a couple of times and I had spoken to her about it. We talked about how my mom was going to be retiring. She was just blown away and really sad.
J: Are your brother and father okay now?
A: Yes. At our two-week quarantine date, we went in and got tested. I called the number for the Yonkers testing center. My husband got us a connection to do tests at Norwalk Hospital in Connecticut. He also found out that he was positive. I didn’t know who I should go take care of between my husband and my brother and father. My husband was so amazing. He doesn’t have asthma or underlying conditions but I know now that he had the chills and a fever. At the time he didn’t tell me any of this because he didn’t want to worry or make me feel torn. He told me that he felt fine. The only thing I knew that he had was a cough. We all tested positive. I was asymptomatic. I followed all of the protocols. I had masks, gloves. I thought I didn’t get it because I did all of the right things. If you asked me if I thought I would be positive it was the furthest thing from my mind. I worried about what’s going to happen. I thought it hadn’t happened yet. I don’t know how long I had been positive.
We had to do another two-week quarantine because we were all positive. We were in the house for a month. Finally, after the second two-week quarantine, the Yonkers testing called us. We got tested again in New Rochelle and we were all negative. We were able to pick up my mom’s ashes from the crematory. We picked up her urn. We didn’t want to leave the house until we got retested to possibly infect somebody else. We went through it first-hand. Everyone around me had it. My whole internal unit had it. I had it too but without symptoms. We came to Florida and we are here now to do a memorial for my mom because this is where most of our family is. It’s so weird because Florida opened its state. People are walking around like nothing ever happened. They are not wearing masks. Some are, but the majority aren’t. We still wear masks out. They told us we had to do a two-week quarantine coming into Florida because we are from New York. They took our license plate number down and all of this other information.
J: You’ve been quarantined for a long time. I am so sorry about your mother. I am very happy that the rest of your family are now okay. It’s hard to make sense of it. Your mother sounds like a really incredible person. I don’t want to take up too much of your time, but I was wondering how you managed to educate students through this? That’s just incredible to me.
A: At first it was really hard. I wondered why I was doing this because I was going through so much. I remembered to myself that it’s not their fault. It’s not their problem and I’m a good teacher. They look to me for normalcy. They look to me to see my face in the morning. That’s what I signed up for. When my mom found out that someone in her school was sick and my dad begged her not to go in and she said that “she can’t leave my teachers or my students, I have to go in.” At that time my mom got sick. That’s what made me angry at first. As teachers and administrators, you push through because that’s your duty for your kids and students and teachers. I’m a lead teacher at my school too and I would do whatever I can for them. I feel like I’m the first line of defense. It’s not their fault. I want to make sure they feel some piece of normalcy within all of this because they are scared too. As much as I felt like a kid, they are kids. I want to make sure they are getting the best experience. I am teaching different learning styles. Creating different projects and videos trying to make it fun. They are sitting in front of computer screens and this is their new normal from 8:30 am to 2:30 pm. This is their normal. I have fitness, brainpower hour, exercise, meetings, mindfulness as a mood meter. How you are feeling and why you are feeling this way? I listen to them because sometimes even if they’re at home, no one else is. It might be a little bit of the control freak in me but I felt nobody else could do it as well as I do with my class and my babies. Every class and year are different. I don’t have children. These are my kids. I care for each of them and I want the best for them. You can ask the parents. I’m strict. I know that they can. When that happens kids and people rise to the occasion when you hold them to those high expectations. I definitely do because I know that they are capable. A lot of people think that because if you are from a certain area in New York or a certain demographic that they can’t. That word doesn’t enter my classroom. If you have the access that I’m going to give you because that’s my job, then you can. You totally can. I didn’t want to give up the reins or take a day because that’s our duty. That’s my responsibility and my passion. That’s what drives me to keep going and to be an assistant principal. I can only reach my classroom, so as an assistant principal I can take it from one classroom with 30 kids to a whole building. That’s what I want to do, especially help teachers. A lot of times teachers feel they can’t do it. It’s the same thing as students. I want to make them feel like they can. It’s human nature. Not just an adult or a student. They’re people. They learn the same way. Teachers learn differently and have different teaching styles.
Email sent after:
John, I forgot to finish the story about my uncle. He survived. His doctor treated him with a trial medication called remdesivir. I asked my mom's doctor for it and she said she was going to see if my mom was a candidate and that there was some red tape they had to go through. She never got, it but it's what saved my uncle's life. At the point of my mom's death, only 58 people in the world were treated with it for the coronavirus.