Friday, November 13, 2020

Expert says lax public-health restrictions caused rural coronavirus spike; surge hurts cash-strapped rural hospitals

New rural infections, Nov. 1-7. Daily Yonder map; click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version with figures on urban vs. rural new infections. 

Lax measures earlier in the year may be partly responsible for the surge in rural coronavirus infections, especially in the Northern Rockies and Upper Midwest, says one expert, Kirk Siegler reports for NPR.

Andrew Pavia, head of infectious diseases at the University of Utah Hospital, said the rural surge in those areas can be traced to state governments that imposed few restrictions and do not enforce bans on large gatherings, Siegler reports. Pavia also blames the re-opening of in-person classes at colleges and schools—along with sports and most extracurricular activities—earlier in the year.

"Because of the local politics, they're probably not as drastic or as firm measures as we really needed to turn the tide. So I think the situation in two to four weeks is going to be grim," Pavia said.

Many rural hospitals in Upper Midwestern and Rocky Mountain states say they're at or near capacity. "In North Dakota, covid-19 hospitalizations are up 60 percent over this time last month. And it's not just ICU capacity that's stretched," Siegler reports. "This week, the state said it would begin allowing medical staff who test positive for the virus but are asymptomatic to keep treating covid patients."

Many rural hospitals can't afford more staff, Liz Carey reports for The Daily Yonder. One Nebraska hospital administrator told her that local staffing shortages, statewide hospital bed shortages, nationwide nursing shortages, and funding problems are all making the pandemic much worse for rural hospitals.

The pandemic has worsened an existing nationwide nursing shortage. That hits rural hospitals especially hard, since they have a hard time attracting nurses in the first place, Carey reports. Traveling nurses can step in to help, but they're an expensive proposition, earning up to $150 an hour.

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