Rural Pennsylvania: This Working Man Was Ready to Retire. But the Virus Took Him

HAZLETON, Pa. — Just off Wyoming Street in Pennsylvania’s hilly, working-class city of Hazleton, Laury Sorensen and her husband, Emil, lugged groceries from a pickup truck upstairs to her parents’ wood-frame home.

They sought to spare Ms. Sorensen’s father, Rafael Benjamin, a trip to the supermarket in a time of infectious plague. He ran enough risk working for Cargill Meat Solutions in an industrial park outside the city.

The Pennsylvania governor had issued a shutdown order but exempted Cargill, which packages meat in plastic wrap. Mr. Benjamin, a good-natured man who rarely missed a day of work, said colleagues labored shoulder to shoulder in March without masks and gloves, and he worried it had become a petri dish for sickness.

A few days later, Mr. Benjamin could not come to the phone. “He got sick on Tuesday,” his son-in-law texted. “He’s on a respirator.”

Then another text: “He was six days from retirement.”

This is the tale of the virus as it swept down Wyoming Street in a city of 25,000 tucked into the wooded, still-leafless foothills of the Poconos. Five days spent along a few blocks of old, worn rowhouses and storefronts revealed the virus to be all around. All anyone spoke about was the people falling ill.

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