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Like most healthcare professionals talking to the press in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, Alan Morgan said he wanted to alert people — not alarm them — about the dangers of Covid-19.

Today, he wishes he had taken a stronger approach.

“It’s past time for us to worry about being alarmist,” said Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association. “We’ve got to ring the bells that this is a crisis now going into flu season.”

In recent weeks, new cases of Covid-19 have moved through rural counties 60% faster than in urban counties. Last week, the virus was spreading out of control in seven out of every 10 rural counties, according to definitions used by the White House Coronavirus Task Force. More than 1 million rural Americans have tested positive for the Covid-19 virus.

Morgan spoke with Tim Marema, editor of the Daily Yonder, about the impact of Covid-19 on rural hospitals, healthcare providers, and the communities they serve. The interview will be webcast Monday afternoon as part of the Rural Assembly Everywhere, an online conference that runs Monday through Friday, October 26.

Monday’s conference programming also includes:

  • A panel on the rural vote with Republican pollster Ed Goeas and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, with Republican strategist Bill Greener.
  • A conversation with Richard Besser, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and former acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • And video comments by journalist and University of Arizona Assistant Professor Ruxandra Guidi and Dana Coester, associate professor at the West Virginia University Reed College of Media and editor in chief of 100 Days in Appalachia.

Registration is free. More information is available on the Rural Assembly website.

Morgan said conditions in rural America make the coronavirus extremely dangerous. 

“From a public health perspective, Covid in rural America is a horror story,” he said.

“You’ve got communities with high percentages of elderly, obesity is at a higher rate in rural populations, with a lot of chronic health issues, clustered in these hundreds of small towns all across the U.S. [These are] populations most at risk for Covid, and they’re going to Walmart, Dollar General, church, they’re gathering together. It’s a tinderbox just waiting for the Covid match to be thrown into it.”

The total number of infections in America’s 1,976 nonmetropolitan counties topped 1 million last week. More than 22,500 rural Americans have died from the virus. The Daily Yonder’s Covid-19 dashboard has more information about the the impact of the coronavirus in rural America.

The Rural Assembly is a project of the Center for Rural Strategies, which also publishes the Daily Yonder.