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SWFL reverend says he understands overwhelming toll of pandemic

The COVID-19 death toll in the United States is over 200,000 people Tuesday. A church leader in Southwest Florida says he knows the overwhelming toll the pandemic has taken on his own congregation, including loss of life.

Rev. Ricky Anderson told us he’s done a number of funerals where a loved one died from COVID-19. He said a member of his own congregation passed away from the virus as well.

Before the onset of the pandemic, close to 120 people would fill the rows of Christ Fellowship Ministries in Fort Myers listening to Anderson. But it’s been empty since March 15 to keep everyone safe.

“When I come up here, there’s nobody but me, and it just feels empty,” Anderson said. “There’s a void.”

Even so, 27 members of Anderson’s congregation have contracted the virus, and one member died.

“The woman who died from it, they just loved me to death,” Anderson said. “Not even being able to view the body and that’s kind of heartbreaking.”

And now that more than 200,000 people in the U.S. have died, it adds salt to Rev. Anderson’s wound.

“It’s the most difficult time that I’ve ever had leading the congregation,” Anderson said.

Robert Hawkes, the director of the FGCU physician assistant program, says despite that large number, there is some hope. He says the number of deaths and cases has been trending down here in Florida. And Hawkes also had an outlook on the pandemic on a national level.

“We have kind of reached our plateaus, even though the number of deaths continue to rise,” Hawkes said. “Hopefully, they will not rise as quickly, as they could have been had proper precautions not been taken place.”

Rev. Anderson said he will continue to keep up those proper precautions and keep church services online.

“Take it serious because it is,” Anderson said.

Experts say a vaccine on the horizon also brings a bit of hope, but the world is certainly not out from under the pandemic. Washington state researchers are predicting more than 378,000 people will die by January 1. Experts recommend people wear masks, social distance and wash your hands to protect yourself and your family.

Reporter:Andryanna Sheppard
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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