Elizabeth Eugenia “Beth” Wells did not feel well after singing in the choir at the Church at Liberty Square in Cartersville on March 1. Later that day, the 65-year-old Rome resident told her daughter about her poor health. A sore throat, coughing and fevers came next.
She went to the Floyd Medical Center, where she was diagnosed with pneumonia and then discharged. Her condition worsened, so she was admitted to Redmond Regional Medical Center on March 7. Less than two weeks later, she died from respiratory failure and complications from COVID-19, the highly contagious disease caused by the coronavirus.
Among at least 13 Georgians who have died from the virus, Wells was the first authorities had identified by name as of midday Friday. As her organs failed and as her prognosis worsened at the hospital, her family consulted with her doctors and decided she should be removed from life support.
“I just unfortunately knew my mom’s wishes of not wanting to live on a ventilator,” her daughter, Hilary New of Rome, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Friday. “She had asked me if I could pull the plug, if it came down to that. I said, ‘I would cry, yes, but I would because that is what you want.’ My mom took that choice out of my hands.”
New does not know how her mother contracted the illness. Her mother never traveled outside the United States, New said, although her health was complicated by diabetes and high blood pressure.
At least three others who attended the church in Cartersville on the same day with Wells — a married couple from Calhoun and a retired Cobb County sheriff’s deputy from Rome – have tested positive for COVID-19 and struggled with the disease. State health officials are monitoring those who came in contact with Wells or testing them for the virus, said Floyd County Coroner Gene Proctor.
A spokeswoman for the Georgia Health Department said she could not comment on Wells’ case, citing federal health privacy rules. But state epidemiologists, she said, are interviewing COVID-19 patients to learn where they traveled and to identify who has come in close contact with them.
The church, meanwhile, has temporarily moved its services online after learning from state health officials that people who attended events there this month have tested positive for COVID-19. The church is in Bartow County, which had 40 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Friday, according to the Georgia Health Department. That is the third highest total among Georgia counties.
The virus, New warned, “doesn’t discriminate.”
“To say that it couldn’t happen to you is one of the biggest mistakes people can make,” New said. “Always take precautions. Please, if you don’t have to get out, don’t.”
Born in Rockmart, Wells graduated from Osborne High School and worked for the Wellstar Health System for about 18 years. She ran a wallpapering business with a friend at one point and took a job at the Allstate insurance company. A mother of three children and a grandmother, she played the guitar and published a book, “Garden Variety Wisdom,” which draws on her experience with gardening and scripture.
She was faithful, forgiving and compassionate, her daughter said. Wells quit her job as a cashier at a Walmart, New said, so she could take care of her best friend, who was struggling with cancer.
“My mom was and always has been about helping others — about trying to bring God to others,” New said. “It was never about my mom. My mom didn’t think of herself first.”
New emphasized that she doesn’t blame anyone for her mother’s death.
“I think that everybody is trying to do what they can to find where the source (of the virus) came from. We are in uncharted territory, to be honest,” she said. “I think this virus is only going to bring people closer to God and have a better relationship with God and rely on his word and do better by other people.”
Wells’ family wants to organize a memorial service for her at the Church at Liberty Square but has decided to hold off until after threats from the disease go away.
“We will hold a memorial there. That is an absolute definite,” New said. “I have made that promise to my mother and a promise to my siblings and all her friends and family.”
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