Transcript for As COVID-19 deaths surpass 250,000, rural towns emerge as areas most affected
Reporter: Here in the heart of rural Georgia -- For those trying to give up, for those struggling with covid-19 -- Reporter: Reverend Willard Weston praying for mercy from the coronavirus. A proper understanding, have mercy right now in the name of Jesus -- Reporter: Begging the lord to keep it from stealing more lives. Let us undersnd, lord, it can't be our way, it can't be my way, it has to be your way. And when you have spoken, lord, we must submit ourselves unto thee, amen. Reporter: At sardis Baptist church in Dawson, this is what services looked like before the and these are services here today, streamed online with only a few people willing to sit in the pews. Families are still worried that if they come to church, they could get sick and die. Even the Wednesday night bible studies now broadcast from the pastor's home. God wants you to be blessed. Does it surprise you know that your county is on the list of one of the hardest-hit places in America? When this was going on, I can't say I'm -- it was surprising then, but right now? No, I'm not surprised, because it was happening so frequently. I'm not shocked. Reporter: We wouldn't be visiting if place if it weren't for these next unfortunate facts. There were 33 people here who died of covid-19 during the height of the pandemic, making the death rate here the 12th deadliest of any county in the country. I left my home in Georgia Reporter: This is Terrell county, Georgia. The birth place of Otis Redding, whose blue songs are the pride of the people. It is far away from the slick streets and fancy restaurants of any big city. Home to about 9,000 people, most of them black, and most of them poor. Across America, there is a new signpost on a very tragic road. More than 250,000 people in this country have now died from covid-19. ABC news has joined our abc-owned stations in cities Ross the country taking a closer look at the data, and it underlines the 100 counties in the country with the highest rate of death, many of them rural and poor. The hardest hit, Gove county, Kansas. We have lost a few people. And it's been hard. Because we have cared forhem for so long. And we truly do love them. Reporter: And right behind them, Jerauld county, south Dakota. We know rural America already has a capacity problem when it comes to health care. There is just not the same level ofccess as there is in urban hubs. When you add in covid, which has put a real strain on the economy, has ultimately resulted in many health careystems closing, that further exacerbates the access iues that we have in this country. Reporter: Both Randolph and term counties in rural Georgia are so terribly high on the list, the ministers H here had trouble clearing the red clay from their shoes. They often had to lead more than one funeral a day. This town was shattered. I mean -- it was shattered. Reporter: One of reverend Weston's ministers, poly Ann Tolbert, got sick in March and died a few weeks later. It was a double funeral. The coronavirus killed her husband, Mr. Benjamin Tolbert, too. The reverend was set to deliver the eulogy an hour before the grave side service when the phone rang in his pocket. I got a call my first cousin had passed. He was like my big brother. We were raised up in the house together. He was that person that gave me strength. And I get a call. And we didn't -- he became ill quite quickly. Reporter: He says this is how it was for months, people managing their own grief as they were helping neighbors get through theirs, giving a hug or a shoulder to cry on felt deadly. If I were in your position, I would also be questioning god. Like, why? Why is thishappening? When death comes into our ranks, especially those who love so much, and we're very close to, there's some questionings. There's some questions that might come up. But because of the spiritual belief and faith that we have in Christ, we know that we may endure for a night, but joy is coming in the morning. But to tell you I didn't question some things myself? I wouldn't be telling the truth. Your faith was tested? It was definitely my faith was tested. Your F in god. Still being tested. But during that time, it was -- it was a test. Reporter: Latasha Taylor says she's being tested too. Her aunt is miss poly Ann. After burying the tolberts, she had to bury her own mother two months later. They were ripped away in an instant. So quickly. You just don't know how to come to grips with it. What do you say to all of those people who want to say that these deaths are made ? Well -- I can absolutely tell you that when I look back, three death certificates. Th all have some relation to covid-19. And people die. Now I've never seen anything else in my 41 years of being alive that has taken people out like that. So there has to be some truth to it. Reporter: She says the coronavirus has broken her heart into pieces and believes if her mother lived in a big city with access to better health care, she might still be alive today. Does it F like the rest of the country forgets about rural areas? Absolutely. You know, it's kind of like we don't exist. We're off the map. We're not talked about a lot. Reporter: The pastor said something that caught our attention, that in his town there's no hospital, but plenty of funeral homes. No hospital four funeral homes. It's almost -- sort of like that -- we're ready for the dead, we're not taking care of the living. And hopefully because of what has taken place with covid-19, something powerfully awesome going to come from it. Reporter: A few miles west, past the cotton fields and peanut farms are the neighbors in Randolph county with the eighth highest coronavirus death rate of any county on the list. Like so many places, the virus first came to this community through a nursing home. At least 17 seniors who lived here died. I have a hard time not getting emotional about it still. It was a very, very tough time for our community. Still is. Reporter: They are all now extremely nervous about what the winter cold season mightbring. October 22nd, their local hospital closed. And these empty halls are all that's left. The southwest Georgia regional medical center was one of the last remaining hospitals in the region. But it couldn't survive the overwhelming number of patients sick with the coronavirus who couldn't afford to pay their medical bills. When this hospital closed, it was an incredible loss for people who live in this part of Georgia. It served patients across six counties and was a lifesaver during the height of the covid crisis here. Now those same people have to drive up to an hour away to get to the closest hospital. And some residents have to drive into Alabama to get to an emergency room. We met a physician who worked here for 15 years and was there the day the hospital closed. What happens if this county sees March again? I think we may see a lot of fatalities. It's going to be very, very difficult. And especially the surrounding hospitals, already overworked, having proximity of the hospital with good, competent physicians makes a difference. There is no doubt about it. Reporter: Latasha Taylor says like many people here, she's tired of being sa Mom would have been celebrating her 63rd birthday on Monday. This is where I'm now having to come and celebrate her birthday with her. Reporter: This is the one place in the world where her heart aches the hardest, and she told us to share that she's in counseling and that everyone needs to take the coronavirus seriously. Don't just brush it off to think that, you know, it's made up. Because a lot of people are dying from something. And if we must give it a name, covid it is. People are not here to stay forever. I've learned that. You know, and deal with your grief however you must.
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