Monday, April 06, 2020

Rural covid-19 infection rate much higher than metro rate; how are widely varied rural areas responding to pandemic?

Though the number of rural covid-19 infections is far less than the number of metropolitan infections, the rural rate is much higher than in metro areas at a comparable stage, according to a Penn State study released April 3. In other words, when the coronavirus hits rural areas, a larger share of people get sick, perhaps because rural people are older and have more underlying health conditions.

The South is particularly vulnerable to the pandemic, on those grounds and others. "Four of the five states with the highest diabetes rates are in the South. And eight didn’t expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, leaving thousands of families without access to routine care, even as financially troubled rural hospitals wither away," Margaret Newkirk and Michelle Fay Cortez Bloomberg note. "Those factors give the South a special vulnerability, as did the haphazard response from some governors as the disease began to course through the country. Without clear direction from the Trump administration, they were loath to mandate stay-at-home orders. Beaches were open in Florida, churches held services in rural Tennessee, and Mardi Gras went on in Louisiana."

In Albany, Georgia, at the same church that unwittingly spread the virus to dozens at a Feb. 29 funeral, a March 7 funeral that attracted around 400 attendees spread the virus even further, Charles Bethea reports for The New Yorker. The two funerals led rural Dougherty County to have one of the highest rates of infection per capita in the nation.

Central Appalachia, with its higher rates of black-lung disease and other health issues, is also highly vulnerable. "Already in the past week, reports have emerged that two coal miners in Pennsylvania have tested positive for the coronavirus," Matt Krupnick reports for HuffPost. "And as the pandemic continues to spread rapidly, many fear it’s only a matter of time until the virus contributes to a triple-whammy in Appalachian mining communities: a population with elevated health risks, an economy in free-fall and limited health-care resources."

Out in the rural West, where the population is much more spread out, a photo essay and story from The New York Times explores how the pandemic is affecting eastern Oregon. Greg Hennes, who runs a small hotel in Joseph, says he's had many cancellations and has had to defer many of his bills. He intends to apply for relief money, and in the mean time spends a lot of time hiking. "Unlike in a lot of places near urban areas, I’m not worried about the trailhead being overrun," Hennes told the Times. "It’s very easy to keep six feet, if not three miles, between me and the next person."

The pandemic is inspiring more aggressive action from some rural residents. Some restless ones in Illinois are again pushing the idea of splitting from the Chicago area to be a separate state. Secession talk has periodically flared up in rural Illinois and in other states because of political issues; this time the pandemic is the impetus, Logan Jaffe and Duaa Eldeib report for ProPublica Illinois.

"Political experts say there is virtually no chance that the state will ever split, especially since it will require an act of Congress and lead to the likely election of two Republican senators to represent that new state," Jaffe and Eldeib report. "Still, the secession conversation is a dramatic expression of the much more widespread — and potentially dangerous — frustration with a sweeping governmental response to the pandemic that many question in areas where some homes sit acres apart and people predominantly travel by car, not public transportation."

And in Idaho, anti-government extremist Ammon Bundy vowed in a Facebook live video to physically protect Idahoans who wished to defy the state government's stay-at-home order, The Associated Press reports. In a phone call with reporters, Bundy said that self-isolation wasn't a bad idea, but he objected to it being made an order.

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