COVID-19 testing in Florence

A COVID-19 sample collection site in Florence, South Carolina. Florence is one of three sample collection locations used by the Medical University of South Carolina. The other two are Lancaster and West Ashley. Photo courtesy of Alicia Jones 

Trinity United Methodist Pastor Kim Strong drove his wife Margo to McLeod Seacoast Hospital last Tuesday morning after she complained that she felt like she was about to die. 

It was a good thing he did. Strong said doctors found scarring on her lungs, consistent with COVID-19 - the cause of a worldwide pandemic - as well as a blood clot and sepsis. She was isolated and put on oxygen.

“Another doctor told us the blood clot and the sepsis was a result of the COVID-19 as well, but we don’t know because we don’t have the test back,” Kim Strong said Monday.

Doctors took a sample from Margo the day she was brought in to the hospital. But Strong said he was told to expect the results by Wednesday. That would mark 8 days since she was hospitalized, and about two weeks since they both experienced flu-like symptoms. He said the sample was sent to LabCorp’s centralized diagnostic center in Burlington, North Carolina.

“We still have not heard anything back from the COVID-19 test, which is aggravating, but we understand there are tens of thousands of people being tested, Strong said. “They told my wife today that they thought LabCorp’s actual testing kits, they may have run out of them over the weekend and they’re waiting to get the next shipment in. It probably has as much to do with the availability of the kits as well as the high demand for the tests.” 

That story is being played out across the nation as diagnostic companies scramble for test kits. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued strict guidelines for who can be tested, even though the disease can be carried and transmitted by someone who never shows any symptoms, or shows symptoms that aren’t severe enough to warrant testing. 

The state Department of Health and Environmental Control said that the turnaround for a sample tested at the DHEC Public Health Laboratory is 24 to 48 hours, but that private labs such as LabCorp, which contracts with several local hospitals including McLeod Health and Tidelands Health, can take between 5 and 7 days. 

As of Monday, there were 298 cases of COVID-19 in South Carolina, and 16 in Horry County.

“The number of COVID-19 tests in our state changes daily,” said a DHEC spokesperson in an email. “However, the DHEC Public Health Laboratory has tested all samples submitted to the lab by healthcare providers within 24-48 hours. There is a nationwide shortage of reagents for COVID-19 testing and DHEC is working with multiple vendors and the CDC to ensure the DHEC lab has adequate supplies to support our testing needs.”

LabCorp did not immediate respond to a request for comment sent Monday.

Alicia Jones of Conway said her 3-year-old daughter Ellieana began showing symptoms of COVID-19 a week ago, when she woke up with a, cough, a fever, chills, body aches, sneezing and a sore throat. Her 6-year-old sister had started showing some symptoms a couple days before that. 

Jones on Thursday had a telehealth visit for Ellieana and her sister with the Medical University of South Carolina. The physician referred Ellieana for testing but not her 6-year-old, she said.

Florence is one of three locations where MUSC does sample collections. The other two are Lancaster and West Ashley.

Ellieana gave a sample on Monday, and Jones said it would be 4 to 8 days before she got the results. 

“The test itself was fairly quick but brutal,” Jones said. “The swab made the flu and strep test look like a joke. They had to put the swab in each nostril and hold it there for 5 seconds. Holding her in place was heartbreaking. She ended up bursting tiny blood vessels around her eyes and on her cheeks that look like little red freckles. Her eyes still look bloodshot over an hour later.” 

Jones and her three daughters are now in self-quarantine. 

“It’s been interesting to say the least,” she said. “We have been busy with art activities and games. Eating lunch on our screened porch for some fresh air. Having a pizza party and just trying to make the best of it. Everyone is stir-crazy, I’ve put the kiddos in the car just to take a drive and get out of the house.” 

And of course, they’ve been watching a lot more Netflix and Disney Plus, and Jones has been doing “some serious cleaning and organizing” to stay productive. 

Margo Strong was also discharged from the hospital on Monday. She’s been steadily improving, and doctors were able to take her off oxygen before they sent her home to self-quarantine with her husband, although Pastor Strong said she would stay on blood thinners because of the clots. 

“The people at Seacoast Little River could not have treated her any better,” Strong said. “We’d both like to thank the people that treated her so well for the last several days. We know that the hospital was tremendous, but we know God was even better. We want to thank the thousands of people who prayed for her and uplifted her with prayer in the last week. She would not be here without those prayers and I firmly believe that.” 

The CDC and DHEC say people should avoid public gatherings, restrict their travel, frequently wash their hands, avoid touching their face and frequently clean personal items to slow the spread of the disease. 

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