Three Years of Rural Covid Data

Yesterday, the Daily Yonder published a story looking back at the Covid-19 death rate over the past three years of the pandemic. I urge you to read it, but I’ll summarize the key points: when numbers are adjusted for population size, approximately 37% more rural Americans than urban have died from Covid-19. If the rural death rate matched that of metropolitan areas, 138,437 less people would be dead. 

This tragically high rural death rate is due to a couple things, both of which – in their own way – come back to disinvestment in rural communities.

One: the vaccination rate in rural America has lagged behind the rest of the country. Reasons for vaccine hesitancy vary, but research points to distrust in government and the influence of conservative media outlets that spread Covid-19 misinformation (i.e. belief that the risks of Covid are being exaggerated). 

As I’ve said before (see: last week’s Keep it Rural), rural America has a hard time trusting the government because of a history of disenfranchisement. There are a number of examples of this but they all lead to fewer dollars in rural communities, triggering an exodus of local businesses, banks, and newsrooms; all of which render rural America vulnerable to misinformation and suspicious of the agencies that have failed to regulate the forces that cause rural collapse. 

In a similar vein, rural counties experienced higher death rates due to reason number two: shoddy rural healthcare. Between 2010 and 2021, 136 rural hospitals closed across the United States because of staffing shortages, regulatory barriers, and financial challenges associated with Covid-19, according to the American Hospital Association. 

For the rural counties with hospitals, their ICUs reached capacity more quickly due to their smaller size, exacerbating the toll the early days of Covid took on rural America. Small (and nonexistent) hospitals made getting vaccines to rural people more difficult, since both Pfizer and Moderna have specific storage requirements that rural hospitals just weren’t equipped for. 

Fast forward to 2023, and rural death rates have stabilized at about 25% higher than urban areas, thanks to vaccinations and growing immunity due to Covid-19 exposure, according to the Daily Yonder article. (Still alarming, but not the massive imbalance it once was.) Last week, President Biden announced the United States’ Covid-19 public health emergency declaration will end on May 11, at which point the country’s coronavirus response will return to public health agencies and the development of vaccines and treatments will no longer be under direct management of the federal government. 

This could come with a whole host of problems as Covid-19 vaccinations, treatments, and tests are commercialized, meaning costs that are currently still covered by the federal government will be transferred elsewhere. Public and private insurance companies will take on vaccination costs, but experts say some patients may take on the cost of treatments and tests. What is certain is that the uninsured and underinsured will bear the brunt of commercialized Covid-19 healthcare.

While it may feel like the pandemic is coming to an end, data shows death rates are simply plateauing as we enter the endemic phase of this highly contagious virus.

My unsolicited recommendation? Get a vaccine/boosters if you haven’t already and stock up on Covid-19 tests now. It may soon cost you.

Rural Reading List

Finding ‘Higher Ground’: Locally-led Movement Works Toward a Just Housing Recovery in Eastern Kentucky

As eastern Kentucky rebuilds from the floods that hit the region last July, gaps in housing assistance reveal the limitations in the nation’s response and support systems.

In Search of Cheap Power and Land, Crypto Companies Look to Nebraska

Cryptocurrency is carving itself a home in rural Nebraska, bringing with it both jobs and an enormous demand on the state’s electrical grid. Critics say it could be cause for environmental concern.

The EPA Vetoed Alaska’s Proposed Pebble Mine

Last week, the proposed Pebble Mine in the Bristol Bay region of Alaska was vetoed by the Environmental Protection Agency using the authority of the Clean Water Act. This Q&A from High Country News explores what the future of Bristol Bay could look like after this decision. 

One More Thing: End (?) of Winter Book Recs

While Punxsutawney Phil may have seen his shadow last week, I’m getting the feeling we’ve reached the final days of winter. The tulip bulbs I planted three months ago have broken through the cold soil and I am waiting impatiently for the bright colors they’ll bring. To get through these last cold days (yes, I know, there’s technically over a month left till the spring equinox), I’ve been reading some excellent, rural and non-rural books. Here’s my personal, rapid-fire reading roundup: 

If you’re craving fiction, look no further than Zadie Smith’s Swing Time, which explores evolving friendship through childhood to adulthood and what it means to be a Black, British woman in the 1990s in London, New York, and West Africa.

Is nonfiction more your thing? Are you ready to cry? Michelle Zauner’s Crying in H Mart is both an introspective examination of grief and an ode to cooking, in the emerald landscape of Eugene, Oregon. 

And finally, if you’re in the mood for a glimpse into life during the Islamic Revolution told through comics, I suggest Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel Persepolis. It is excellent. 

Ta ta for now, KIR subs! It is time I return to my winter hibernation hole.

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