"It's gone haywire": When COVID-19 invades rural America

Some here had thought that their isolation might spare them, but instead it made the pandemic particularly cruel. In Terrell County, population 8,500, everyone knows everyone and every death is personal. As the mourners arrived at the cemetery, just the handful allowed, each knew others suffering and dying.

The couple’s son, Desmond Tolbert, sat stunned. After caring for his parents, he’d also rushed his aunt, his mother’s sister, to a hospital an hour away, and there she remained on a ventilator. Her daughter, Latasha Taylor, wept thinking that if her mother survived, she would have to find a way to tell her that her sister was dead and buried.

“It’s just gone haywire, I mean haywire,” thought Eddie Keith, a 65-year-old funeral home attendant standing in the back who was familiar with all the faces on the funeral programs piling up. “People dying left and right.”

Usually, on hard days like this, he would call his friend of 30 years, who was a pastor at a country church and could always convince him that God would not give more than he could endure.

But a couple weeks earlier, that pastor had started coughing, too.