‘It’s Gone Haywire’: When COVID-19 Arrived in Rural America

DAWSON, Ga. (AP) — The reverend approached the makeshift pulpit and asked the Lord to help him make some sense of the scene before him: two caskets, side by side, in a small-town cemetery busier now than ever before.

Rev. Willard O. Weston had already eulogized other neighbors lost to COVID-19, and he would do more. But this one stood as a symbol to him of all they had lost. The pair of caskets, one powder blue, one white and gold, contained a couple married 30 years who died two days apart, at separate hospitals hours from each other, unaware of the other’s fate.

The day was dark. There was no wind, not even a breeze. It felt to some like the earth had paused for this.

As the world’s attention was fi

xated on the horrors in Italy and New York City, the per capita death rates in counties in the impoverished southwest corner of Georgia climbed to among the worst in the country. The devastation here is a cautionary tale of what happens when the virus seeps into communities that have for generations remained on the losing end of the nation’s most intractable inequalities: these counties are rural, mostly African American and poor.


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