On Tuesday morning, Pastor Kim Strong of Trinity United Methodist Church in Conway took his wife Margo to the hospital.
They thought she had the flu, but they were wrong.
“She’s in isolation in the hospital with what the doctors told us was COVID-19,” Kim Strong said Wednesday, referring to the disease caused by the coronavirus. “She’ll probably be in isolation through the rest of this week.”
He said her vital signs such as her blood pressure and heart rate are good.
“I checked in with my wife this morning; she’s extremely tired,” the pastor said. “She thinks it’s because her oxygen level is not what it was yesterday.”
Both of them had been feeling ill for about a week, and they thought it was just the flu.
“Yesterday morning she woke up and told me she thought she was dying and needed to go to the hospital and I took her there immediately,” Strong said.
The doctors at McLeod Seacoast Hospital ran tests, and found a blood clot, viral pneumonia, sepsis, and suspected COVID-19. Strong said they both had thought they picked up the flu from a member of their church. But he said when they tested Margo Strong for the flu, she didn’t have it. That’s when they knew they were in trouble.
“Since we have absolutely no idea how we are sick, that’s one of the questions my wife kept asking me yesterday, ‘Where in the world did we get this?’” Strong said. “Because we don’t know anyone who’s carrying this virus. That’s the scary part about this virus.”
Strong is also in self-quarantine, suspecting that he, too, has the virus.
"I told them yesterday, if she had it, then I had to have it," he said. "I don’t feel 100 percent yet, but it didn’t attack my lungs like it did my wife. And why? I have no idea. I wish they’d let me stay at hospital with my wife."
Before Strong took his wife to the hospital, he said they had tried to go to Doctor’s Care locations in Little River and North Myrtle Beach, but were turned away because his wife’s symptoms were consistent with COVID-19. Hospitals and other medical facilities have generally been preventing anyone with such symptoms from accessing their buildings for fear of spreading the virus.
Strong said they also tried the telehealth options as recommended by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC).
“The problem was we could not get any of them to answer the video calls,” Strong said. “I guess demand had something to do with that. But if we could have seen somebody last Saturday, I don’t think my wife would be in the condition she’s in today.”
The couple has two children, one in Charleston and one in Spartanburg. The eldest, in Spartanburg, was exposed during the couple’s recent visit to see him. He’s now in self-quarantine.
While hospitals have been advising people with COVID-19 symptoms not to go to the hospital and use telehealth options first, Strong had no luck getting in contact with anyone, and added “If you have any doubts at all, go to the hospital, and practice self-quarantining.”
Strong has been a minister for 41 years, and preached all over the state. He said all of his past churches have included him and his wife on their prayer lists.
“We’re fully relying on God today,” he said.
As of Wednesday morning, DHEC reported 47 cases of COVID-19 in South Carolina across 13 counties, including four cases in Horry County. Those numbers do not include Margo Strong, whose diagnosis will have to be confirmed by DHEC and released later.
“Based on her consent, we can confirm Ms. Margo Strong is a patent at McLeod Health Seacoast Hospital,” said hospital spokesperson Kelly Hughes. “Ms. Strong did meet CDC guidelines for testing for COVID-19 and was administered the test. Test results may take 72 to 92 hours to receive. At this time, we have not received her test results and do not have confirmation of a positive COVID-19 patient at any of our McLeod Health hospitals. We do wish Ms. Strong a speedy and full recovery.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people practice social distancing, avoid public gatherings of more than 10 people, restrict travel and practice frequent hand-washing to slow the spread of the virus, which is more likely to affect older people with weaker immune systems.