An Indiana pastor, his sister and elderly mother all recently died from the new coronavirus over the course of a week as new data shows the brunt of the devastation from the virus shifting toward rural and less densely populated parts of the United States.
Pastor Jim Applegate, 54, who led Westview Christian Church in Campbellsburg for 21 years, died from the virus on Dec. 20, WKYC reported. Some 12 hours later on Dec. 21, his 83-year-old mother, Patricia Applegate, died from the virus at Baptist Health Floyd hospital. His older sister, MaryJane Applegate, 59, died from the virus on Christmas Eve.
"The first few weeks in December our community had seen a lot of COVID cases especially here in our church family and in my family alone COVID has went through our entire family," Nicholas Applegate, the pastor’s son and youth minister at Westview Christian Church, told WKYC.
“This virus is so tricky,” he continued. "This virus is serious and there was a time when I didn’t think it was and it is. It is very serious and people need to take precautions and just be safe and you need to try to listen to what the doctors are saying and what the professionals are wanting us to do."
The Christian Post reached out to the church for further comment on the multiple deaths Tuesday but no one was immediately available. Nicholas Applegate explained to WKYC that he was also infected with the virus but he only lost his sense of taste.
"The only thing I had wrong with me is that I lost my taste and that was it," he said. An uncle who is still fending of symptoms of the virus is expected to survive.
Pastor Jim Applegate lived in Palmyra, a small town in Harrison County that had less than 1,000 residents, according to the 2010 census. The latest data shows that as of Tuesday, Harrison County has experienced an 8.1% increase in confirmed coronavirus cases over the previous week for a total of 2,530. Deaths from the virus also went up by 6.1% for a total of 33. Harrison County has a population of just over 39,000, according to the 2010 census.
Earlier this month, a new analysis by the Pew Research Center found that rural areas that are sparsely populated now account for about twice the number of coronavirus-related deaths as the most densely populated cities like New York City, which initially suffered the brunt of virus casualties at the start of the pandemic.
An average of three people were found to be dying each day in congressional districts where fewer than 5% of residents live in dense concentrations. Districts where more than 40% of residents live in urban or dense suburban neighborhoods are suffering an average of 1.5 deaths each day.
Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told The Hill that the trend might be a reflection of residents in rural areas being more likely to flout recommendations from health experts to avoid social gatherings.
“We have people that are less likely to take precautions, and [we] have a lot of pandemic fatigue going on,” Adalja told the outlet. “A lot of people have given up.”
George Rutherford, an epidemiologist at the University of California-San Francisco, also told The Hill that one of the challenges of the rural spread of the virus is finding the staff to effectively treat surging cases.
“You can always create extra beds. We have step-down units, we have post-op recovery units, we have actual surgical suites that can be turned into ICU beds. What we don’t have is the staff,” Rutherford said.
Shirley Mitchell, secretary of the Fulton Bridge Baptist Church in Hamilton, a city of 6,885 in Alabama, told CP on Monday that several members of her church had recovered from the new coronavirus, but her beloved pastor, Michael “Mike” Stancil, died from the virus after a six-week battle. She said he developed a staph infection and had to be transported from Alabama to a facility in Arkansas in an effort to save his life but it was just too late for him.
As for Nicholas Applegate, along with warning people about the unpredictability of the virus, he is maintaining his faith in Jesus.
"The thing that's keeping me going is hope and it's hope in Jesus because I know where they're at," he told WKYC of his departed family members.