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Rural Blog: Coronavirus spreading through South’s high-risk populations; reopening makes it worse

The coronavirus pandemic “is becoming a silent disaster” in the rural South because of health-care and health inequalities and more, even as some governors push to reopen businesses, Ann Cafer and Meagan Rosenhal report for The Daily Yonder.

“As University of Mississippi sociologists who work with rural communities on a range of resilience issues, especially health, we are concerned about the economic and health consequences of returning to business before the region is prepared to protect its residents,” Cafer and Rosenhal write.

Covid-19 cases and deaths in rural vs. metropolitan (labeled “urban”) counties as of April 26. (Daily Yonder map; click on the image to enlarge it; click here for the interactive version.)

A group of experts from the Infectious Diseases Society of America voiced much the same opinions in a recent online panel discussion, Christopher Cheney reports for HealthLeaders Media.

Rural industries tend to be deemed essential and don’t typically allow for telecommuting (think mining, meatpacking, factory work, power plants, etc.). And since small towns are often close-knit, big community gatherings can be tempting, but can be a major transmittal space for the virus, Cheney reports. Poor, rural communities are particularly susceptible to the pandemic, owing to a greater incidence of underlying health problems and less access to health insurance.

The pandemic exposes rural-urban health care resource disparities, experts said in the webinar. Rural areas have smaller hospitals with fewer employees (including infectious-disease specialists), limited intensive-care capability and smaller supplies of personal protective equipment and ventilators, Cheney reports. And, smaller local health departments don’t always have the resources to carry out essential pandemic responses like contact tracing. Air-ambulance transport to larger hospitals is also a potential challenge, since flight crews could catch the virus during long flights in enclosed cabins.

The discussion comes in the wake of Georgia’s move to reopen many businesses, even though rural African-Americans in the state worry it’s too soon.

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The Rural Blog is a digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, from the IRJCI, based at the University of Kentucky. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is an extension program for rural journalists and news outlets. It takes no positions on issues and advocates only for strong news coverage, responsible commentary and things that make them possible, such as open-government laws. For more information see www.RuralJournalism.org.

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