Friday, April 09, 2021

Getting donations to help local news media works in small, places as well as big, rich ones, Report for America says

Elementary students in Ouray, Colo., chose Report for America at the Ouray County Plaindealer as the charity to benefit from their 2020 read-a-thon. Proceeds supported the family-owned newspaper's funding campaign for a reporter focused on affordable housing. (Photo provided by Plaindealer Publisher Erin McIntyre)

A community's size and its poverty rate don’t seem to matter when it comes to philanthropic support of local news organizations, Lauren McKown and Jimmy Martinez of the journalism philanthropy GroundTruth Project and its Report for America write for The Poynter Institute. In other words, raising money from your audience may work as well in Appalachia as the suburbs.

"Our local newsroom partners fundraising in communities that score at the top of the national poverty index performed virtually the same as those fundraising at the bottom of the index," they report. "In other words, there was no discernable difference in fundraising success between news organizations based in under-resourced communities versus those in wealthier areas."

Another encouraging sign: "We saw that individual donors made up nearly half of all dollars raised; the vast majority of those grassroots donors gave under $100," they report. "This is a promising trend in local news, especially for a cause that has been primarily funded by national foundations. . . . Although most communities don’t have a wealthy foundation to count on, charitable people live everywhere and they give most to those they know and trust. . . . Studies show that local journalists are trusted more than their national counterparts."

Donations pour in for Kansas City, Mo., weekly that ran a blank front page to remind readers of its community value

Publisher Michael Bushnell (left) and Managing Editor Abby Hoover in their office with their paper.

Donations poured in to Kansas City, Mo., weekly The Northeast News after the newspaper took a bold step: On March 26, it left the front page blank on the print edition and didn't post any news online or answer office phones for 24 hours.

The move was meant to remind readers of what they'd miss if the paper folded, managing editor Abby Hoover wrote in a column inside the paper. During the pandemic, the paper lost several major advertisers that had been spending $2,700 a month. Unless something changed, the paper could stay open for about another 60 days, she wrote. Hoover reminded readers of the free, hyper-local content the NE News has provided—in general and during the pandemic—and that no other source would likely take its place if it folds.

The stunt provoked an outsized response. "In the past week, the 89-year-old newspaper has received more than $3,000 in pledged donations, including one from Florida after the blank front page received national attention," David Bauder reports for The Associated Press. "A handful of new advertisers have emerged, along with other ideas to keep the Northeast News afloat" according to publisher and co-owner Michael Bushnell.

"We never expected this to blow up like it did," Bushnell told Bauder. "In the end, thank God it did."

How the AP Stylebook has kept up with the pandemic

"The pandemic gave us a new vocabulary to describe everyday life — Zoom, anyone? — and editors at the Associated Press Stylebook have been working to keep up," Angela Fu reports for The Poynter Institute.

"Pods, as in learning pods or social pods, get their own entry, and AP now recognizes that FaceTime, Skype and Zoom can be used as verbs (but does not recommend such usage)," Fu writes.

Of several major changes in the Stylebook's topical guide to the pandemic, "The one that has had the most revisions is the very first one, 'coronaviruses', Fu reports. “The coronavirus” is now an acceptable first reference "even though it incorrectly implies there is only one coronavirus," because we're a year into the pandemic, she notes.

New site offers coping strategies and place for journalists to discuss their mental health

 A new websiteNewsbreak, offers mental-health tips for journalists and a place to talk about their experiences. Senior BBC journalist Tim Hourigan founded the website after seeing the strain journalists have been under during the pandemic and after reporting on the pandemic himself for 10 months, Behind Local News reports.

In a piece on the site, Hourigan wrote: "It’s time we — as journalists — started having a frank, no-holds-barred conversation about our mental health and what we’re doing to manage it. I hope Newsbreak can act as a platform for that conversation. I’ve been completely blown away by the response I’ve had since announcing I was setting this up, which goes to show that we really do need to talk about our wellbeing."

"Pieces on the site include advice on how to switch off after a news shift, in the digital world, and a piece from a final year journalist student who was anxious about getting a foot in the door in the industry during a pandemic," Behind Local News reports. One of the most important strategies the site advises for journalists is to switch off the news as much as possible.

Quick hits: Relationships still strained after Trump presidency; Farm Dog of the Year entries sought . . .

Chuck the tortoise
(Photo by Berkshire Museum staff)
Here's a roundup of stories with rural resonance; if you do or see similar work that should be shared on The Rural Blog, email us at

Global agricultural productivity is 21% lower than it could have been without climate change according to a newly published study. Read more here.

Opinion: Democrats' next big spending plan should include money to help local journalism. Read more here.

Chuck, the beloved 80-year-old tortoise at the Berkshire Museum's in Pittsfield, Mass., has passed. Read more here.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has unveiled changes to the National Flood Insurance Program that it says will be more equitable. The rural poor in coastal and other flood-prone areas can have a harder time getting back on their feet after floods or hurricanes if they were not required to purchase flood insurance. Read more here.

President Biden has allowed the Trump administration's freeze on skilled-worker visas to expire. This could especially affect rural areas that hire foreign medical workers. Read more here.

The American Farm Bureau Federation is accepting nominations for its 2022 Farm Dog of the Year contest. Read more here.

Months after the end of the Trump presidency, friends and family members remain estranged over political views. Read more here.

One good thing for the meat industry: consumers increased their meat consumption during the pandemic. Read more here.

The Appalachian Gothic aesthetic is trending on TikTok. Read more here.

A bipartisan think tank is doing deep-dive research into rural America, with emphasis on the economy. Read more here.

Thursday, April 08, 2021

American Press Institute seeks local journalists' feedback on how to reimagine the newsroom after the pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has battered local newsrooms that were already hurting. Many local journalists are focusing on when and how to return to a physical newsroom, but they should also consider broader questions of how to rebuild newsrooms that reflect the big problems local journalists face today, former editor Jane Elizabeth writes for the American Press Institute. To that end, she's seeking local journalists' thoughts on seven major issues for a report on how local newsrooms can be rebuilt and reimagined.

Those questions include: "How will we hold onto the audiences we gained during the major news events of 2020?" and "How will we target and fight the most prevalent misinformation in our communities?" Click here for more, as well as links to forms if you want to submit your thoughts.

How protests in rural North Carolina county almost 40 years ago brought environmental racism to nation's attention

Protests against dumping carcinogen-contaminated soil in Warren County, North Carolina, in 1982 (Photo by Ricky Stilley)

A long, detailed Washington Post story recounts how protests in a North Carolina farming town in 1982 spurred the first use of the term "environmental racism," an issue that has since gained increasing nationwide attention, more so recently.

"Protests had erupted over North Carolina’s decision to dump 40,000 cubic yards of soil contaminated with cancer-causing chemicals in a poor Black farming community in Warren County, and [Ben] Chavis was a leader of the revolt," Darryl Fears and Brady Dennis report for the Post. When a state trooper pulled Chavis over on a pretext and arrested him, Chavis said, "This is environmental racism."

Warren County, N.C.
(Wikipedia map)
"The term stuck, and now — nearly 40 years after Chavis spoke the words that have come to define decisions by governments and corporations to place toxic pollution in communities of color — the issue has risen from the fringes of the American conservation movement to the heart of President Biden’s environmental agenda," Fears and Dennis report. Biden has made environmental justice a key part of his plans to fight climate change and has named Native Americans and African Americans to key administration and advisory posts. 

"Systemic racism has long influenced where major sources of pollution are located within communities. Beginning in the early 20th century, White government planners in many municipalities drew redlining maps that identified Black and Latino neighborhoods as undesirable and unworthy of housing loans. Heavy industry was permitted to cluster in those places, adding a toxic dimension that persists today," Fears and Dennis report. Today, Black people are much more likely to live near a plant or factory, and almost four times more likely than White people to die from pollution exposure. 

Poverty among Black and Latino Americans is also correlated with poorer Covid-19 outcomes. "More than half of all in-hospital deaths from the start of the U.S. outbreak through July 2020 were of Black and Latino patients, according to researchers at Stanford and Duke universities. Black patients were far more likely to require ventilation," Fears and Dennis report. 

Texas Southern University professor Robert Bullard, who wrote Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class and Environmental Quality, told the Post: "If your ZIP code is buried with garbage, chemical plants, pollution … you’ll find there are more people that are sick, more diabetes and heart disease. . . . Covid is like a heat-seeking missile zeroing in on the most vulnerable communities."

Farm Bureau Ag Innovation Challenge open until Aug. 20; will award $165,000 in startup funds to 10 businesses

The American Farm Bureau Federation is accepting entries for its eighth annual Ag Innovation Challenge, a nationwide business competition for startups that address issues facing American farmers, ranchers and rural communities. Contestants can address longstanding challenges such as labor access, yield optimization, and operating cost reduction, or new issues.

The competition will award $165,000 in startup funds to 10 businesses: $50,000 to the winner; $20,000 to the runner-up; $15,000 each to two finalists; $10,000 each to six semi-finalists; and $5,000 to the People's Choice Team, chosen by public vote (all 10 finalists are eligible). The application deadline is Aug. 20.

Click here for a timeline of the competition and more details, including profiles of past winners. 

Covid roundup: White evangelicals' vaccine resistance may limit herd immunity; vaccine tourism lifts rural economies

Here's a roundup of recent news about the pandemic and vaccination efforts:

Widespread vaccine refusal and hesitancy among white evangelicals is an obstacle to immunization efforts. Faith, politics and a mistrust of science all play a role in the phenomenon. Read more here.

A Pennsylvania study, the first known to examine Covid-19 outcomes among rural residents, found that rural Hispanics were at a much higher risk of getting the virus, that nursing-home residents were much more likely to die from Covid-19 than other rural patients, and that rural patients were more likely than their suburban and urban counterparts to experience diarrhea. Read more here.

A survey of rural health clinics found 55 percent of them are actively involved in administering the coronavirus vaccine to patients and over 90% are actively involved in education patients about it. But 43% have had their vaccine distribution plans disrupted by a lack of supply. Read more here.

Vaccine tourists are lifting rural economies. Read more here.

Rapid coronavirus tests are coming soon to a store near you. Read more here.

A fourth coronavirus surge could be in the works, but we have the tools to stop it. Read more here.

Experts disagree about whether we're entering a fourth surge. Read more here.

Vaccine passports, explained. Read more here.

A rural administrator at a facility that serves the elderly reflects on the challenges he and his staff and patients have faced during the pandemic. Read more here.

A retail-industry website discusses strategies to improve rural vaccine distribution. Read more here.

Three Daily Yonder readers share their experiences getting the coronavirus vaccine. Read more here.

Biden's jobs plan includes $10 billion for Civilian Climate Corps to preserve public lands and bring rural jobs

President Biden's $2.3 trillion jobs-and-infrastructure plan includes $10 billion for a program to fight climate change, protect public lands, and bring jobs to rural areas. Critics say the job creation might be the most effective result unless more funds are allocated for infrastructure and climate-change goals.

The Civilian Climate Corps is "the Civilian Conservation Corps by another name," Matt Simon writes for Wired. The original was a Depression-era program that put three million disproportionately rural young men to work creating and repairing infrastructure and national parks. Likewise, the new CCC is  meant to "put a new, diverse generation of Americans to work conserving our public lands and waters, bolstering community resilience, and advancing environmental justice . . . while placing good-paying union jobs within reach for more Americans," says a White House fact sheet. 

Congressional Democrats recently introduced a bill authorizing creation of the corps under the Agriculture and Interior departments using existing service programs such as AmeriCorps, Chris D'Angelo reports for HuffPost. A co-sponsor, Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., said the program "will keep growing our outdoor economy, which was fueling some of the fastest job growth in rural communities before the onset of the pandemic. The new CCC members can also make vital contributions to restore the health of American landscapes and improve our resilience to climate impacts like more extreme wildfires and floods."

However, some question whether the program will get enough funding to make much impact on infrastructure and climate change. "While $10 billion might seem like a sizable amount, it wouldn’t even be enough to cover fixing crumbling infrastructure on America’s public lands, much less confront the myriad climate impacts across the federal estate," D'Angelo reports. "The National Park Service alone has a $12 billion deferred maintenance backlog."

But the Civilian Conservation Corps was mostly aimed at jobs, and this program may be following in its footsteps. As Simon notes: "The resulting improvements to infrastructure and natural resources were swell, but secondary."

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Al Smith showed that few jobs are more important than local editor, and success isn't about your location, but your impact

Al Smith, second from left, with winners of the Al Smith Award for public service through community journalism by Kentuckians. From left are are John Nelson of Danville, now executive editor of Landmark Community Newspapers; Smith; Jennifer P. Brown of Hopkinsville, Stevie Lowery of Lebanon, Ryan Craig of Elkton, Sharon Burton of Columbia and The Farmer's Pride, the statewide agricultural newspaper, and Max Heath, a retired Landmark vice president and editor.
"Kentucky journalist Al Smith helped start multiple state and national organizations, steered to safety a federal agency that Ronald Reagan targeted for elimination, and produced and hosted one of the longest-running public TV programs on government affairs in America. But, according to his memoir, Wordsmith, none of his many jobs was more important than being editor of a small-town weekly newspaper in rural Southern Kentucky," The Daily Yonder says in introducing a discussion about Smith, who was federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission and co-founded the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog. He died March 19 at the age of 94.

Yonder Editor Tim Marema, who moderated the discussion, read these lines from Wordsmith, about a turning point in Smith's life, when he gave up his desire to return to big-city journalism like he practiced in New Orleans before drinking himself out of jobs and out of town. He had kicked alcohol, and he thought he wanted to kick Logan County, Kentucky. But then he had these thoughts:

"Why would I leave a community where they had taken me in; a drunk, itinerant editor no one knew? The people of Logan County had saved me from myself . . . They read my paper when I told them their schools weren't good enough. A lot of them didn't like my politics, but our circulation was growing. What was this place I was trying to leave? . . . Logan County was a microcosm of Kentucky, maybe even of the world; there was no bigger job than the one I had."

Renee Shaw, who co-produced Smith's "Comment on Kentucky" show at at KET, Kentucky’s public television network, recalled, "We both had roots in Sumner County, Tennessee. . . . We often talked about the culture of place, and being from somewhere small and thinking that you deserved to be somewhere bigger." Shaw said she wanted to be in a place like Atlanta, but "Al convinced me to bloom where you're planted. .. . Success is not about where you are, it's about the impact that you make, and Al taught me that lesson."

Other panelists in the discussion were Julie Ardery, author and founding co-editor of the Yonder;
her husband, Bill Bishop, founding co-editor of the Yonder and former daily and weekly newspaper reporter, editor, and columnist; Dee Davis, president of the Center for Rural Strategies, which publishes the Yonder (he talks about how Smith got the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to fund the Institute); John David Dyche, Louisville attorney and former public-affairs columnist; and Jamie Lucke, former editorial page editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Lucke said Smith exemplified the best rural editors, who "find that sweet spot between muckraking and accountability, and boosterism, and whimsy. To me, that's sort of the magic of a newspaper." She noted a line in his obituary that said his curiosity about people went beyond a reporter's curiosity but was born of a love for humanity. "Seems like it's not on the table anymore, doesn't it? It's like, who can we be snarkiest to, and how can we divide people. Al really was about community and unity, and about bringing people together."

Dyche recalled a trip with Smith: "Al was just always for the good for everybody. It was just like an exploding supernova of good desires and intentions, for individuals, for communities, for whoever he was with." The discussion goes a lot deeper than journalism; to watch it, go here.

Site that helps journalists cover poverty relaunches with new features

A website to guide journalists in reporting about poverty-related matters has relaunched with new features. The University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication first published Covering Poverty in 2009. The new website, now run by UGA's Journalism Innovation Lab, has all-new tips, tutorials, and examples of award-winning journalism and resources. 

Here are a few of the site's new resources:
  • An article reminding journalists about the big-picture issues to keep in mind when covering poverty.
  • A curated list of sources that provide important context for covering poverty.
  • A discussion between experts on the importance of word choice and sensitivity when reporting on social inequality.

Youth sports linked to recent pandemic surge

Recent coronavirus outbreaks, including some with the more-contagious B.1.1.7 variant, have been linked to youth sports and other extracurricular activities, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials.

"Officials say they believe transmission may be happening through athletic activities, rather than in the classroom, because some sports such as wrestling, basketball and volleyball involve close indoor contact. They have also wondered whether outbreaks may be triggered by related interactions such as carpooling, sleepovers and team celebrations, when people let their guard down, rather than from the practices and games themselves," Ariana Cha reports for The Washington Post. "The rise in infections in children has so far not resulted in a surge in pediatric hospitalizations. As in the past, most cases in children have been mild, health officials say, but they worry about vulnerable adults interacting with them, such as coaches, instructors, child-care providers or parents. Across the United States, a number of youth sports coaches have become seriously ill or died during the past few months as activities have opened up."

It's not a new phenomenon. The rural surge earlier in 2020 could be traced to youth sports and other extracurriculars, along with light state government restrictions and the reopening of in-person classes at colleges and schools, according to Andrew Pavia, head of infectious diseases at the University of Utah Hospital.

Study: farmers using less pesticides, but more-concentrated varieties harm pollinators more

"American farmers are using smaller amounts of better targeted pesticides, but these are harming pollinators, aquatic insects and some plants far more than decades ago, a new study finds," Seth Borenstein reports for The Associated Press. "Toxicity levels have more than doubled since 2005 for important species, including honeybees, mayflies and buttercup flowers, as the country switched to a new generation of pesticides. But dangerous chemical levels in birds and mammals have plummeted at the same time, according to a paper in Thursday’s journal Science.

German scientists studied 381 pesticides used in the U.S. between 1992 and 2016 and factored in Environmental Protection Agency data about toxic dosages for eight kinds of plants and animals, combined with U.S. Geological Survey data about how much of the chemicals were used each year on dozens of crops. 

Newer pesticides "are aimed more toward animals without backbones to spare birds and mammals, but this means insects such as pollinators get poisoned," Borenstein reports. "The same goes for some land plants and for aquatic invertebrates including dragonflies and mayflies, which birds and mammals eat." The study's lead author said future studies should examine the harm higher up the food chain.

Biden's infrastructure plan includes $16 billion to clean up old oil and gas wells, abandoned mines

"President Joe Biden’s $2.3 trillion plan to transform America’s infrastructure includes $16 billion to plug old oil and gas wells and clean up abandoned mines, a longtime priority for Western and rural lawmakers from both parties," Matthew Daly reports for The Associated Press. "Many of the old wells and mines are located in rural communities that have been hard-hit by the pandemic. Biden’s plan would not only create jobs, but help reduce methane and brine leaks that pollute the air and groundwater. Methane is a powerful contributor to global warming."

The hundreds of thousands of orphaned wells and abandoned mines cause ongoing environmental damage and pose serious safety hazards to nearby communities. Well and mine operators must post bonds meant to cover clean-up costs, but they're often inadequate. And, perhaps signaling a trend, a judge recently allowed the bankrupt Blackjewel coal mining company to walk away from reclamation costs on some of its abandoned mines. More communities could be left on the hook for cleanup costs if future rulings break that way, making federal investment all the more important.

"The Interior Department has long led efforts to cap orphaned wells — so named because no owner can be found — but does not assess user fees to cover reclamation costs. Bond requirements for well operators, when known, are often inadequate to cover full clean-up costs. Biden’s plan, which needs approval by Congress, would jump-start the well-capping effort and expand it dramatically," Daly reports. "Similarly, the White House plan would exponentially boost an Abandoned Mine Land program run by Interior that uses fees paid by coal mining companies to reclaim coal mines abandoned before 1977. About $8 billion has been disbursed to states for mine-reclamation projects in the past four decades, but Biden’s plan would ramp up spending sharply."

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Remote workers could permanently transform rural America

City dwellers moved to rural areas in droves during the pandemic, since remote-work policies let them do their jobs anywhere with a decent internet connection. A story from rural New Hampshire explores how new residents could transform the region if they stick around after the pandemic.

It hasn't been all positive, Sarah Gibson reports for New Hampshire Public Radio. One new resident said it's difficult being biracial and Black in a small town, and told Gibson he hears racist comments every day. Many new residents complain of slow internet. The surge has driven up local real estate costs. And some schools in New Hampshire (and elsewhere) have struggled to cope with the influx of new students.

But new residents could bring needed revenue to the community, plus something else, said University of New Hampshire demographer Kenneth Johnson: "The volunteer fire department, the PTA, all the groups affiliated with churches or civic organizations . . . all need that energy and enthusiasm of new people."

State-run nurseries growing fewer trees; that makes it harder for forest owners trying to replant after fires

Rows of conifers grow in a Washington state Department of Natural Resources greenhouse. (Photo from Stateline)

Wildfires have damaged millions of acres of forest in recent years, but many forest owners are having a hard time replanting because the state-run nurseries they once relied on for seedlings have shut down. Eight states have shut down their nurseries in the past 20 years, and while 29 states still operate nurseries, many have shuttered some of their facilities, Alex Brown reports for Stateline.

In Oregon, which shut down its nursery program over a decade ago, forest owners have had a hard time finding the right seedlings from the private sector. "Large, commercial nurseries typically grow large tree orders on contract, supplying industrial timber companies that plan operations years in advance. State-run nurseries provide a more diverse array of species to landowners, allowing smaller orders on short notice," Brown reports. "The declining state production has hurt small landowners, who own the largest share of the nation’s forests. Private sector nurseries often lack many of the tree species offered by states, and they rarely accept small orders. In many cases, nursery closures have led to cutbacks in state research and breeding programs that produce trees more capable of withstanding the effects of climate change."

Seedling production at state-run nurseries fell 28 percent between 2016 and 2018, according to the National Association of State Foresters. "In 2018, state nurseries produced 123 million seedlings, about a tenth of the nation’s total," Brown reports. "The are many reasons for the closures. State nurseries often have to cover their own operating expenses through seedling sales, and they’ve struggled to break even on the unpredictable speculative market. They’ve also faced political pressure to reduce capacity or close, as private growers bristle at competition from the public sector."

New rural coronavirus infections climbed 9% last week

Rates of new coronavirus infections, March 28-April 3
Daily Yonder map; click the image to enlarge it or click here for the interactive version.

From March 28 through April 3, new rural coronavirus infections increased by about 9 percent over the week before, to a total of 45,353. "This is the second consecutive week that cases have increased, after a three-month decline that began at the start of 2021. Rural America’s current rate of new infections is 80% lower than it was at the peak of the winter surge in early January," Tim Murphy and Tim Marema report for The Daily Yonder. "The number of new Covid-related deaths in rural areas totaled 835, a decline of 5% from two weeks ago."

Meanwhile, new rural Covid-related deaths—a lagging pandemic indicator—totaled 835 last week, a 5% drop from the week before, Murphy and Marema report. Click here for more data, charts and regional analysis from the Yonder, including an interactive map with county-level data. 

Friday webinar to address issue of unpublishing crime news to limit long-term impact on people identified as suspects

A free, one-hour webinar at 11:30 a.m. ET Friday, April 9, will discuss the long-term consequences for suspects who are identified in crime news, a growing issue for newsrooms. From the event page: 

People identified in crime news often face long-term effects that can last a lifetime. As newsrooms grapple with cultural shifts to address racism, social inequity and the damage a "long tail" of publishing can cause, they're fielding more requests to unpublish crime reports online. Even traditional crime reporting practices such as using mug shots are increasingly under scrutiny in newsrooms across the country.

News leaders Greg Lee Jr. (The Boston Globe), Margaret Holt (The Chicago Tribune), Alison Gerber (Chattanooga Times Free Press) and Chris Quinn ( will share their newsrooms’ editorial policies and the philosophies driving them — including managing requests to remove, de-index or alter "the first draft of history."

Deborah Dwyer, a fellow with the Reynolds Journalism Institute working on tools to help newsrooms address unpublishing, will moderate the discussion and facilitate an audience Q&A.

The webinar, presented by Reynolds and the News Leaders Association, is free, but they offer the opportunity to donate to support NLA programs. Click here to register or for more information.

Gray Televison spotlights health-care disparities in Appalachia and Mississippi Delta, two regions it serves

Gray Television map from data, adapted by The Rural Blog; interactive version with county data is here.
The shortage of health care in rural areas is an old story, but one that always has new facets. Television stations have given it largely occasional attention; Gray Television is raising the bar with a series of reports about disparities in Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta, two poor regions served by several Gray stations. The first few stories in the series have dealt with health care.

"In the Delta region, an area that stretches from Missouri to Louisiana and includes parts of eight states, more than half of its counties don’t have a pediatrician," Jill Riepenhoff, Daniela Molina, Jamie Grey, and Lee Zurik report. "The shortage of pediatricians is part of a looming national crisis: too few doctors to provide preventive care to adults, women, and children from coast to coast."

Dunklin County (Wikipedia map)
The story's object example is Dunklin County, Missouri, where the hospital closed in 2018 but Dr. Andrew Beach hung on as the only pediatrician. A banner on his office reads: “Dedicated to our patients! We are not leaving the area!” He sees 14,000 patients a year, Gray reports: "The federal government says those doctors ideally wouldn’t have more than 3,500 patients on their caseloads. Dr. Beach treats nearly five times that many children."

The report includes something unusual for a broadcast report, an interactive map showing the supply of primary-care doctors by county and indicating how short they are of recommendations. The data come from the Health Resources and Services Administration, which has a searchable database.

Monday, April 05, 2021

Many rural Americans are skeptical about the coronavirus vaccines and the impact of the pandemic

Rural whites, especially conservatives and men, are among the least likely to get a coronavirus vaccine or believe the virus is a serious threat. A pair of stories from an NPR and Kaiser Health News partnership explore the phenomenon. The first "appears to confirm findings of a national poll in January by the Kaiser Family Foundation that found doubt about vaccines higher in rural areas" from Nov. 30 to Dec. 8, the Louisville Courier Journal reports. So does the second story.

The first story comes from Fort Scott, Kansas, pop. 8,087. The community lost its hospital in December 2018, and it's more than an hour's drive north to Kansas City, Sarah Jane Tribble reports. But the difficulty of accessing hospital care didn't seem to influence the attitudes of those Tribble interviewed. Many Fort Scott residents don't think Covid-19 is that dangerous, feel unsure about the safety of the vaccine, and question whether diagnoses could be the flu or other ailments.

Fort Scott in Bourbon County,
Kansas (Wikipedia map)
"Factors such as age and occupation also play a role in attitudes toward the vaccines," Tribble reports. Also, "Rural Americans are more likely to think of getting a vaccine as a personal choice and believe the seriousness of Covid is exaggerated in the news."

Locals have seen evidence of the pandemic: One in 11 of Bourbon County's 14,000 residents have been infected with the coronavirus, and about two dozen have died. "Most people know someone who had the virus and survived — but residents just seem tired of talking about it," Tribble reports.

Jason Wesco, executive vice president of the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas, a regional health center that took over primary care in Fort Scott after the hospital closed, told Tribble that he believes vaccine hesitancy is declining as supplies become more abundant: "When residents are directly provided the opportunity to get a vaccine, they consider it more seriously, he said. And the more people they know who have gotten a vaccine, the more likely they will be to get a shot."

Hartsville, Tenn. (Wikipedia map) 
The second story comes from Hartsville, pop. 7,870, in Tennessee. There are more than enough vaccines to go around, but the Trousdale County Health Department has had a hard time filling slots at local vaccination drives, Blake Farmer reports.

Local resident Cris Weske told Farmer that he doesn't need the vaccine because he's healthy, and said he's "kind of anti-vax" in general because he believes they're toxic. He claimed the Constitution supports his choice to opt out of vaccination.

Sometimes vaccine-resistant people's stated reasons are hard to figure. Cindi Kelton is 67 and has COPD and emphysema, both of which put her at high risk of Covid-19 complications, but she told Farmer she's more scared of the vaccine than the virus. She said she had planned to get the vaccine, but in January her doctor died from Covid-19 in January. "It's unclear whether he was vaccinated," Farmer reports. "Either way, Kelton says it gave her pause."

Farmer adds, "To this point, there has been scant attention paid to batting down rumors or answering vaccine questions in many rural communities. Public health officials have been far more focused on underserved groups concentrated in urban areas. But it's rural communities where a few leaders are actively sowing doubts. They include state legislators and even a few pastors."

Ministers are seen as key allies in boosting vaccination in Southern states, where rates are lowest, but most of the ministers participating are from Black churches. Though Black congregations share with rural white residents a distrust of the government, one Black pastor told Farmer that vaccine skepticism can be overcome with outreach efforts.

Another resident, a 74-year-old woman, highlighted another difficulty in boosting rural vaccination rates: She doesn't have a computer and, since local vaccine drives are advertised mostly on social media, she had no idea she was eligible, Farmer reports.

Interior Department to launch Bureau of Indian Affairs unit to investigate missing and murdered Native Americans

"Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the U.S.’s first Indigenous cabinet secretary, will create a unit within the Bureau of Indian Affairs to investigate missing and murdered Native Americans, the department announced Thursday evening," Zack Budryk reports for The Hill. "The federal government formed a task force on the issue in 2019 to pursue such cases. Haaland said the new unit will expand on that work and establish a unit chief position to develop policy for the unit. The unit will review unsolved cases and work with tribal, BIA and FBI investigators on active cases as well, according to the department."

Native American and Alaska Natives are at a far higher risk of violence than average. "There are some 1,500 American Indian and Alaska natives in the National Crime Information Center’s database of missing persons, while about 2,700 murders and nonnegligent homicides have been reported to the federal Uniform Crime Reporting program," Budryk reports. "Native American women in particular are the victims of murder at over 10 times the national average, according to the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women. Homicides are the No. 3 cause of death for American Indian and Alaska Native girls and women ages 10 to 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."

The issue has been well known for years, but efforts to address it have been piecemeal. South Dakota recently established an office to investigate missing and murdered indigenous persons, and a six-state federal pilot program unveiled in December aims to help federal, state and tribal agencies better coordinate such investigations. It's unclear how the newly announced unit will affect the pilot project.

Biden's USDA drops Trump administration plan to tighten work requirements for working-age adults without children

"A Trump-era plan to cut food stamps is now off the table after the Biden administration said it is abandoning a previous plan to tighten work requirements for working-age adults without children. Those restrictions were projected to deny federal food assistance benefits to 700,000 adults, a proposal that had had drawn strong condemnation from anti-hunger advocates," Aimee Picchi reports for CBS News. "The U.S. Department of Agriculture on March 24 said it is withdrawing a Trump administration appeal of a federal court ruling that had blocked the planned restrictions on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps. Trump officials had filed the appeal in May, two months after the coronavirus pandemic had shuttered the economy and caused millions of people to lose their jobs."

USDA also confirmed it will extend the 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits through September with funds from the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief-and-stimulus bill. Without the funds, the extension would have ended in June. The bump will add up to about $3.5 billion of assistance to an estimated 41 million food-insecure Americans. That means $28 more per person, per month, or more than $100 more per month for a household of four.

A year after the beginning of the pandemic, signs of recovery and change for the meat industry

Over a year after the pandemic but the U.S., the meat industry is seeing signs of recovery, thanks in large part to government aid and private investment. Since then, many meatpackers have implemented new equipment and protocols meant to protect workers from infection. Meanwhile, a new Agriculture Department program aims to boost that recovery with additional aid. 

"The industry dynamics have changed dramatically during the past year with an infusion of money for cattle and hog producers; government and private investment in smaller, niche packing plants; and improvements for the safety and welfare of workers at the major packing plants," Chris Clayton reports for DTN/The Progressive Farmer. "The supply chain crashed when an overlooked group of workers proved to be one of the most essential workforces in the country. Most major packing plants were put together and expanded piecemeal. They were not designed to allow thousands of employees to simply spread out."

Now, "nearly every plant requires layered personal protection equipment, such as face shields, goggles and plexiglass in common areas such as dividers," Clayton writes. "Another area in plants getting an overhaul now is ventilation at plants, including changes in filtration and air flow throughout plants."

Worker infections caused widespread shutdowns last spring and summer, causing supply backups that still affect the cattle industry. Then-President Trump ordered packing plants to stay open, and cattle producers received nearly $7.17 billion from the Coronavirus Food Assistance Programs (CFAP 1 and 2), $2 billion more than any other eligible livestock or crops, Clayton notes: "The aid throughout the year eased early panic among producers and others who had projected billions in losses." 

More aid is arriving, Clayton reports: "Starting April 5, USDA's newest aid program, Pandemic Assistance for Producers, will provide cattle producers with a plus-up payment on the CFAP 1 aid that will range from a low of $7 a head for feeder cattle under 600 pounds to a high of $63" for slaughter-ready cattle that fell under the May 14, 2020, inventory deadline for CFAP 1 aid.