Kyle and April Abernathy.

North Georgia couple hit with coronavirus after attending church

Kyle and April Abernathy began suffering from high fevers early this month. They felt chills. Their bodies ached.

Ruling out the flu and strep throat, their doctors at Floyd Medical Center in Rome tested the married couple for COVID-19, the highly contagious disease caused by the coronavirus. Both tests came back positive. April breathed with the help of a ventilator this week.

Both are young. She is 36 and he is 34. Neither has traveled outside the United States. Kyle doesn’t recall them ever coming into contact with anyone afflicted with the virus.

He discussed their situation in this Facebook video:

Both fell ill, he said, shortly after attending a March 1 choir reunion at the Church at Liberty Square in Cartersville. An elementary school principal, Kyle has since counted at least 15 members of the church who have tested positive for the disease or who are awaiting test results.

“Don’t assume you cannot be affected. We are young and this virus has greatly affected us both,” Kyle said in an email interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through a cousin. “Prior to the virus, we had no health issues. So I think people need to understand that social distancing is hard, but it is meant to keep us all safe and healthy. The virus can be stopped. It’s up to our communities to take precautions to lessen the threat.”

» COMPLETE COVERAGE: Coronavirus in Georgia

On Wednesday, a member of the church’s choir, Elizabeth Eugenia Wells, 65, of Rome died from respiratory failure and complications from COVID-19, said Floyd County Coroner Gene Proctor. She was admitted to Redmond Regional Medical Center on March 7 with a fever and respiratory problems. The following day, she was tested for COVID-19. On March 12, her test results came back positive. 

“We have to get with the Department of Public Health and we have to make sure we track down when maybe this started and where she went and what contacts she had,” Proctor said. “We are going to feed information to DPH and see if we could stop this from happening to anyone else.”

» VIDEO: Quarantined Georgia coronavirus patient checks in from state park

The church has temporarily moved its service online after learning from state health officials that people who attended events there this month have tested positive for COVID-19. Anyone who visited on March 1 or March 8, according to the church, should “self-isolate” at home for two weeks and watch for symptoms, including fevers, coughing and shortness of breath.

“All of us know people who are affected by this current crisis,” the Rev. Jacob King, the church’s senior pastor, wrote in a statement. “Our prayers should not just include those suffering physically, but also the many doctors, nurses, health care providers, governmental leaders and so many more that are working day and night to help all of us.”

King’s church is located in Bartow County, which had 19 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday, according to the Georgia Health Department. That is the third highest total among counties. Bartow, with a population of about 106,000, ranked ahead of the much larger DeKalb County, which has 18 confirmed cases, but behind Fulton, 49, and Cobb, 28.

Kyle and April live in Calhoun and have two young children. An Adairsville High School graduate, he serves as the principal of Cave Spring Elementary School in Floyd County. April, a Cass High School graduate, works as a secretary at a carpet and flooring store in Calhoun.

Kyle said his wife’s condition has improved, though it has been complicated by pneumonia.

“April is on a ventilator requiring only 40% oxygen support. This is an improvement, as at one point she required 100%,” he wrote Wednesday. “She is slowly being weaned off of sedatives and is stimulable. She still has a fever from the pneumonia, but doctors and nurses at Emory are very hopeful that she continues to improve daily.”

In his Facebook video, Kyle says he is still sometimes short of breath but out of the hospital and emphasizes the importance of his family’s Christian faith.

“One thing I know is that this disease — this virus — has come straight from hell,” he said. “It is straight from the Devil. I am not going to sugarcoat it. The way it has affected me and affected my wife and so many others from the church that we have loved — it has been very difficult. And there are still people fighting for their lives.”

Clay Bentley, 59, of Rome tested positive for COVID-19 after singing in the choir at the Church at Liberty Square on March 1. The retired Cobb sheriff’s deputy was diagnosed with the illness on March 10 and released from Redmond Regional Medical Center in Rome on March 17. He struggled to breath while he fought his illness, but now he is improving at home, said his wife, Suzy Bentley. 

“If you get hit with it,” Clay Bentley told The AJC Thursday, “it is going to be serious because you lose control of things quickly in your physical body.”

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