Second North Georgia church member dies after coronavirus diagnosis

Five others who attended the church this month have tested positive

A second member of the Church at Liberty Square in Cartersville has died after testing positive for the highly contagious coronavirus.

Harold Johnson Passmore, 78, a church usher and food pantry volunteer from Fairmount, died Monday, according to an obituary posted on the website for the Owen Funeral Home in Cartersville.

He was diagnosed with the disease caused by the new coronavirus, COVID-19, said Bartow County Coroner Joel Guyton, who learned of the diagnosis from the funeral home.

On Friday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Elizabeth Wells, 65, of Rome died from respiratory failure and complications from COVID-19 after singing in the choir at the church on March 1. At least four other people — including a state senator — who attended the church that day have tested positive for the disease.

Because of the pandemic, the church closed its doors to the public after March 8. A church official said he did not know when Passmore last attended a service there.

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The church is located in Bartow County, which had 76 confirmed cases of COVID-19, as of Tuesday, the fifth highest among counties in the state, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. Statewide, there were 1,097 confirmed cases of the illness and 38 deaths tied to it, as of Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the local hospital, Cartersville Medical Center, confirmed one of its patients who tested positive for COVID-19 has died, though it declined to identify the patient, citing privacy reasons. Five of the hospital’s inpatients have tested positive for the disease and 36 others are awaiting test results, the hospital said Tuesday.

The hospital added that it is enforcing a no-visitor policy with some exceptions and is staging supplies at entryways, where symptomatic patients “can be properly masked and immediately isolated to protect our colleagues and other patients.”

In an online service Sunday, the church's senior pastor, the Rev. Jacob King, prayed for the end of COVID-19 and announced all of the church's services would continue online only until further notice.

“Many of you have asked: ‘What is the timeline?’ We really don’t know,” King said. “I don’t think any of us know. But we want to put your safety and our own submission to the authorities of the land into proper perspective.”

Among the patients who attended the church on March 1 and who have tested positive for COVID-19 are a married couple from Calhoun, a retired Cobb County sheriff’s deputy from Rome and state Sen. Bruce Thompson, a Republican from White. Thompson said he is confident he did not contract his illness at the house of worship.

“According to medical professionals that have done a great job of treating me, it doesn’t fit the right timeline,” he said in a text message. “It’s more likely I contracted the virus sometime in the last two weeks.”

He pointed out that he has spent a lot of time this month in legislative meetings at the state Capitol, where three other state senators have tested positive for the illness.

Passmore’s obituary says he was a devout Christian who was born in Bartow to the late LeRoy and Grace Passmore. His wife of 55 years, Hazel, preceded him in death. He is survived by a son and daughter, seven grandchildren and a great grandchild.

Because of the pandemic, the family is planning a private graveside service Saturday with King officiating. A separate event celebrating his life will be held at a later date.

“Harold loved and was beloved by his family,” his obituary says. “His bright, loving smile will be missed by all who knew and loved him.”

Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this report.