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Grief Hits Home As Virus Strikes Rural Indiana

The coronavirus pandemic surged into Sean Durbin's farm-speckled Indiana county much faster than most other parts of rural America, contributing to at least 10 deaths and dozens of serious illnesses.

Grief Hits Home As Virus Strikes Rural Indiana

The coronavirus pandemic surged into Sean Durbin's farm-speckled Indiana county much faster than most other parts of rural America, contributing to at least 10 deaths and dozens of serious illnesses.

Decatur County and two other counties in southeast Indiana have among the highest per-capita infection rates in the country, topping the Seattle area and some counties near hard-hit Detroit.

As Decatur County's public health preparedness coordinator, Durbin is working to stem the spread of the virus, even as he grieves the loss of a close friend to COVID-19 and stays apart from his wife so she can help with their new grandchild.

Last Thursday, county officials banned nonessential travel and ordered all restaurants closed, including for takeout orders, going beyond the requirements of the governor's stay-at-home order that took effect March 25.

Decatur, Franklin and Ripley counties have a combined population of nearly 78,000 people and more than 235 confirmed coronavirus cases through Tuesday, placing them among the top 100 counties for high infection rates across the nation, according to data tracked by Johns Hopkins University.

Durbin said he's been healthy so far and will keep showing up at the four-employee health department as long as he can. But he despairs at the prospect of not meeting his grandson for months and for the losses in the community where he's lived since he was a teenager.

"I know several of the people who have died. And if I don't know them, I know somebody who knows them," Durbin said. "So you see the grief. You see how it hits home. That would be the biggest difference than a big city — is that we all know each other. It's like somebody from your family dying."

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